Just one in five has bought a car unseen.

Three-quarters of all British drivers still refuse to buy a car without first seeing it in the metal, according to new research. The study commissioned by the AA’s used car website, AA Cars, found the number of people who say they have bought a car unseen has also fallen in the past year.

The poll of more than 17,000 motorists found the number of people who have bought a car unseen fell from 24 percent last year to just 21 percent this year. And 75 percent of drivers said they would never buy a car without first seeing it up close – up from 69 percent in last year’s survey.

At the same time, the proportion of drivers who had never bought a car unseen but said they would consider doing so in the future also fell. Last year, five percent said they would consider buying a car without seeing it first, but that dropped to four percent this year.

Although a relatively small shift, this news may come as something of a surprise to some in the industry – particularly as the coronavirus pandemic has seen dealers resort to high-tech sales techniques. Over the past few months, lockdown and social distancing rules have seen dealers offer virtual viewings and deliver vehicles straight to customers’ doors, meaning consumers never need to set foot inside a showroom.

Perhaps even more surprisingly, though, it’s the younger generation that shows the most reluctance to go digital. The vast majority of drivers aged 18 to 34 (84 percent of 18-24-year-olds and 80 percent of 25-34-year-olds) said they would never buy a car without seeing it in person first. However, that falls to 75 percent among drivers aged 35 to 54.

Happy woman customer in showroom sitting in car with salesman

“It has been widely assumed that more drivers would choose to buy a car unseen if they are unable to visit a forecourt in person,” said James Fairclough, the CEO of AA Cars. “Yet our data from the lockdown period suggests only a minority of drivers would want to buy a car without viewing it first, and shows people still value the reassurance of seeing a vehicle in person before parting with their money.

“Buyers know they can carry out extensive research online to compare prices and check a car’s history before they choose to buy – but nothing compares to seeing a vehicle up close and getting a feel for it during a test drive.

Little girl high fiving her father on the showroom floor of a dealership

"With social distancing remaining in place, it is recommended that people continue to carry out their research online first, and compare prices at dealerships before booking an appointment to see the cars they are interested in.

“It is also essential to carry out a history check before you buy a used car, as this will confirm that the mileage and number of previous owners is accurate. Test drives are still taking place, and many dealerships are allowing unaccompanied drives. Check with the dealer before you visit to see what ID you need to take.”

Smiling woman buying car at dealership with salesman