You can buy almost anything online these days and we do it all the time. From shoes to groceries and even second homes, online shopping has never been so popular. But cars are different, aren’t they? While we’d always recommend test driving a car before you buy, it’s not always possible. Fortunately, it is possible to buy a car without seeing it and still land a bargain, we show you how.

Research the car first

All great car purchases begin with research. If you’re planning to buy a car without seeing it first, you’ll need to be even more scrupulous with your investigation. Not only do you want to find out about the make and model’s quirks and likely defects, you’ll be interested to learn about regional differences too. This is so you can exploit regional differences.

Some cars sell better in some parts of the country than others. For example, in the Northeast of England, the Nissan Juke is the favourite SUV for drivers. In the Southwest, smaller cars like the Honda Jazz are driven in abundance. Shopping for your preferred car far from its fan base is likely to get you a lower price. Shop for an SUV down south or a zippy small car in the north of England.

Ask for LOTS of pictures

Buying a car without seeing it first doesn’t mean you, well, don’t get to see it first. Ask for plenty of photographs before you buy. If you’re buying from a private seller or dealer, this shouldn’t be a problem. You’ll want to make sure you have pictures of the interior – back, front, dash and boot. For the exterior, you’ll want to see both sides of the car, front, back and close-ups for any bumps, dents or marks.

If you’re making a purchase from an online car marketplace like Cazoo or Cinch, you’ll find there are over 20 photographs from different angles. Generally, you can also get a 360° view of both the inside and outside of the car. Make sure you check them all out.

Check the car’s history

A car’s history is tied to the VIN – that’s the vehicle identification number. This 17-digit number can be used to pull the full vehicle history report. If you are planning to buy a car without seeing it, this report is a must-have. It will let you know if the car you are considering has been written off, ever given a salvage title, or even had flood damage. Accidents, multiple owners, and odometer switches will all be revealed with a full vehicle history report.

If you are buying from a dealer, the chances are you’ll be able to view their vehicle history reports without additional charge. If you’re intending to purchase from a private seller, you’ll need to pay for your own HPI check and report. We’d recommend this even if you were going to test drive before buying a car – if you’re buying a car without seeing it, you’d be crazy to not get a history report.

As for online sellers like Cazoo and Cinch, they run their own checks with over 100 mechanical, cosmetic and electrical points investigated. Full history checks aren’t possible unless you reach out to the customer service team with the specifics of a car you’re considering. Even then, they’ll usually only be able to provide the car’s service history and may not be able to provide the VIN for a full history check.

Get the car inspected

If you’re spending money on a car you’ve not seen, it makes sense to have an independent mechanic check it out on your behalf. This is going to cost you around £100, but how much is your peace of mind worth?

A mobile mechanic can generate a report within 24 hours or so. This will alert you to any major problems as well as issues you can expect will need attention at the first service. A mobile mechanic won’t test drive the car for you. Their report will make it less likely you purchase a lemon.

If you are buying a car with online marketplaces like Cazoo, and others, their mechanics will have already inspected the cars you’re looking at. This saves you time, money and provides a little more peace of mind.

Check the fine print

Whether buying from a dealer, an online car marketplace, or a private seller, you’ll want to be 100% sure about the sale agreement. If the car just isn’t what you thought it would be, you’ll want to return it. In the UK you’re covered by the Consumer Rights Act of 2015 for purchases and that includes cars. It’s worth discussing this with sellers first though.

If you buy a car without seeing it and it develops a fault within 30 days of your purchase, you can reject it and return it to the dealer for a refund. Generally, most dealers offer a 90-day warranty with car sales.

It’s a slightly different story with online sellers, they may have a 7-day quibble-free returns policy, but if you take them up on this and buy a different car, you might find the terms are slightly different and there’s a small fee for returning subsequent cars. You’ll still be covered by the Consumer Rights Act, but you’ll need to check the fine print of their contracts too.

The final word on how to buy a car without seeing it first

At the end of the day, buying a car without seeing it first is a bit of a trade-off between convenience and security. If you view a car first, take her for a test drive and then decide to buy it, you have a good idea about what you’re getting. When you buy a car without seeing her, you’ll need to check the details and double-check the contracts too.

That said, it is certainly possible to buy a car without seeing it first and still get a bargain. Some car brokers do this regularly to turn a profit – buying low and selling higher within weeks of the purchase. You can buy a car sight unseen from a dealer or a car marketplace and get a bargain, just do your homework properly first.

Join our community of empowered drivers for exclusive deals, offers & goodies.