Online shopping has boomed in the last couple of decades, and car buying is no exception to the rule. Not only is buying a car online incredibly convenient, but you'll be able to search thousands of different makes and models, all from the comfort of your own home.

But what if you want to buy a used car? What are the differences with the sales process compared to purchasing a brand-new vehicle online, and are there any risks you’ll need to be aware of?

In this short guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know so you can search and buy your next used car online with total peace of mind.

Is buying a used car online safe?

More than likely, the very first concern you’ll have when buying a used car online is whether it’s safe.

It can be easy to focus on the negative stories you may hear about when browsing the web, but there is a perfectly safe way of purchasing a preowned vehicle online. Here are a few things to bear in mind:

Be aware of the dangers

While there are tonnes of great deals online, and many people have successfully purchased a used car online, there will always be situations where people can take advantage.

Only buy from an approved and reputable seller and be aware of online phishing. Anyone can put an ad out online, so do the proper due diligence to ensure the vehicle exists, and the registration number is valid. Sometimes, when the offer sounds too good to be true, it is!

If the worst happens and you think you’ve been a victim of fraud, the very first thing to do will be to report the issue to Action Fraud and contact your bank or building society to freeze your account temporarily.

Know your rights

Vehicles, new and used, bought through a dealership via ‘Click and Collect’ and ‘Click and Deliver’ fall under the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Buyers have a 14-day money-back guarantee to return the car if they decide they have changed their minds. This forms part of ‘distance selling regulations’.

There isn’t the same protection when buying from a private seller. However, the car must still meet the description of the advert and be road-worthy. Otherwise, the buyer may claim a refund under the Misrepresentation Act. The seller must also have the legal right to sell it.

It’s important to remember that when buying a used car privately, the buyer is responsible for ensuring that the vehicle is fit for purpose.

Do your research

As you would with any sizable purchase, it is crucial to do the necessary research into the product you are buying and check whether it matches the ad’s description.

If you are buying a used car from a local dealer, you’re given the freedom to inspect and test drive the car for yourself before parting with any cash. Where you cannot inspect the car, many dealerships and online dealers will provide you with comprehensive images of the vehicle along with videos and walk-arounds. Plus, you are protected by the distance selling regulations should a vehicle not live up to its description.

Be wise about payment

There are several ways to pay for a used car online, and there are different ways to ensure it’s safe, depending on who you are purchasing from.

When buying from a private seller, you should never hand over cash without seeing the vehicle beforehand. Reputable dealers and garages will always represent the car’s history, mileage, and condition in the advertisement correctly. However, if you’re unfortunate to come across a dodgy seller, it is comforting to know you haven’t parted with your money if the product doesn’t match the expectation.

Buying a used car from a dealer is much lower risk, and most will offer finance packages, allowing you to spread the cost across two to five years, dependent on the type of car finance you go for. 

Arranging tax and insurance for a used car

Once you’ve placed an order or made a successful bid for a used car, you need to consider the best insurance policy for the vehicle. You can browse prices on comparison websites while you wait for delivery or pick up the car and then arrange for the insurance to start on the day it arrives.

Since you’re buying a used car, you may be conscious of any rising costs. If this is the case, there are certain modifications you can make to your insurance to lower the price. These include:

  • Have a black box fitted to monitor and carefully set premiums based on your driving habits.
  • Pay all of the policy off in one go rather than monthly or weekly.
  • Ensure the car is parked on a private driveway or garage rather than at the roadside.
  • Put the car on a multi-car insurance policy.
  • Improve your credit rating.
  • Remove any unnecessary extras you may not need.

A used car will more often than not be cheaper to insure than a brand-new model, but you need to consider that the age of used cars can make them more likely to break down and need maintenance. Repairs could hike up the overall cost significantly, which is why research and inspection are so vital.

You won’t be able to tax the vehicle until it is in your possession as you will need the official licensing documents. But don’t worry, this is a quick process that can be done over the phone or online, meaning you’ll be out on the road in no time.

Is it a good idea to finance a used car?

A used car financing deal can be a superb choice if you are money conscious or wish to spread the costs over months or years. The exact length of time it will take to pay off the car fully will vary depending on your agreement with the dealer or seller, so there is room for flexibility.

The two most popular ways of financing a car are Hire Purchase (HP) and Personal Contract Purchase (PCP).

With HP agreements, the cost of the car plus interest is spread across a set period of time. Once you’ve paid in full, the car then becomes your property. PCP agreements differ slightly, with lower payments across the term but with a deferred ‘optional final payment’ (sometimes called ‘balloon payment’) at the end in order to own the car. We cover more about these two car finance options on a separate article.

To secure a finance agreement, buyers need to pass a credit score check, as well as provide proof of identification and any other requested car finance paperwork. You can also opt to pay a deposit up front, but this is not a requirement. To ensure you’re in the best position to get accepted, you’ll need an active credit history to show you can manage money responsibly such as an owning active credit card, having a mobile phone contract or being on the electoral roll.

Getting finance deals on private sales, such as auctions or online bidding sites, is much rarer and complex. Cash, a personal loan or paying with a credit card tend to be the more favoured choices.

Do you need further help with buying a used car online?

As long as you avoid the pitfalls and do the critical research, buying a used car online could be one of the best things you’ll ever do and could save you thousands of pounds compared to buying brand new. There are plenty of reliable dealers and sellers out there that make purchasing a stress-free breeze.

However, you might still want that extra hand understanding all the specifics of finding a safe dealer and calculating the finance rate payments. That’s where My Car Credit can step in.

Simply give us a call on 01246 458 810 or drop us an email at – one of our friendly specialists will be in touch shortly.

For additional information, you can also explore our the hundreds of helpful blogs and articles we have created to support you in your car buying journey.

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