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Three quarters of drivers will not buy a car without seeing it first

A stock picture of someone buying a car in a dealership

The number of UK drivers willing to pay for a car they haven’t seen first has fallen since last year, with three-quarters saying they would not buy one without viewing it in person.

According to the findings of an AA-Populus poll of more than 17,100 motorists, a fifth (21%) of Brits have bought a car unseen in 2020 — a fall from 24% last year.

Of those who have bought unseen, 62% purchased a new car from a dealer, while 38% bought a used car unseen, either from a dealer, a private seller or an online auction site.

Meanwhile, three-quarters (75%) of drivers said they had never bought a car unseen, and never would in the future, rising from 69% in 2019.

James Fairclough, the chief executive of AA Cars, said: “It has been widely assumed that more drivers would choose to buy a car unseen if they are unable to visit a forecourt in person.

“Yet our data from the lockdown period suggests only a minority of drivers would want to buy a car without viewing it first, and shows people still value the reassurance of seeing a vehicle in person before parting with their money.”

The shift in attitudes towards only buying a car after seeing it in person comes as dealers started offering virtual viewings and delivering vehicles direct to customers’ doors, to make it easier for people to buy without setting foot on a forecourt.

However, during the first 10 days of showrooms being open following lockdown in the UK, inbound enquiries from prospective new and used car buyers were up by 35% year-on-year, according to Marketing Delivery.

Cox Automotive also recently reported signs of pent-up demand in the used car market after its auctions went wholly online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Imperial Cars data also found that used car buyers are favouring more affordable models than they did last year

Whereas, new car sales reached 145,377 in the first month out of lockdown for car showrooms in England and Northern Ireland, according to SMMT data.

Fairclough said: “Buyers know they can carry out extensive research online to compare prices and check a car’s history before they choose to buy — but nothing compares to seeing a vehicle up close and getting a feel for it during a test drive.

“With social distancing remaining in place, it is recommended that people continue to carry out their research online first, and compare prices at dealerships before booking an appointment to see the cars they are interested in.”

The research also found that young drivers are the most reluctant to buy a car unseen, with 84% of 18 to 24-year olds and 80% of 25 to 34-year olds saying they would never purchase one without seeing it in person. This falls to 75% among people aged 35 to 54.

Meanwhile, women are less willing to buy a car without seeing it first, with 80% saying they would never do so, compared to 73% of men.

In total, 4% of drivers who had never bought a car unseen said they would consider doing so in the future, falling from 5% last year.

AA research also found that car buyers don't want to travel far, as two out of five car buyers said they would only be willing to travel up to 30 miles to buy a used car

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