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How to buy a car online

What to consider if you're thinking of making your next new car purchase from the comfort of your sofa

What’s the most expensive item you’ve ever bought online? Maybe a laptop, an Xbox, 50-inch flat screen 4K TV or an iPhone? Or perhaps that holiday you took last summer?

Buying online is easy and could not be more convenient. The journey taken for any of these purchases follows a similar course involving price comparisons, checking availability and reading customer reviews before adding to a basket, heading for the checkout, tapping in your credit card details and pressing the buy button. Simple. After that, there’s that moment of anxiety knowing your hard-earned cash has gone into the ether and then savouring the thrill when the confirmation email pops into your inbox.

If it’s so easy and convenient, would you buy a car online? A number of car manufacturers are now offering online purchasing for new cars, and some dealers are launching online purchasing for both new and used cars, and it looks like 2018 could be a pivotal year for online car sales.

The same rules apply to buying a £1,000 smartphone as they do to purchasing a £20,000 car. You do your initial research online to shortlist the make, model and colour, hunt around for who is offering the best monthly price, visit a retailer to see it in the metal, just to be sure you like the look and feel, and then buy it.

Being able to buy a car online is not a new concept. Vauxhall launched a service a decade ago during the first flush of internet retailing, but it was ahead of its time and was quietly withdrawn.

Things have moved on since then with 2017 seeing an unprecedented rush of car brands tapping into this emergent market. They are targeting digital-savvy new car buyers who prefer the online route to thumbing through car magazines and trawling around the internet to draw up a shortlist, visiting showrooms to kick the tyres before uncomfortably haggling over the price.

Around 97% of car buyers use the internet when researching their new car and the number of dealer visits made before purchasing has dropped dramatically from four a decade ago to just 1.6 visits today. Adding a ‘buy’ button to online car adverts is a natural extension of this process and one that has been latched onto by car manufacturers and some dealers.

With this in mind, The Car Expert offers you a guide to what to consider if you’re thinking of making your next new car purchase from the comfort of your sofa.

Which brands offer an online car buying service?

Pretty soon it will be easier to say which car makes do not offer the option to buy a car online. BMW was first out of the blocks in late 2015 with its BMW Retail Online offering.

The service set the template for subsequent initiatives covering vehicle configuration, part-exchange values, finance options, test drives through dealerships and a live-chat with a product genius or guru (car maker shorthand for a non-commission driven product expert rather than pushy salesperson). And then onto the final purchase either online or through a dealer.

Since then Hyundai, smart, Peugeot and Mitsubishi have all joined the party. Expect more brands to reveal their online sales plans as competition in the digital marketplace grows.

So what do the different services offer?


There are six key features to BMW Retail Online. The online journey starts with the tool “Find your BMW”, leading into the vehicle configurator. With a click on the “Buy your BMW” button the customer selects a retailer, is shown cars in stock and selects their preferred finance method.

The customer can then finalise all steps of the purchase with their chosen retailer in the Retailer Online showroom. Buyers can also ask questions along the way through a live chat service manned by product specialists who are available for questions seven days a week from 8am to 7pm.

BMW retail online (The Car Expert)
BMW retail online car selector


Customers using Hyundai’s Click to Buy service can choose a car, arrange a part-exchange, sort out finance and pay online. The process is claimed to take just five minutes to complete, with the handover taking place from the customer’s designated dealership or – in what Hyundai claimed as a market first – straight to their driveway.

Click to Buy is a natural progression of Hyundai’s fresh approach to car retailing which has seen the opening of digital stores at London’s Bluewater and Westfield Stratford shopping centres. Here customers can talk to a product specialist, configure a car, have a test drive, and then buy online in the store or from home.

Hyundai Click to Buy a car online (The Car Expert)
Hyundai Click to Buy website


Peugeot distanced its Order Online from other brands’ services because it said it provides more choice by allowing customers to configure and order a car to their requirements, rather than being restricted to buy dealer stock. Buyers can also track the progress of their order from placement to delivery.

The service includes guaranteed part-exchange valuations, various financing options and a dealer test drive. Delivery can be to a dealer or the customer’s home. Peugeot claims customers can choose and buy a car online within 30 minutes.

Peugeot Order Online (The Car Expert)
Peugeot Order Online car configurator


With its simple two-model car line-up – fortwo and forfour – and a choice of pre-configured models, Smart is able to offer a speedy service which it claims can take just 12 days from order to delivery. There are three payment packages enabling customers to choose from either a low monthly payment, a standard offer, or a lower deposit. Cars can be financed from just £119 a month.

Customers can choose to either collect their new smart from a local retailer or have it delivered to their home.

smart cars online website (The Car Expert)
smart cars online website


Meanwhile, Volvo has announced that its eagerly awaited Polestar performance sub-brand will only be available through online ordering when it goes on sale in 2019. Furthermore, cars will only be available to lease rather than purchase. Likewise, the forthcoming Lynk & Co brand will only be available through online ordering and on a subscription basis. There’s a connection here, as Volvo and Lynk & Co are both owned by the China-based Geely group.

Care by Volvo leasing programme
Volvo and other Geely brands are launching online “subscription programmes” styled after mobile phone plans.

Do I have to complete a car purchase online?

No. While all the car maker services we list claim to be different, they are fundamentally similar. They all allow buyers to save their proposed purchase and completing the transaction face-to-face with a real human being in a dealership if that’s what you prefer.

Can I only buy a car online from a manufacturer’s website?

No. There are moves afoot to add online car purchasing to dealer main websites which will give customers a greater choice of brands and models although cars being offered for sale are more likely to be used or what’s termed “nearly-new” cars with the latest registration plate and low mileages.

The first dealer group service to go live was a used car initiative quietly launched in 2017 by Vertu Motors, one of the UK’s largest car retailers, through its Bristol Street Motors branded showrooms in England.

The group was pleased with the take-up from its initial trial and will now roll the service out across its 120 showrooms, including those operated by Macklin Motors in Scotland.

More dealers are set to follow with the launch of a new back-end e-commerce trading platform by iVendi, the car retailing tech company, who have piloted an online buying service, which incorporates finance options. The system has been piloted by 500 dealers ahead of a national rollout in 2018.

What are my rights when buying a car online?

If you buy a car online, you benefit from more legal protection than if you walk into a showroom and buy the exact same vehicle. You are covered by the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, which covers “distance selling” where a product is not sold in person.

When buying online, you have the right to cancel from the moment an order is placed until 14 days after taking delivery of the car. If you are buying a car in person from a dealer, you do not have the same right. It doesn’t matter if it’s a new or used car, the law is the same.

The seller (and online sales for any manufacturer will be managed by a separate company, either a dealership or a company specifically set up for the purpose) must provide you with details of their returns/cancellation policy. They must also explain who pays for the cost of returning the car if you change your mind. Their policy may include charges for returning or collecting the vehicle, but they must provide you with this information up front. You are liable for any damage you cause to the car.

Technology and society are adopting internet shopping at a rapid rate, and it’s about to get an awful lot easier to buy a car online.

Would you be comfortable enough to buy a car online? Have you already bought a car online? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Curtis Hutchinson
Curtis Hutchinson
Curtis Hutchinson is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers and has been a senior motoring journalist for over 25 years. He has written extensively about the automotive industry as editor of both Company Car and Motor Trader where he won the coveted Newspress Business Publication of the Year Award. His work also appears in Fleet World and Fleet World International. In 2016 he was part of the founding team behind the relaunched London Motor Show.
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