Covid-19 makes online car sales more tempting

But beware the cheap second hand car bought sight unseen

With the country under lockdown and car dealers really only remaining open to provide servicing for key workers, it’s perhaps no surprise that buying a new or used car is far from many of our minds right now. Well, far from many, but perhaps not quite far from all. The Covid-19 crisis has certainly upset the UK car market, and will doubtless continue to do so for some time, but there are still cars being bought and sold, and the lack of personal contact means that there are new dangers for buyers in search of bargains.

Let’s look at new car sales for a moment, because there are reports that the while the lockdown has certainly put the brakes on shopping for a new car, there are those who are happy to complete an entire purchase online.

Car buying online

Rockar is a Yorkshire-based outfit which has specialised in the recent years in finding new ways of retailing cars. It pioneered the use of shopping-centre outlets for car sales, rather than traditional out-of-town ‘plate glass’ dealerships, and is now reporting than an increasing number of its customers are looking to shop, specify, and complete their car purchase entirely online.

“Over the last few weeks we have noticed a significant change in how customers are interacting with us. Whilst our store footfall has reduced 31 per cent week on week instore, browsing of our site, completion of orders and requests for delivery slots have all increased with 80 per cent of sales now being completed solely online from the comfort of customers’ homes. This has resulted in a record couple of weeks for Rockar on top of our 22 per cent year on year sales growth” said Dan Smedley, Marketing Lead for Rockar. “Our platform already allows users to browse and buy online and receive the delivery at home without visiting a store, but this week we piloted our new free Contactless Handover to ensure that all cars in the future can be delivered safely and directly to a customer’s home.  80 per cent of our customers are now choosing a contactless handover.  Our delivery brand ambassadors are being temperature tested daily, wearing latex gloves and wiping all control surfaces down with antibacterial wipes.  This comes with the option of a video handover to ensure a home delivery is a safe option for them. Deliveries only work if you have someone who can deliver the car and for this reason, we have trained and redeployed some of our existing staff to ensure that we have the capacity to deliver cars as staffing levels and government advice change daily.”

New way to sell cars

Certainly, it’s not hard to see the appeal of such sales platforms. Customers can appreciate it right now, because they’re stuck indoors and if they need a new car, then this is pretty much the only way to get one right now. Beyond these days of lockdown, dealers and dealer groups might start to appreciate it more because there’s the potential for expanding into new brands and marques without the expense of setting up an entirely new dealer premises — a new dealership could open simply by fitting out a normal shop unit and beef up their online abilities.

Social distancing

However, while that’s all positive, there are warnings for those shopping in the used car market, and most especially those looking for cheap, bargain, runarounds right now.

Used car website DesperateSeller.co.uk has reported a spike in searches for cars priced under £2,000 since last week, when the coronavirus crisis escalated. The most in-demand models are small cars such as the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa and VW Polo. That’s most likely because people are becoming more nervous of using public transport, and still need to get around whether they’re in key worker positions, or simply to be able to get to the food shop or chemist.

Rod Joseph, director at DesperateSeller.co.uk, said: “People are veering away from public transport in order to better isolate themselves but they also want to support elderly relatives even more than before. Suddenly, getting a cheap runabout with a good reputation for reliability (like a Corsa, Fiesta or Polo) makes a lot of sense. It looks like budget cars could be the motoring equivalent of handwash and dealers will certainly welcome the increase in demand. The circumstances in London mean it is a particular hotspot.”

Caveat emptor

The danger for the consumer is the lack of time to check such a purchase out properly. Needless to say, with social distancing being enforced, the traditional way of buying a used car will have to change for the time being, and many will doubtless be tempted to simply see a car in an advert, ring the seller, pay a deposit over the phone, and then go and grab the car quickly.

Such haste, and such a reliance on online viewing, will inevitably leave gaps in the process which can be exploited by less scrupulous retailers, and such habits may linger amongst customers once the crisis has passed. So it’s worth remembering that, even in times such as these, one should make the time to carefully inspect any car purchase — whether physically or online — and very definitely perform a thorough history and background check on the car. Crisis or no crisis, MotorCheck can definitely help with that.