How it works

* Online car-buying advice * Consumer protected by distance selling regs * Forecourts fight back...

Author Avatar
What Car? Staff
14 March 2011

Online buying only works for customers who are confident enough to commit without physically touching their car: everything's done online, so you can't just turn up at a sales venue and peruse stock.

However, online companies do differ from conventional used car sites in the amount of information on tap. Where sites usually offer a few pictures, a brief description and maybe some data on fuel-efficiency, sites such as Autoquake and Carsite present you with numerous pictures inside and out, details of any scratches or scuffs, comprehensive data on the specification and performance, a report on the car's condition from an independent engineer, and sometimes even a video of the car being test driven and inspected.

It's also possible to browse models that will be coming into stock soon and reserve a car before it arrives. If you have a good idea of what you're looking for, it'll save you time and shoe leather.

You can also place a deposit there and then to reserve the car and many people do. Dermot Halpin said: 'Roughly 60% of our customers reserve their car online on the very first day they visit the website. By offering detailed listings, clear photography and an easy-to-use site, we've been embraced by consumers especially those who felt intimidated on a traditional used car forecourt.'

Once you've reserved a car you can either inspect it at the company's handover centre or have it delivered directly to your front door. Interestingly, around 35% of customers opt to have their choice shipped straight home, trusting what they've seen on the website.

Internet-sellers' cars are often sourced from the same places as a conventional dealer's stock: the majority come via fleet and lease companies.

The vehicles are then serviced and prepared just like any other used car, before they're photographed and put online ready for delivery.