Andy Goundry: New car internet buying – Is it a good idea?

Andy Goundry:

A new baby in the Goundry household - The new Golf 7 GTi
A new baby in the Goundry household – The new Golf 7 GTi

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Having recently been in the fortunate position of being able to treat myself to a new car, and having identified the car of my dreams – a Golf GTI – my thoughts turned to how to get the best deal, and where to buy it.

Being a bit of a skinflint to be honest, my first thoughts were to buy an ex-demonstrator, since the idea of letting someone else take the initial hit on depreciation was highly tempting. This plan was however soon overturned by the realisation that not only were the ex-demonstrators then available generally priced at barely less than equivalent new retail prices.

These often feature oddball mixes of not always, to me anyway, particularly desirable options which further inflated the price. Significantly, also, most of the demonstrators had been built without one of the key – at least in my opinion – safety features of the Mk VII Golf, namely the radar-controlled Adaptive Cruise Control / Front Assist which, hopefully, minimises the risk of colliding with a vehicle in front: particularly relevant in these days where crash-for-cash incidents are all too common.

By then thoroughly hooked on the GTI, but put off by the relatively high price, the opportunity to do a deal on a new car was then explored, however the “deals” offered varied from £800 off – at best – to “Sorry Sir… it’s a new model and we can sell all we can get without discounting”. Lead times of 22-24 weeks were quoted consistently at every dealership, which at least enabled me to arrange disposal of my present car, not to mention time to pull together the necessary cash!

The potential for internet buying had been considered initially, particularly in view of the amazing discounts allegedly on offer, but, like most folk, the historic horror stories of needing to pay large amounts of money up front, massive delivery lead times and non-UK specifications have always made me “bottle out” of exploring this method of car sourcing any further.

This time however, faced with seeing the dream car slip away, I dug a little deeper, with very interesting results. Several companies were in fact offering decent discounts; the best at that time being Drive the Deal with a shade over 12%. Further exploration revealed that their cars were UK sourced via the normal dealer network in exactly the same way as a direct transaction if you walked into the local showroom. Very little money changed hands up front, only a nominal deposit, in this case about 3.5%.

So far… so attractive. However, my fears (my better half says that I always look for the problems at the bottom of the half-empty glass!) were still that the customer service from the dealership could be terrible to non-existent, given that they would be making minimal profits. Or maybe the internet-bought cars would be at the bottom of the pile when it came to delivery times. And could there be any hidden charges, like needing to take out hugely expensive Gap Insurance or exorbitant lifetime paint and trim protection? Where would the car be coming from?  And more worryingly, would I have to make my way to the other end of the country to pick it up?

Nevertheless, the thought of that chunky discount was just too tempting, so with some trepidation I completed the simple on-line quotation form on the Drive the Deal website, to find pleasingly that options were discounted as well as the base price of the car, unlike some other sites. The website also made it clear that moving to the next stage was not legally binding, so I submitted the quote, duly receiving a phone call from Drive the Deal within a couple of hours.

This thanked me for my interest, confirmed that the car would be sourced from a UK VW dealer, would be delivered to my home at no extra cost and that following payment of the small holding deposit the nominated dealer would make contact to introduce themselves. I was also warned that the delivery time would be long – but was quoted exactly the same timeframe as all the local dealers had given me, so no worries there either.

Thus encouraged, I bit the bullet and paid my deposit. Once again, a phone call was received very quickly, this time from James at the nominated dealership, introducing himself. Drive the Deal’s small print conditions do not permit me to mention the name of the dealership, but I was pleased to find that they were also in South East England, thus only about 60 miles away from me, and that if I picked the car up from them they would include a full tank of fuel.

Now, this suited me fine since I really didn’t want some random delivery driver using my brand new pride & joy to compete in the M25 Grand Prix. Amazingly, there was no pressure to take, or even mention of, Gap insurance or paintwork cover, although the formal documentation received subsequently even offered discounted prices on these. Once off the call, I headed over to the VW website, to be pleasantly surprised to find that the dealership, and the group of which they formed part, received the highest level of positive customer feedback.

That began the start of a long but pleasant relationship with James whilst we waited for the car to arrive. At least the quoted lead-time gave me an opportunity to sort out the funds, and to agree that if the car arrived a week or two early, the dealership would hang on to the car to get a 14 plate.

James must have become very weary of receiving frequent emails from me querying various features of the car, usually provoked by reading half-truths on the internet forums (not that Auto Britannia would ever do that, of course!). However, he invariably responded promptly and politely with the required facts and judging by the late-night time-stamps on most of his emails… I’m not sure the poor guy ever managed any sleep!

Plans were thrown slightly into disarray when the on-line VW tracker showed that, far from the car taking 22-24 weeks to be ready, it was likely to be available about 10 weeks earlier than that, putting my plans for a 14 plate in jeopardy. However, once again the dealership came to the rescue, agreeing to hold the car safely until 1st March.

The big day dawned, and we took ourselves eastwards round the M25 to do the deal. James had the Golf parked ready for collection looking sparkling and, after the painful bit of parting with the cash, he then spent lots of time carefully explaining and demonstrating the various features of the car. He told me they had allocated an hour for each handover, which seemed very reasonable in view of the fact that they had around 50 cars to go out that day apparently, and we certainly did not feel short changed with the way we were treated.

Just to round the experience off, James made contact after a couple of days, and then again after a week, just to make sure that all was well and remind me that he was at the end of a phone line if any help was required – exemplary customer care indeed. And so its there we must leave it – how to save over 12% on a new car in high demand – in my case, the thick end of four grand!

So… would I do it again?… more than likely!

EDITORS NOTE: Andy has absolutely no connection with Drive the Deal other than as an initially deeply suspicious but presently happy customer.


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