Buying a Car Online

Posted by: Dan on 18/01/2017

Category: General

The opportunities of online shopping are immense. In the time it takes someone to read this sentence, you can buy something from Adelaide, Alaska, or Austria, and have it shipped to your door. This is a drama-free way to shop when it comes to buying small and inexpensive goods; but what about buying something much bigger and more expensive, like a car?

In years gone by, looking for a car meant wandering out to a card yard or looking through a newspaper and hoping for the best. Online shopping has changed all that and made the process easier, but is it a bad idea to buy a car online instead of in person? Here’s a look at some of the issues you need to consider.

The website's quality matters

Try to get a sense of the seller beyond their website alone. If you visit the site and find a ton of pop-ups, ads for diet pills, and online gambling, then the website is questionable.

It's also important to look at social media. While social media can be manufactured a little, if a business has bad customer service, it will be hard to hide that online, as customers will complain via social media.

Finally, check that the website looks new and modern. While it doesn't mean a business is run by awful cheaters and scammers if the website looks a little old, it does give an indication that they may not have the attention to detail that’s so important when it comes to selling cars.

Find out if there’s also a physical location

Whenever you buy a vehicle online, you must consider whether you’ll have the option to return the vehicle, just as you would a car bought off a showroom floor.  Having a physical location to visit will help give you peace of mind.

What’s more, even if you don’t recognise the address, technology like Google Street View means you can quickly have a look at where your seller has listed the car’s location. If a Google search tells you the address is a car yard, then all is as expected. If it’s the location of something like a restaurant or a swimming pool, though? That’s a clear indicator that everything is not as it seems with the seller.

Can you see the car in person?

Buying a car from the other side of town and needing to return it can be a pain. Buying a car from the other side of the world and needing to return it is such an ordeal that Hollywood has made movies about it.

If you find your dream car, it may be worth the extra trouble of navigating a greater distance. If you find a car you like far away that is just a little more affordable than one closer to home? Keep in mind the advantage of buying local if something should go wrong.

Do you get evasive answers to any questions?

If you browse online, it's natural you’ll have some questions about the car. When asking them, if you find that the seller is evasive with answers, that is a clear and early sign something is wrong.

Are online and in-person customers treated the same?

While you can buy goods through their online stores, many Australian retailers also offer in-person customer service if you’ve shopped with them. That means you can return your goods for an exchange or refund in the store, as well as feel assured that if something goes wrong, you can speak to a real person in the shop to get a resolution.

If a car seller can’t provide you the same service when you buy online, that could be a warning sign. If a customer who buys their car in person can receive service at the business, but an online buyer has to dial a long phone number or contact an impersonal email, that’s an indicator that any problems with the car will likely be a big pain to sort out.

Read the fine print

Buying a pair of socks for a few dollars online comes with little risk if they turn out to be poorly made. But if you buy a car for thousands of dollars, you need to ensure that you have a clear understanding of the deal. If you’re buying in person, you’ll of course sign a contract. The same can also apply to online sales, but may vary depending on what site you use.

Regardless of the specifics of the deal, the golden rule of contracts – “Never sign anything you don’t understand” – applies here. If you feel like you got a good deal but are unsure about the contract, consider getting professional advice on it. The extra money spent could save you a lot of hassle in the long run.

You need to know your rights

Any Australian business needs to follow Australian laws – and that means you are entitled to legal protection as a consumer. This means that whether you buy in person or online, an Australian business is subject to the law and expectation that it will sell goods (like a car) that work as advertised, unless it is clearly indicated otherwise (i.e. “Sold as is”). Just keep in mind that this protection may not apply when you buy from a business overseas. The legal processes in such a situation will likely vary quite a bit from what you are used to, as well.

While a buyer has their rights, it should be noted that it’s not always easy to see them defended. Sure, the law says a buyer is entitled to protection, but if a car costs $5000, and a lawsuit costs $50,000, then the cost of a lawsuit is not worth it.

If you rule out buying a car online by default, you’ll also shrink your options on offer. Though proceeding with caution is wise, the act of simply looking online for a car is not only safe, but also a good move. It’s when it comes to the actual process of buying and finalising a deal that question marks can arise.

If you’re looking to buy a car online, and have found that the seller seems to meet all expectations for service, it's likely you can buy online with peace of mind. If you are still unsure, though? Contact the seller online and ask if you can visit to seal the deal in person. They should be happy to oblige: they still get a sale either way.

Have you ever bought a car online? What were the pros and cons of your experience? Feel free to share in the comments below:

Image: Pixabay