It's the brave new world of car buying - the online vehicle purchase. As more manufacturers embrace the concept of online retail experiences by setting up dedicated websites to sell their cars, it opens up plenty of potential pitfalls for buyers and retailers alike. Where do you stand if a car is faulty? What happens when it comes to delivery? And can you still haggle for a discount like you can with a face-to-face purchase?
Online purchases aren't anything new, because a number of new car brokers have been established online for a while now. These retailers can source cars from a variety of makers, and can even get you a specific model to meet your needs, and they also champion the fact that they can get a hefty discount over a car's recommended retail price.
The next stage of online car sales is where the manufacturers step up to sell cars directly to customers, bypassing the dealerships completely. Until now, most people could get as far as speccing up their perfect car, but then the best you could do after that is take this spec to a dealer for them to order it for you.
But the latest manufacturer websites allow you to go all the way and place your order direct with the maker. Now, we wouldn't recommend ordering a car on-spec without even sitting in it or taking one for a test drive first, but then if you're 100% certain of the car you want to purchase, then it could be the car buying model that suits you.
Fortunately, you're not going into an online car purchase without any backup from consumer organisations. Indeed there are more protections in place when you make an online purchase than when you buy a car 'face-to-face'.
While vehicles and other goods bought at retailers fall under the Consumer Rights Act, the Government has set out online consumer protection regs in the Consumer Contracts Regulations (2013). Chief among the legislation included in this is that there's a 14-day ‘cooling-off’ period, when a buyer can decide whether or not they want to keep the goods. Within the 14 days they can hand back the product with no questions asked.
Some independent new car brokers already offer a 14-day return period on new and used cars and can even sort out delivery of your new car to your house. Finance can also be sorted online thanks to services like BuyaCar.co.uk, which is owned by Dennis Publishing, the company behind Auto Express.
If you go with Buyacar, once you've been approved and you've reserved your car all you need to do is sign the documents as you would in a dealer showroom with proof of identity then confirm and complete your order form and you'll have a new car with 10 workings days.
After your purchase, you'll have a 14-day 'cooling off' period - which is useful, although if you're committed to buying a car, then its usefulness is probably rather limited. And if you do want to return a car, then you will need to check the small print to ensure there are no extra costs to pay when returning a car. Within the trial period, buyers are still liable for any damage and diminished value for the goods, and with a car that means a car's mileage would be taken into consideration if you're intent on returning it. Manufacturers could put clauses in regarding mileage covered, because you'll essentially be returning a brand-new car that it will now only be able to sell as a used model.
Auto Express understands that online retailers allow a mileage limit of around 100 miles before charging for depreciation to stop buyers taking advantage of the rule. Any car, despite the mileage and condition, can be handed back after two weeks, but buyers will likely face penalty fees subject to the original agreement. Manufacturers will also have to be transparent about the trial period, because if buyers aren’t made aware of their rights, the trial period is extended to 12 months.
Q&A with Joanne Lezemore
We asked legal expert Joanne Lezemore about some of the finer points of the rules:
Q: Do the new rules apply to both new and used cars bought online?
A: “The law applies equally to both new and used cars. All goods sold have to be of satisfactory quality and be durable; this means that they should last a period of time that can be reasonably expected, and the quality of the goods takes into account the age of the goods and the price paid.”
Q: What if I’ve driven several hundred miles in two weeks. Can I still hand back the car?
A: “Yes. However, the 14-day period exists only so that you can establish the nature, functioning and characteristics of the goods. If you go beyond that, the seller can claim the “diminished value” of the goods. This can include the loss of income to the trader that will be incurred as a result of having to sell a new car as second-hand.”
Q: What happens if I’ve bought the car online but collect it from a dealer?
A: “If the contract was entered online, then the same rights apply. You still have 14 days to make up your mind. It doesn’t matter if you collected the car from a dealer.”
Would you ever buy a car online?