The way people buy cars has changed significantly in the past two decades – traditionally the car was the second largest purchase that most Britons made in their lifetime, and therefore was nearly exclusively bought outright. The rise of easy credit, low interest rates and company car schemes has seen a big change however, and often cars are now seen more as commodities to a lot of buyers rather than an emotional purchase; high mpg, low road tax and a good servicing plan have all become more of a draw than tidy handling or a cushy ride.
Still the way which we have been buying cars has fundamentally remained the same, in that we rock up to a dealer (maybe having done a little research) and then do our best not to get the wool pulled over our eyes by salesmen with monthly targets to reach. OK so this mainly applies to the buyers of new cars, but the up until recently the percentage of people who have been savvy enough to buy online via brokers and other means has been quite small. However with the rise of comparison sites such as Moneysupermarket and GoCompare, even the average car owner has become accustomed to shopping around a bit in order to save some of their hard earned money.
I guess it was inevitable then that eventually somebody would cotton onto the idea that new cars could be sold in much the same way; used customers already had the extensive search engines of websites like AutoTrader and Exchange & Mart, and new customers often know exactly what they want in a vehicle in terms of engine and spec so in theory it should be even easier for them to find a better deal, especially when dealer prices are often very malleable depending on how hard you haggle (one of the most unpleasant aspects of buying a new car second only to paying!). Brokering sites like Orangewheels and Drivethedeal have already had some reasonable success in this respect, but I recently investigated the new kid on the block, CarWow, whose professional and easy to use site is much more up the street of Mr and Mrs J Smith.
The creators of CarWow would like to see it as a one-stop shop for customers looking to buy a new car; on initial impressions it would seem to be more of a review site, much like Parkers or WhatCar, but taking a closer look and the reasonably in depth reviews are there to assist and steer customers into making a choice using the internet rather than going to a dealership or manufacturer’s website and mucking around. A good case in point is the blogging section where you will find posts even more pointless than many of mine; who cars which shades of paint are available on a Vauxhall Mokka and the impressions they might give to other road users. Equally their numerous comparisons are pretty limited to the facts and figures side of things and generally don’t reach a clear conclusion…this is the opposite to ‘proper’ automotive sites which tend to base their recommendations on how sharply the car steers (or worse), but I’d have liked to see CarWow take a bit more of a mixed approach seeing as though some of us still see cars as an emotive purchase.
But moving on from the extra frills that adorn CarWow over and above similar sites, the real purpose of the site is for people to find a decent deal on a new car. The method is simple; just choose the car you would like to get quotes for, then follow up with the engine and trim level and finally check any optional extras you’d like. OK so this isn’t quite as flashy and visually pleasing as configurators on manufacturer’s websites, but it does at least meant that you don’t end up ticking lots of boxes that you don’t really need or sometimes don’t even realise what they mean. From there (after entering a couple of personal details so that quotes can be emailed to you directly) it turns into a waiting game, but within 24 hours you should have a decent array of quotes from dealers across the UK.
I decided to test out CarWow for the first time last week, after hearing about how well it had worked for my brother’s girlfriend’s dad (known henceforth as Alan). Alan was looking for a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, and as the range is about to be heavily facelifted found himself driving to Yorkshire to collect his new car. Admittedly London to Leeds is quite a way to go, but considering he has previously been to Northern Ireland to pick up a car he wanted it sort of pales into comparison I guess. So yes anyway, I thought I’d pick up quotes for 2 models I have been eyeing up for my Mum’s next car – the new Honda HR-V and recently facelifted Audi Q3. The Honda was pretty simple to follow through on as there are no optional extras yet, just differing trims and engines/gearboxes – a HRV 1.5i SE has a listed price of £19,745. Audi’s are in general a little more complicated and varied in price, so I tried to keep it simple by choosing a Q3 1.4tsi SE, with no optional extras at £25,380.
I had expected for dealers to race back with quotes, or at least some to send some automatically stored quotes within the next 24h as the website suggested they would. Instead I waited from Friday afternoon through to midday Monday to get any responses, and even then the best ones came a couple of days after that. Given that the Honda HR-V is a brand new model not even yet available to view in showrooms, I was not too surprised that none of the initial quotes I had offered anything more off list price than the £500 dealer contribution to finance packages which I already knew about. It was a little disappointing considering it’s the more likely car for my mum to show any interest in, but I would guess that in time prices will be more malleable. Eventually one did come back with a £757 saving for cash buyers, with an additional £500 off for finance buyers if they used that same package I mentioned before. That’s actually not too bad a deal for either (3.8% off cash and 6.4% finance), although with the dealer being based all the way in Hull, I think I’d be more inclined to ask my local dealer to try and match the offer rather than trekking 150 miles north!
Audi dealers were a little more generous with their offers, and they probably should be given that the Q3 is looking a little long in the tooth despite a recent nip/tuck; the upcoming second generation BMW X1 looks significantly bigger and cheaper to run than it’s predecessor, whilst Mercedes’ GLA is also still reasonably fresh on the scene. I quite quickly had a range of offers which pleasingly saw the same discount available for cash or finance buyers – eventually the best turned out to come from Milton Keynes, with a £2,170 saving bringing the price of the Q3 down 8.6% to £23,210. Admittedly any buyer would probably want to add a few choice options to their Q3 purchase, but my understanding is that the higher the list price the larger the saving, so it is still very possible to get a half decent Q3 for under £25k, not the £28k which I was initially finding.
What I thought fantastic about the CarWow experience was just how unintrusive the whole thing is; quite often whenever you get any kind of quote for something (and this includes insurance even if you untick the contact me box!), you’ll end up with a few phone calls asking if they can help with your choice and save you any more money. I guess some people won’t mind but the vast majority prefer just to get on with it themselves, and apart from a message through CarWow from Audi Whetstone asking if I wanted anymore help I have been left well alone. Admittedly the website is paid a nice commission for each car they help to sell, but does that really matter to most buyers who are increasingly feeling too polite to haggle? When purchasing my Mum’s current car 6 years ago the most I was able to negotiate off was the addition of parking sensors, I was only 19 and pretty fresh to the world of showrooms, but even at 50-something my Mum felt far too uncomfortable even to ask for that. Simply by typing in a few bits of information online I’ve already managed to get over £2k off…it may not be perfect but I think that CarWow has the potential to signal a major shift in the way in which we buy cars.