A contributor’s first-hand experience of buying a car online was far from technologically seamless, but the savings spoke for themselves

While researching and writing the feature on e-commerce in automotive, fate conspired to give me first-hand experience of such a transaction. I liked the look of Ford’s Kuga model (marketed as the Escape in the US), an all-wheel-drive compact SUV that would be a slightly smaller replacement for the Land Rover Discovery I’d owned for many years – a fairly essential vehicle for a writer living in Britain’s rugged and remote south-west.

The Ford Direct website lists hundreds of Ford-approved vehicles, some on its own behalf, others that are available at dealers. The ones sold directly by Ford are apparently ex-demonstrator models, or those driven by Ford managers for several months. Either way, the mileages are typically under 5,000 (8,000km) and the condition reportedly excellent.

It was one of these low-mileage Kuga models that I decided to try for. Based on the prices I was seeing, it seemed I could achieve substantial savings compared to a brand new vehicle.

Ford produces the Kuga in four variants, and the lower-end model that I wanted had the fewest listings on the website, which uses an auction format whereby prices are reduced if the car in question remains unsold. However, eventually, I spotted one that had been driven for just 2,500 miles since new, had a reasonable set of options fitted and, according to photographs on the website, was in a very respectable condition. A TrustFord dealership in south London was selling it, some 300 miles away.

I called the number provided, which turned out to be Ford Direct’s own call centre, not the TrustFord dealership. I was given more details on the vehicle, including the date of first registration, which told me that the car in question was nine months old, and was asked if I wanted to buy it.

The moment of truth! Well, yes I would like to, but how much to offer? All the vehicles on the site, I was told, were ‘priced to go’, but it was possible the dealer might entertain a lower offer. I suggested a figure a little lower than the one being asked, and the representative said that they would put it to TrustFord.

Five minutes later I had a call that the offer had been accepted, and the car would be mine once I’d paid for it. I would also have the option to collect it, or TrustFord could deliver it for £99 ($145), all-in – which I considered a bargain, considering the distance.

Modernity with an old fashioned touch

Here, the e-commerce experience broke down a little. First, I was asked to pay a deposit of £350 to the Ford Direct call centre, after which, I was told, the TrustFord dealership would mark the vehicle as sold, and contact me over the next day or so for the payment of the balance. Sure enough, the following afternoon the phone did ring. Did I have a fax machine, in order to sign and return the vehicle order form? I didn’t, so opted to scan and e-mail the document instead, arranging to pay the full balance the day before delivery, which would be a week away (largely to suit my convenience, not TrustFord’s).

As with the purchase paperwork, payment was a mix of old and modern mediums. TrustFord couldn’t take payment directly, but e-mailed me its bank details. Wiring the funds was straightforward, but cost a further £12 in bank charges.

A day later, the vehicle was in my driveway, having been driven there by a charming retired gentleman apparently in his seventies, who seemed to do this for a living. By way of handover, his knowledge of the car was fairly basic, but he alerted me that only one electronic key was working. I wrote this down on the delivery paperwork, and TrustFord arranged to supply me with a replacement, which I could have programmed at my local dealership.

Afterwards, I drove him 20 minutes through country lanes to the nearest bus stop – I did say we live in a remote location – and told him how to catch a bus to the nearest train station. I assume he made it safely back, because I heard no more.

So how do I rate my online vehicle purchase? Overall, very satisfactory. Payment could have been a little smoother, but post-sale customer care by TrustFord has been excellent. I couldn’t say that the technology aspect was the latest and greatest, especially if you compare it to mobile apps where you purchase and arrange delivery with the swipe of a smartphone screen. Delivery wasn’t timed down to the minute, let alone by drone (as we may one day see for deliveries), but at the price – a 25% discount off list – and friendly service, it was perhaps just the right mix of the old and the new.