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Buying a car online: The guide to doing it with confidence - and getting the best deal possible

Online car sales have shot up in recent months. Here’s how to approach things like a pro.

A MASSIVE 90% OF car owners start their car buying journey online, according to statistics from DoneDeal. But over the last ten months, online car sales have taken on huge new significance, for buyers and sellers alike.

Right now, spending a Saturday visiting car showrooms and taking a couple of test drives is out of the question. So if you’re planning on buying a new or used car in the near future, how can you make online buying work for you? How can you get a feel for the car, and come away with a great deal, without setting foot in a showroom?

Here’s our guide to buying online with confidence in 2021, with a little help from the experts…

1. I already know I can browse car listings online. But how much more of the buying process can I do from home?

shutterstock_185964323 Shutterstock / Eugenio Marongiu Shutterstock / Eugenio Marongiu / Eugenio Marongiu

All of it, if you want. While online car buying is nothing new, dealers have levelled up their offering in a big way in recent months, upgrading their payment systems and offering extras like free door-to-door delivery.

“We’ve put a lot of emphasis on making things simple for the buyer,” says Ted Sheils, Company Director of Sheils Motorgroup. “Even with small things like the photos you see on our car listings – there are much more of them now and they’re of a much higher quality, so that buyers can get a real sense of the car they’re looking at.”

As with many dealers around the country, Sheils Motorgroup now allows customers to go through the buying process “from start to finish” without ever setting foot on the forecourt. “You can reserve a car, do a video walk-through, buy the car and have it arrive outside your door,” says Sheils.

2. Will I get to chat to a real person, like I would at a car showroom?

shutterstock_749118631 Shutterstock / Virrage Images Shutterstock / Virrage Images / Virrage Images

Of course. Buying online doesn’t have to mean missing out on the ultra-personal experience you’d usually get at a car dealership. You’ll have the chance to put questions to a salesperson by phone and email, or to negotiate a better price, just as you would on the forecourt. Video has become a big part of the online buying process too, says Sheils:

If someone sends in an enquiry about a particular car, a member of our team will pull the car out and send them a personalised video going through every single detail – the bodywork, the tyres, the boot space, the upholstery. They’ll open all the doors of the car, they’ll sit down inside.

Even if you’re only at the stage of browsing listings right now, it’s still worth picking up the phone and chatting to a dealer one-on-one, says Dermott Jewell, CEO of the Consumers’ Association of Ireland: 

Speaking to a dealer by phone means you’re building the relationship straight away and you’ll have a point of contact if you have any questions later on.

3. Any tips for negotiating a great deal online?

shutterstock_315151790 Shutterstock / Syda Productions Shutterstock / Syda Productions / Syda Productions

For a first-time negotiator, buying online can actually work to your advantage, as you’ll have a little time to plan your next move before picking up the phone or sending an email.

The price of the car is an obvious area to make savings, but don’t forget benefits-in-kind like free servicing or a guaranteed NCT pass. There’s lots of wiggle room here once you’re prepared to ask, says Jewell:

There are a variety of things you can work with the dealership on. Maybe they’ve offered you a basic warranty, so you can negotiate a longer or more comprehensive warranty there. If it’s a used car, you may be able to negotiate to have scratches on the bodywork touched up, or have a new set of tyres fitted.

4. Without going for a test drive, how can I really get a feel for the car?

shutterstock_309912734 Shutterstock / Isamare Shutterstock / Isamare / Isamare

The test drive is often the clincher when it comes to buying a vehicle – it’s when you really know either way if the car is right for you. A reputable dealer will do their level best to help you out here, so don’t be afraid to ask for extra photos or even videos of specific parts of the car. Doing your own research by reading and watching reviews of the car model online can also be helpful before you commit.

Running the relevant checks will give you extra peace of mind at this stage too, says Jewell:

An online history check is simple to do and it’ll show you how the car was driven, how it was cared for, who owned it and for how long. Even the smallest of details can be important – maybe it was previously a hire car so has more wear and tear than you’d expect. The more information you can get, the better.

Jewell also recommends asking a third party like an engineer or a mechanic to physically inspect the car, particularly if you’re buying a used model. Even with current Covid-19 restrictions, most dealers will allow this once social distancing guidelines are adhered to.

5. The car arrived and I’m not happy with it. Can I send it back?

shutterstock_147384410 Shutterstock / Don Pablo Shutterstock / Don Pablo / Don Pablo

The standard cooling-off period for an online purchase – in this case, a car that you’ve bought and has arrived at your door without you visiting the showroom – is 14 days, says Jewell. One helpful step he suggests is to fully inspect the car as soon as it arrives to your door:

Take photos, make note of any damage if it’s a used car, and do a full walk around. That way, if you do decide to return the car within 14 days, you can prove that no damage happened while it was in your care.

Buying a car is a significant purchase, and the more care and thought you can put into it, the better the deal you’ll get, says Jewell:

“This is likely to be the second biggest purchase you’ll make in your life – maybe even the biggest – so it’s not something to be rushed. Do your research and do your homework.”

DoneDeal hosts the widest selection of cars for sale in Ireland, with 72,000 on sale today. The vast majority of those, 51,000, are from over 1,000 trusted local car dealerships that offer certainty in your purchase through warranties and history checks. To check out DoneDeal’s range of cars from all of Ireland’s trusted car dealerships, see here.

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