Why the UK is Teaching the World How to Sell Cars

by Simon Carter on 11 Sep, 2012

In many ways, it was inevitable that the second hand car market would one day be as vibrant, bustling and exciting as it is today. With advancements in mechanics increasing both the reliability and resale potential of cars, even years after they were first registered, and with economic circumstances forcing consumers to revaluate their requirements, we now have the perfect storm of conditions for a thriving used car market.

Though the halcyon days of manufacturing cars are well behind the UK, the country’s second hand car market – or more specifically, how we buy and sell used cars – has become admired and imitated throughout the world. The processes for buying a used car, which British consumers may take for granted, are being used as a template in countries such as the USA and Australia where the marketplace is haphazard, disorganised and, for consumers, hugely frustrating.

Let’s say you’re a new driver looking for your first car in the UK. Many of the things that you need to do to secure that car can be done from the comfort of your own home (although there’s no way, yet, of being able to test drive from your own home!). From finding out how much you can afford and securing the best car loan, to reading reviews and browsing sites such as Autotrader, to comparing insurance premiums; almost all of the work can be done using your computer.

How does that differ in the rest of the world? And what can the UK teach the world about second hand cars?

The main difference is how the average consumer looks for their dream used car. Nothing in our description of the average consumer above will have looked out of place to someone living in the UK, but to an American or an Australian, the concept of finding a car for sale using a dedicated website seems somewhat alien. An Australian consumer in particular, is far more likely to browse local classified ads, or classified ad sites like Gumtree, rather than a dedicated car site. But all of that is starting to change, and it’s partly thanks to the UK.

On the face of it, using classifieds to find a car in a country the size of Australia makes perfect sense. After all, it would be a shame to find your perfect car only to discover it was 5,000 miles away. But classifieds come with a host of problems that do no favours to the second hand car market.

Firstly, classifieds only show you a selection of cars which leaves the consumer little choice. Often these cars are in a bad state of repair (which is frequently why those cars aren’t sold through dealerships) and the sellers are hoping that the buyer won’t notice. There is also the question of security and the scope for fraud and other criminal activities associated with classifieds.

The UK template of dedicated car sales sites addresses and improves each of these failings. Sites such as Carsales.com.au allow Australian consumers to search for their dream car based on make, model, price and location. The beauty of these sites is that they mix both private ads and those placed by dealers and advertisers are encouraged to place as many photos of the vehicle and as many details about it as they can, meaning that there is less risk of a rip-off.

Crucially, sites like Autotrader and Carsales encourage competition, which in turn stops sellers from artificially raising prices. The web consumer is almost certain to find their dream car cheaper than the classified consumer.

So next time you’re buying a used car, take a few seconds to marvel at how easy the whole process has become and feel proud that the UK second hand car market is so safe, reliable and competitive that it is being copied throughout the world.

About the Author

Simon Carter


Simon Carter is a respected finance writer who contributes regularly to sites in the UK and the USA. He is an expert in personal finance, insurance and corporate finance. Outside of the financial world, Simon is an authoritative voice on marketing and retail.