How to Buy a Car Online and Have It Delivered


The way we buy cars has changed a lot over the last couple of decades and it continues to change, so here I’m going to use my extensive experience to tell you how to buy a car online and have it delivered.

It can be as easy to buy a car online and have it delivered as it is to order a pizza and have that delivered, but there are much worse and much more serious things that could happen with buying a car online and having it delivered than with a pizza delivery.

  • What to do before you start
  • Where do you start?
  • New or used?
  • Who should you buy from online?
  • If it seems too good to be true…….
  • Timescales
  • Delivery options
  • Your consumer rights if something goes wrong

What to do before you start

When you’ve sat down and finally decided that it’s time to buy a new car, it doesn’t matter whether you’re going to go down the traditional route of visiting a dealership or if you’re planning to buy online instead. It still makes sense to have a good think about what you want, what you need, what your budget is, and how you’re planning to fund your purchase.  

Unless you’ve got almost limitless funds available to you, which most of us certainly haven’t, the last thing you should be doing is going to buy a vehicle from an auto dealership or an online seller without deciding how much you are prepared or able to spend beforehand. Even before you decide what type of vehicle, the brand of vehicle or the model you’re interested in, it’s of the utmost importance that you set yourself a budget and stick to it.

Believe me, I know how easy it is to walk into a dealership and fall for a car that’s more expensive than I really should be thinking of paying. You should also ask yourself why you are looking to buy a new car. Are you buying because your current vehicle is letting you down? Have your circumstances changed and you need something bigger and more family-friendly? Are you looking to buy because you just like the idea of changing or because you’re a bit bored with your current vehicle or are you a bit of a gear head and you just want something newer and better than what you have already?

Decide why you want a new vehicle and then decide how much you can afford and are prepared to spend, and then start thinking about what vehicles fit the bill.

Where do you start?

It doesn’t matter whether you are going to buy online or not, your search for your next vehicle should begin online. The great thing about this part of the car buying process is it doesn’t cost you anything and there’s no risk involved. You can look at countless different vehicles, websites, and reviews and spend as much time as you like. There’s no pressure on your time and you don’t have a salesperson following you around even though you’ve clearly told them that you’re “just looking.”

As well as researching what vehicle might be right for you, you can also do a lot of in-depth research into reliability, maintenance and running costs, and different ways of funding your new vehicle. You can even get a good idea of how much you should expect to get for any potential trade-in you might have. All this help and all this knowledge is entirely free, and what’s not to love about that?

New or used?

Whether to buy a pre-owned or a brand new car used to simply come down to if you could afford a new vehicle or not. If you didn’t have the budget to buy a new car you’d go for something used. There are still some economic reasons for choosing used over new, but the clear dividing line that used to be there has become a lot more blurred with the introduction of different auto fiancé products.

Choosing whether to go used or new is an entire article in itself, and some people are just ideologically wedded to the idea that used vehicles represent better value for money. In some cases that’s true, but I could also bombard you all day long with examples of how financing a brand new car can be better, and often more affordable than going for something pre-owned.

This is an important decision to make, and it’s definitely worth doing some serious thinking and research before you come to a conclusion and go out to buy something.

As far as used cars are concerned, I’d only look to buy online if the vehicle is located somewhere you can go and see it and test drive it. How far or how close that has to be for you is up to you, but I wouldn’t be tempted to buy a used vehicle online and have it delivered without seeing it in the flesh and test driving it first. Ok, if the used vehicle is an ex-demonstrator that’s a couple of months old from a main dealer and it only has a couple of thousand miles on the odometer, in that case I would probably take the chance if it was a great deal.

But if the vehicle is a couple of years old or older and has tens of thousands of miles on the clock, I really wouldn’t consider committing to buying unless I was going to check it out in person first.

Who should you buy from online?

Maybe I should have titled this section “Who shouldn’t you buy from online” instead? If, like me, you’re careful about where you buy a new electrical appliance from online, why would you not be as careful when buying something as costly as a new or used vehicle? I quite like to buy from eBay because it’s quick and easy to check the seller’s feedback to get an idea of how reliable and trustworthy they are. I won’t buy something from a website I don’t know unless it costs less than about twenty bucks.

There are a lot of websites where you can buy a new or used vehicle online and have it delivered, but I’d apply the same rule I’ve just stated above, but on steroids. There are some very big, reliable and well-established names in the market, so it’s not a bad idea to stick with one of them. However, if you’re looking for something like a lease on a new vehicle you shouldn’t rule out some smaller companies, at least until you’ve checked them out.

Here are some of the big-name sites you can probably rely on:

  • Cars.com
  • Cars Direct
  • Autotrader
  • Edmunds
  • CarGurus
  • Carfax
  • TrueCar
  • Kelley Blue Book

There are plenty more, of course, but the above list covers the really big players. This doesn’t mean they’re all perfect, and you also have to think about the service they actually offer. Some offer a complete service where you can research, choose, buy and finance your vehicle all through the site and have the vehicle delivered to your door. Some sites just have a network of dealerships that subscribe to their service, and they will effectively bid for your business once you’ve entered into the system what you’re looking for. Once you accept a bid you are then dealing with the dealership directly, so it does start to make you wonder if it’s really as good as going to a dealership in your local area.

Personally, I always buy my new cars online, but I always lease them too. Once I’ve decided what I want I look for the best price I can find from a company I think I can trust. Although they are sourcing the car from a physical dealership, all my dealings are with the leasing company online and on the telephone. All the paperwork is done and signed online and a delivery date agreed. I then just wait for the car to be delivered.

In my case, I set myself a monthly payment budget and an upfront payment I’m comfortable with and then look for the best deal I can get for my money. The last three vehicles I’ve had have been a four-door hatch, a compact crossover and the last one was a two-door convertible. All three transactions went without a hitch, and I’d like to think it was a result of my knowledge and experience and following the advice I’m giving you here.

If it seems too good to be true……

If it seems too good to be true it probably is. When it comes to car deals online, if it seems too good to be true it almost certainly is. When you do your research you’ll soon get a feel for the going rate for the vehicle you’re interested in. let’s say you’ve decided what you want and 10 different sites are quoting monthly payments on the same terms that vary between $325 and $375 per month, which is a fairly typical spread.

Before you pull the trigger on a deal you then come across one from a smaller site that is offering the same model on the same terms for $250 per month. Personally, I wouldn’t go anywhere near that deal. There are a number of potential outcomes, and I know people who’ve experienced all of them.

The worst-case scenario is they take your deposit (usually equal to 3 or more monthly payments in advance) and you never hear from them again. The next worse scenario is you eventually get you vehicle, but it turns out to be a different trim level, a different color, or a car that’s quite clearly not brand new. Another common one is for them to mess you around with lots of broken promises until they eventually admit they can’t get that vehicle, but they then offer you another one they can get isn’t as good and you could have got from a more trustworthy source for that price in the first place.

Timescales

One of the really cool things about buying a car online is that to a large extent you are in control how long or how short the process is. The first car I leased I needed in a hurry, and it was outside my house two weeks after I ordered it. It would have been much quicker than that, but the lease had a 14-day cooling-off period before the car could be delivered. A lot of the best car lease deals will be on cars that dealerships and manufacturers want to move on quickly, so as the buyer you really are in the box seat.

Equally, if you know you want to change your car but you don’t want to change for three months or so, maybe because that’s when your current finance is paid off, you can do a deal now and arrange for the transaction to be concluded at a convenient future date. Unless it’s a ridiculous amount of time in the future, the seller will probably be happy to do a deal on those terms.

If you physically go to a dealership they’ll be trying to sell you a vehicle from their existing inventory, and it’s unlikely they’ll want to sit on it for a couple of months if you’re not ready to take delivery yet.

Delivery options

You might want to pay some attention to the various delivery options available to you, and you’d be amazed at how some people don’t pay enough attention to this. There are two ways a vehicle can be delivered to you, which are for the car to be transported on a trailer or for it to be driven to you. If it’s a used, Certified Pre-Owned or an ex-demo car, then having it driven is going to be fine. However, if you’re buying an absolutely brand new model, do you want it being driven and someone else potentially putting the first few hundred miles on the odometer?

The difference could come down to price, and you shouldn’t underestimate how much it can sometimes cost to deliver a car in a truck or on a trailer to you. If you’ve agreed to a lease deal of something like $299 per month with a down payment of $950, do you want to be paying an extra $500 for delivery? Some sellers will offer free delivery, which is fine, but make sure you know whether that’s going to be driven or transported.

Some online sellers will not only deliver your new car free of charge, but they might also collect your trade-in for free too if you’re selling that to them as part of the transaction.

Your consumer rights if something goes wrong

There are many wonderful things about living in the US compared to most other countries, but protection for you buying a car online isn’t one of them. Although there are laws that protect consumer rights across the board, a lot of consumer law was drawn up before a time when buying something like a car online was even a thing.

Check into the seller’s policy on returns and other issues relating to potential problems before you agree on a deal. Different dealers will have different policies, and how much protection they offer is something that might have a big bearing on whether you feel comfortable buying online in the first place.

States also have lemon laws, and these are designed to protect anyone who buys or leases a car that turns out to have defects affecting its use, value or its safety. Once again, you might want to look into this carefully before you buy, and how the law applies could depend on where you live or where the dealer that is supplying you is situated. State laws can vary significantly.

Sean Cooper

Former retail auto industry professional for almost a decade and now an automotive writer and journalist for the last 7 years

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