How to buy a used car in lockdown: can you order remotely, do distance selling protections apply?

Cautious buyers are still looking for cars but, with showrooms and forecourts currently closed, here's how to go about purchasing

How to buy a used car in lockdown: can you order remotely, do distance selling protections apply?
New rules: used cars are in demand, although the traditional showroom visit will now be subject to social distancing measures Credit: Stephen Hird

Are you thinking about buying a car? It might sound counter-intuitive. After all, despite the easing of lockdown measures (in England at least), and with economic uncertainty ahead, you might imagine relatively few people are thinking seriously about buying a car. 

However, according to a recent survey carried out by CarGurus of consumers who were either intending to purchase a car before the pandemic hit, or are now planning to do so this year, only four per cent of buyers have decided to defer their purchase indefinitely, while nearly a quarter – 24 per cent – want to buy as soon as the lockdown lifts. 

The used car market will benefit most of all; 37 per cent of prospective buyers who were planning to buy new are now intending to buy used instead, as buyers worried about economic turmoil seek to avoid committing to long-term new car finance deals

But there are other reasons to buy a car now. 14 per cent of those prospective purchasers who regularly used public transport are looking for a second vehicle in order to avoid having to do so in future, and the same goes for 25 per cent of those who previously relied on taxis or ride sharing.

Many people are considering buying a used car to avoid public transport once the lockdown is eased

If you’re hoping to buy a new car, then, you’re not alone. The good news is that you’ll soon have a chance, as car showrooms are expected to be allowed to reopen soon, possibly in early June. But just how do you go about doing it while lockdown restrictions are still in place? And should you consider ordering one and having it delivered, so that you don’t have to visit a showroom?

With the answers to those questions, and more, here’s our guide to buying a used car during lockdown.

Can I buy a used car remotely and have it delivered to my door?

Yes, you certainly can. In fact, more and more people were choosing to buy used cars this way anyway before the lockdown was brought in, and the likelihood is that that trend will only gather pace during this period. 

Having a car delivered to your door is easier than you might think Credit: David McNew/Getty Images

Indeed, many used car dealers are now offering to deliver cars to prospective buyers, some offering to do so at a discounted rate or even for free. Most dealers are also offering to send over detailed photographs of faults or blemishes, or to do video walk-arounds or test-drives, enabling you to see and hear the car in motion. 

Never has it been easier, therefore, to simply email or pick up the phone, agree a price, send over the money and have your next car arrive on your driveway a few days later. 

What are the risks involved?

The thought of buying a used car sight unseen, without being given the chance to check it first, will deter many people from ordering a car this way. And indeed, the potential for faults and flaws that haven’t been mentioned by the dealer to be present is significant. 

However, as long as you buy the car without setting foot on the dealer’s premises, the Consumer Contracts Regulations of 2013 – more widely known as distance selling regulations – apply, and that means you have 14 days to reject the car and return it to the dealer, no questions asked – even if you simply decide you don’t like it. 

As long as you buy the car without setting foot on a dealer’s premises, the Consumer Contracts Regulations of 2013 – more widely known as distance selling regulations – apply Credit: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

You don’t even need to pay for the cost of sending the car back; if you decide to reject it, the dealer must arrange for it to be collected. Your only obligation is to keep the car in the condition in which it was supplied. 

Obviously, you should also be wary of scams – it would be easy for fraudsters to post a fake car advert using images found elsewhere, then disappear once you’ve paid. With that in mind, do some research on the company you’re buying from, check it’s genuine, and ask for a video or some other proof that the car is real and in the dealer’s possession (for example, you could ask for a photograph taken with that day’s newspaper) .

If the dealer – and your credit limit – allow, you could even make the purchase on a credit card, thus allowing you an additional layer of protection from fraud.

What if I want to see the car first – how will buying a used car work when showrooms re-open?

While we haven’t yet had official confirmation of the measures dealerships will have to put into place when they reopen, it’s a safe bet the Government will insist on physical separation of two metres and, where that isn’t possible, that screens are installed.

Expect a visit to a car showroom to be almost as quiet as it is during lockdown Credit: Jason Alden/ Bloomberg

So when you visit a showroom, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to observe these measures upon arrival, or if it’s laid out a little differently than before. Showrooms may also limit the amount of people that can enter, with marshals on the doors, and display cars may be locked to avoid potential buyers touching interior plastics and transferring germs that way. 

When you ask to view the paperwork for the car you’re interested in, the salesperson may place it on an adjacent desk, or step away while you browse.

What about the test drive?

Test-driving is still possible under the current restrictions, but the chances are the salesperson will no longer join you in the car.

Many dealers are in the process of upgrading their insurance policies in order to allow unaccompanied test drives. However, there are of course security risks involved for the dealer, so be prepared to leave behind a credit or debit card and/or your driving licence as collateral.

Social distancing means that you may not be accompanied during a test drive

Don’t be surprised if the dealer tries to come along with you, though, because insurance policies that allow unaccompanied test drives are more expensive. Some might try to cut costs by riding in the back of the car, but don’t feel pressured into accepting this arrangement if you’re not happy that doing so will satisfy the Government’s social distancing recommendations. 

Dealers should be sanitising cars between test drives, but to reduce the risk of transmission further, you may also be asked to wear a face mask and/or gloves while you’re in the car.  Or you insist upon it.

Should I still haggle?

Absolutely – used cars are priced with a margin for haggling in mind, so never be afraid to try to negotiate. However, be aware that dealers have had a rough few months, so will be looking to minimise any sort of discount they offer. And given the above statistics, a potential resurgence of the used car market is on the cards post-lockdown, which could result in a seller’s market.

When you’ve sealed the deal, you should obviously avoid shaking hands. If you’re able to drive the car away immediately, it might be worth doing so, to avoid anyone else getting in to move the car and touching the controls; if not, bring cleaning products with you when you return to collect it. 

What if I want to buy privately?

You can still buy a car directly from the owner, but you may want to discuss how you’ll do so with him. 

Many sellers will understandably be reluctant to offer an unaccompanied test-drive, so you might have to be prepared to buy without having driven the car – and that’s a big risk. 

Seal the deal - but handshakes aren't advised and extra caution is required on both sides Credit: Sirinarth Mekvorawuth/Getty Images

You’ll also need to be prepared for the fact that the seller will want you to stay outside, even when looking through and signing paperwork. And they might be reluctant to take cash – so be prepared to offer an electronic bank transfer.

You can buy a car remotely from a private seller, too, though of course you won’t be backed up by the same consumer rights – you’ll have to take it on trust that the seller is describing the car accurately. You’ll also almost certainly have to arrange for delivery yourself, and if the car arrives and turns out not to be as described, you might have difficulty getting the seller to take it back. 

Are you planning to buy a car once lockdown is over? Tell us in the comments below. 

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