How to buy a car during a pandemic

Until a few weeks ago, buying a car online appeared to offer one major advantage over physically buying it from a dealer: convenience. Now you can add one more: safeguarding your health. If you must buy a car at this time, doing so remotely has much to commend it.

Buying online has been around for years but is given extra prominence when, from time to time, a car maker or new player in the market launches its own platform, as Hyundai did in 2017 with Click to Buy. John Freel, one of its first customers, is full of praise for the new service. “I can’t be bothered going into showrooms and I don’t like being pressurised,” he says. “I did it at work when things were quieter and then thought: ‘Fine, I’m just going to go for it and click.’”

Convenience and lack of sales pressure: Freel put his finger on why buying a car online, directly from the manufacturers or via services such our sister brand What Car?’s New Car Buying, is popular. We could name a third reason: fixed, no-haggle prices.

Apparently, most people don’t like negotiating. I personally enjoy it and, in any case, you owe it to yourself to get the price best possible. As you chip away, you test the seller’s confidence in their prices and you may find all sorts of extras are thrown in. That said, it would take a pretty ruthless haggler to achieve some of the online savings we quote in our price comparison box on the opposite page.

All the same, as you would with a dealer, do shop around when buying online. Compare prices, including any additional fees and charges, before clicking. You wouldn’t be the first person to pay more for that fixed-price car than someone else.

The test drive

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Don’t forget your dealer

Car dealers have their faults, but buying your next car from a good one is a chance to build relationships that can stand you in good stead for the future. Perhaps you’ll need a last-minute loan car, someone to fight your corner in a warranty claim or a mates’-rates deal next time around… They may be able to help.

To buy or not to buy online…

That is indeed the question, but as competition among online sellers hots up, so their standards are improving. Buying online currently looks like the safest way to acquire your next new or used car but, even when we’re out of this tight spot, it still looks appealing – at least for the time-poor and the shy and retiring.

Dos and don’t when buying online

Do…

■ Compare sellers’ prices, charges, guarantees and warranties

■ Favour a seller who is clear and upfront at every stage of the buying process

■ Describe your part-exchange accurately

Don’t…

■ Lower your guard just because buying online is convenient

■ Fit the process around other tasks but give it your full attention

■ Forget to check who your contract is with