UK Car Buyers – Guide To The Car Buying Market

Ready to sell to an online car buyer? You can compare car buyers at Motorway, or read on for a full car buyers guide to the current landscape.

It’s a busy market…

car buyers purchase cars
Some buyers love purchasing expensive used cars that look fresh from the manufacturer (like this one) while some prefer older cars with high mileages. Every car has a buyer – the only variable you need to worry about is price

Car buying companies come in all shapes and forms. Traditionally, we think of car buyers as us, the UK consumer, buying new and used cars.

But vehicle purchasers are not limited to consumers like us. Car dealers that buy cars, dealerships that offer part exchange or trade-ins, online car buying websites and classified market places have all become major players in an industry that’s worth over £36bn every year.

But who are the UK’s trust car buyers? Read on…

Car buyers explained:

  1. How the UK car buying market has evolved
  2. Car dealers & dealerships
  3. Selling cars privately to private car buyers
  4. Car buying websites – The online car buyers
  5. Alternative car buying services
  6. What to do when a car is scrap

Gone are the days when buyers drive round a local area looking for a “for sale” or postcard in a car or shop window. Most business is done online these days and its evolving fast.

Nowadays, there are simply more economical and efficient ways of finding a great car at a great price online…

How the UK car buying market has evolved

The UK car market which came to life in the 1950’s was dominated by car dealers and local adverts, but quickly evolved into printed local and national classified magazines amongst other things for sale.

Later, motor-specific classifieds such as Auto Trader, allowed buyers to select a car from a much bigger selection than ever before.

Gumtree and eBay quickly replaced these messy local listings. Thousands of cars are for sale within a small radius of your home, right now.

So, why are Gumtree and eBay not the first choice for people looking to buy a car?

Auto Trader knew the answer.

AutoTrader website
AutoTrader is one of the leading car buying and selling sites.

Auto Trader realised that just getting car sellers listing their cars, and buyers searching, wasn’t enough.

They needed a website specifically designed for that purpose, it made total sense.

Auto Trader started in 1975, but the company as we know it, the website, wasn’t launched until 1996.

And it worked. After all, even if you’ve not purchased a car from Auto Trader, you’ll know someone that has, or at least know their name.

Over 7m people per month visit Auto Trader, and this business, focusing only on motors and classified advertisements, sold for £600m.

Sites like Auto Trader, Piston Heads and now compete with each other as private car sale platforms. But they now have competition…

What has changed? Car buying websites. Websites that buy cars instantly after an online valuation and final inspection.

These websites have really made their mark over the last few years; taking the hassle out of selling a used car by offering instant cash.

No photos, listings, or viewings. Just a quick and simple online car valuation, then an offer to buy your vehicle.

But the options for buying and selling don’t stop there.

This guide will cover all aspects of the car buying industry in detail.

Car dealers & dealerships

For many years, car dealers were the go-to place for car-buyers, especially for part exchange. But, there’s only one real reason for that; there wasn’t much of a choice elsewhere.

Now, the choices are endless, both online and offline.

This doesn’t mean that people don’t still use car dealerships to purchase a new car.

The UK is home to many impressive car dealership franchises including Evans Halshaw, Listers, Vertu, Sytner and Lookers. Many are listed on the FTSE or stock market and, they all do particularly well.

Big car dealers like this will purchase cars outright. After all, even though they get brand new stock from manufacturers, they still want to keep a range of vehicles on their forecourt to satisfy every buyer’s needs.

Typically though, this isn’t their end game.

Renault PCP Car Deals
Car dealerships aren’t always the best place to sell your old car.

What they really want is to do a deal on cars they already own. Sometimes these are new cars, sometimes these are used cars.

Either way, they offer buyers a range of ways to get an upgrade on their vehicle.

A trade-in is usually the most common deal dealerships do.

The car dealership effectively buys the car you own. They offset the value of your current car, from the value of the car you want to purchase.

The remaining balance can be settled in a range of ways including:

  • Cash
  • Monthly finance
  • Personal contract hire

Car buyers looking to upgrade find that trading in their car against a new one rarely offers them the best value.

And here’s why.

A large Ford dealer will trade-in a Vauxhall. Why? Because they want to make a sale regardless.

The problem is, they don’t specialise in Vauxhalls. And, that means they know they aren’t going to hit the vehicle’s full potential value on a resale.

To combat this, they may offer a trade-in value that’s below what it’s worth to another buyer.

Selling cars privately to private buyers

With figures showing that even back in 2013, the used car market was worth over £36bn; there’s the demand.

There are also no shortage of places to list a car that will reach private car buyers. But let’s face it, we’ve all searched for a used car. And, it’s nothing shy of an absolute nightmare.

How many times have you rang a seller to find the car has already been sold?
And, the same thing happens with the next listing?
How many hours have you spent browsing the same listings, on different websites?

The internet used to be a thing of misinformation, now it’s a thing of too much information, and the same information. This makes buying and selling cars incredibly time consuming.

Of course, if you’re the car seller, you don’t really care whether people see a listing twice. You’ll want to list your car in as many places as possible, to ensure it reaches as many people as possible.

Some other industries have “listing syndication” services. They analyse popular sites in the industry, have a platform to create a singular listing, and this listing is fired out to a dozen websites or more.

A huge time saver. And, a great idea.

A similar process would work well for buyers and sellers. A buyer knows that they only need to visit one or maybe two websites to find all the cars that are for sale locally.

On the flip-side, the seller knows that by syndicating the listing, they’ve saved a tonne of time, and covered all the bases.

Until a syndication service for the car industry becomes available, there’s only one way to get a car in front of as many buyers as possible.

Lots of time. And, a bit of cash for listing fees.

Most sites that allow buyers to find cars for sale have a simple listing procedure for sellers.

But, the process can still take 5-15 minutes; for each listing.

And, this can easily turn into half a day’s work when you consider the volume of websites out there, as well as:

  • Digging out documentation:
    – V5C form (V5 registration certificate)
    – Insurance
    – Evidence of MOT test (e.g. MOT certificate)
    – Owner’s handbook
  • Logging relevant details for the listing
    – Engine size
    CO2 emissions
    – Any damage or faults
    – Mileage
  • Cleaning and taking pictures of the car
  • Spending time on multiple websites comparing mileage and condition to determine a price

And, that’s just to reach the buyer.

For each person that’s interested you’ll have to deal with:

There’s no doubt it’s a time-consuming process. But, if you feel this is the best way to attract cars buyers, you’ll need to know where to go.

Auto Trader

Autotrader logo

Your first-stop to reach buyers online is going to be Auto Trader.

The UK version of the website alone gets 7.8 million visitors per month. That’s a lot of prospects looking for a car.

This is the biggest website that’s truly focused on simply buying and selling motors. That’s why for many buyers, this is the first point of reference.

Pricing for adverts here starts at £9.95.

But Auto Trader is not the only classified site worth considering, there are now many alternatives.


ebay logo

eBay’s operation in the UK might serve over 19m people, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best place the list a vehicle.

For a start, who’s to say these people want a used car, rather than a teddy, hoody, Halloween costume or a lawnmower?

Secondly, motors specific classified websites do a much better job of offering a useful search function. Buyers can find the exact car they need quickly and easily.

It can be a little difficult to find vehicles. And, even if you’ve managed to find the right model and brand, many times, finance packages tend to dominate the listings.

It’s a bit of a long-winded process to find a car here.

Finally, if you’re a seller; expect a lot of low-ball offers. It’s just the way eBay is. People very rarely pay the full price.

Their listing fees page show prices starting from £10.


Gumtree logo

Gumtree, like eBay, is rarely a first choice either, but it’s FULL of cars to buy for cash.

Like eBay, there’s no real focus on a niche. And, that means the search feature can be difficult to navigate.

Its saving grace is that the first listing (for private car sellers) is free and you can get offers fast. But its lack of focus is its downfall too.

Piston Heads

Pistonheads logo

Of all the websites that offer motoring classifieds, Piston Heads used to be the messiest. It used to be almost unbearable trying to find vehicles.

Although it’s been improved a lot, it’s still not as easy to navigate compared with other motoring classified websites out there.

But, it doesn’t matter.

The name itself suggests this is a hobbyist/enthusiast community. And, with that comes a special range of vehicles.

This site is suited for buyers looking for uncommon vehicles.

Likewise, car sellers are going to find buyers here that appreciate value beyond the year of registration and mileage.

If you want to buy or sell a unique vehicle. This is the place to do it.

Prices are reasonable at £11.99 for 30 days, but the volume of buyers visiting here just isn’t the same as Auto Trader.


Parkers logo

Parkers may seem like Auto Trader, but it’s not.

For many years, it focused on vehicle specifications and reviews. And that means, the majority of 2 million users per month are looking for information – mainly pricing valuations, and not to purchase a new car.

It does give a few routes to sell your vehicle on some parts of the website, but it is rarely used for that.

You can read more about getting a valuation on Parkers in our dedicated guide.

Exchange and Mart

Exchange and mart logo

Exchange and Mart looks like a fantastic way to compliment an Auto Trader listing.

They have over 100,000 cars listed, and it costs just £5 for a 2-week advertisement.

Cars over 25 years old are free. But, if they are a genuine classic, it’s likely a website such as Car and Classic is going to have a focused audience, looking to pay the right price, for the right car. logo have a unique proposition for car sellers. According to their website, they reach millions of buyers every single month. Better still, the listings are free (for 12 weeks).

Again, another suitable place to list alongside Auto Trader.

Desperate Seller

desperate seller logo

Desperate Seller is a website with a slight difference. It offers multiple options depending on the advertising budget the seller has. For this reason, they’ve attracted lots of sellers, with over 250,000 vehicles listed.

Unfortunately, it seems that the demand from buyers is not there for this site.

According to Similar Web (a website that estimates website traffic), it only gets around 50,000 visits per month.

Packages start from a free valuation to a listing on Auto Trader for £9.95.


Facebook Logo

Selling a car on Facebook used to be limited to groups. Now, you can list a car on Facebook Marketplace.

Of all the site listings so far, this is probably the one that yields the least results.

In the same way Gumtree isn’t as popular as Auto Trader, because it’s not specific, Facebook is the same in comparison to Gumtree. There’s just too much going on.

And, consider this. When people are on Gumtree, Auto Trader, and even Loot; they are specifically searching for a car.

It’s rare that people on Facebook are doing much more than checking messages.

The Marketplace on Facebook needs to evolve a great deal before it rivals top sites like Auto Trader.

Local newspapers

Local newspapers used to be the way to go when it came to selling, well, anything.

The problem is that people’s needs are now met by niche specific websites (Auto Trader for cars, Etsy for anything relating to crafts, Gumtree for basically anything else).

Not only has this removed the supply of cars for sale in local newspapers, it also means that buyers demand has also decreased.

Unless a local newspaper advert is free, it’s rarely worth the time and effort.

Car buying websites – The online car buyers

There are now many online car buyers who work across the UK, offering a fast, efficient way to sell a car with an online valuation.

This has created a competitive environment with lots of buyers offering slightly different services – which means lots of choice for you as a consumer.

In all cases, the process is designed to be as instant as possible.

Traditional methods of selling a car mean spending hours getting a car’s details together, estimating the price and listing on a tonne of websites to eventually get a sale.

This is then coupled with high advertising fees, tyre-kickers and usually a price much less than expected.

These companies offering ‘instant buying sites’ changed that.

Specialising in a cash for cars service, most instant online car buying websites have looked to take away the cost, hassle and time that selling a used car usually involves.

Car owners can simply enter their registration into an online tool, and within minutes, they have an estimate of what their car is going to be worth.

So overall, the rise of specific car buying websites has been great for consumers.

To make sure you get the right deal and have a good experience, it’s important that you:

a) Accurately report the condition of your car
b) Shop around the various car buyers for the best deal

And the second part is where Motorway comes in.

How Motorway compares car buying websites

If you’re looking for a new credit card, or loan, and want to find the best deal, what do you do?

a) Click on multiple sites, and fill in multiple forms to find the best offers
b) Use a comparison service (such as MoneySuperMarket or GoCompare) to view multiple deals at once

I’m guessing the answer is probably b).

So here’s the good news:

You can now do exactly the same thing when you are looking to sell your car.

At Motorway, we compare car buyers like The Car Buying Group, WeWantAnyCar, Best Car Buyer and others to find the best price we can for your car. From premium dealerships, to online car buyers, scrap and recycling. We have most types of buyer.

We don’t compare every online buyer – for example, we don’t have a commercial relationship with WeBuyAnyCar, so you’ll need to visit their website directly in order to get a valuation from them.

But several other buyers who offer a similar alternative service to them (many of which will collect from home), can be compared on Motorway in a single search.

Just enter your registration number and mileage on our homepage, and we’ll instantly show you offers from car buying sites we work with online.

Compare car buying sites
Compare prices from online car buying sites to find your best offer

We also provide links to customer reviews of each service, their fees and their payment terms – giving you access to all the information you need to maximise your return and sell your car as quickly as possible.

No need to spend hours researching and entering your details on multiple sites. With just a few clicks you can compare offers.

Alternative car buying services

Another new car buying servic has also become popular recently, Wizzle. They focus on connecting dealerships that want to buy cars, with car sellers.

These companies have lots of partners, although the individual dealers are naturally smaller than car buying groups.

Once a user fills out their registration and car details, participating dealers will all receive a notification. They can then choose whether to make an offer on the vehicle.

What to do when a car is scrap

If your car is old, battered and is unlikely to pass an MOT, it might mean it’s scrap.

scrap cars
For old cars which have lost their value, scrapping may be the best option

Generally, if a car is likely to be worth less than £200, scrap car buyers are going to be your best option.

A Google search will reveal local companies that buy scrap cars. However, there are some national services that are worth looking at.

These companies connect with both scrap dealers and auction houses. Where a car is worth selling, they’ll direct the vehicle towards the auction house.

Many cars that are scrap have major damage, possibly with the engine, gearbox, or chassis. In these cases, services like RemoveMyCar and CarTakeBack will sell them to a scrap dealer for a reasonable price.

Car sellers have realised that a car that they are paid £100-200 for from a scrap car buying company, is worth £750-1000 (or more) if they broke it down for spares.

There’s a big problem with that theory. And, that is you expect all the parts to sell at once.

Engines, gearboxes and wheels tend to sell within a matter of days. This covers the cost a scrap car buying company would pay you. Then, you are left with a chassis that you can’t move – this could be sitting there for years to come.

And, this doesn’t account for the time removing parts, labelling them, listing them on websites and shipping them when they’re sold.

So, when a car is truly scrap, the best option is usually to-be-gone with it; ASAP. Read up on everything to do with scrapping your car in our dedicated scrapping guide.

In summary

The car buying industry is huge, and that’s matched with a wide array of places to sell a car.

If you’re looking to sell privately and generate a lot of interest from a single listing, Auto Trader is going to be the best option.

That’s if you have the time to create a listing that really has an impact when potential car buyers view, as there are 100’s of 1000’s of cars for sale on their site. Yours needs to stand out.

The section of the car buying industry that focuses on the least hassle for sellers includes dealers, and car buying groups.

Dealers are notorious for not offering a reasonable price, unless you’re looking to purchase one of the brand-new cars on their forecourt; essentially, they want you to trade-in for a new car.

Then, you have car buying companies. They can offer a few things you can’t find elsewhere:

  1. A guaranteed price.
  2. A quick sale.
  3. Zero hassle.

You can compare UK car buying sites to find out how much your car is worth to our buyers right now, using our free online car valuation tool.

Looking for another way to sell your car?

Note: WeBuyAnyCar is not a commercial partner of Motorway. We do not compare prices from and they have not endorsed this content.