Consumer Rights: Buying A Car

In this article we clarify your rights if anything goes wrong when buying a new car.

We have good consumer regulations in the UK, and if you purchase a new vehicle, you are well protected by robust legislation. However, not everyone knows how far-reaching this law is, meaning that if a vehicle is defective, consumers and dealers will both make assumptions that can actually undermine consumer loyalty. 

Here, in black and white, we set out your rights. We will dive into the Consumer Rights Act in depth, but we will also cover the Sale of Goods Act briefly, so if you purchased your car before 1 October 2015, this older law applies. This guide is mainly targeted at buyers of new vehicles, but if you have purchased second-hand, most of the ground we will cover will be appropriate. 

The Consumer Rights Act 2015

The Consumer Rights Act is one of the best and most relevant pieces of legislation for consumers. The Act, passed in October 2015, specifies that any vehicle you purchase should be: 

Of satisfactory quality: it should be in full working order if you’re buying a new car. 

Fit for purpose: the car must function as you would expect; for instance, it should have sufficient power to go up steep hills. 

If you signed a contract to buy a blue car with a sunroof and a self-parking system, as defined, the car should be blue and come with these characteristics. Advertisements for second-hand cars should reflect their condition and characteristics accurately. 

Although second-hand cars bought privately are excluded from the ‘fit for purpose’ and ‘satisfactory specification’ provisions, if you have purchased from a dealer and all of these requirements are not met, under the Consumer Rights Act, you have the following options: 

Within 30 days, the right to refuse: this requires no clarification. If you spot and discover a fault within 30 days of acquisition, you can easily return the vehicle for a complete refund. You have the right to refuse within a ‘reasonable’ period, which is open to interpretation, but is unlikely to be longer than 30 days, in the superseded Sale of Goods Act. Either way, you will want to see if the dealer is willing and able to correct it first if the fault is very small. 

The right to a repair or replacement: if you find a problem after the first 30 days are up and during the first six months, the retailer is given one opportunity to take corrective action-either by fixing it or replacing the car; they can choose which, however, and most will choose the cheaper repair option. 

If a repair takes an unreasonably long time or causes major inconvenience, you have the right to apply for a substitute vehicle. Notice that ‘unreasonably’ and ‘important’ are descriptive concepts, and may not fit the dealer’s meaning. 

Before you sign something, make sure you are 100 percent comfortable with any remedial work, as it is difficult to refuse a vehicle after you have formally approved a repair. If the repair is ineffective, if you want to refuse the vehicle, order a replacement, or give the dealer a second chance to fix it, it is up to you. 

Law of the first six months 

Before delivery, any fault detected during the first six months of acquisition is believed to have occurred. The dealer gets their only chance of repair and you can go down the substitute or refund path if this is unsuccessful. Note that if you choose the above choice, for the first 30 days of ownership, the retailer is entitled to make a deduction based on the use you’ve had of the vehicle. If the mistake can’t be easily repaired and you’re able to deal with it, you can also opt to receive financial compensation. 

After six months for the first time, 

When you’ve had the car for six months, from the date of purchase, the onus falls on you to prove some fault was there. Although the Consumer Rights Act provides less security after six months, the manufacturer’s warranty will still cover your new vehicle; see our article on car warranties for more information. 

Other security for customers 

Around 99% of new cars sold in the UK are protected by the Automotive Ombudsman’s collection of industry standards of practise (formerly known as Motor Codes). This includes a set of voluntary guidelines under which new vehicle retailers can work. The laws of the Motor Ombudsman include areas such as promotional literature, sales strategies and demands for assurances. Alternative Conflict settlement is also provided by the Motor Ombudsman (ADR). The Consumer Rights Act stipulates that all firms must allow their consumers access to this mediation and arbitration service if things go wrong. 

You are also protected by the Financial Ombudsman Service if you have purchased a vehicle on credit (FOS). Although cars purchased on a hire purchase contract are still covered by the FOS, the Procurement of Goods Act applies instead of the Consumer Rights Act or the Selling of Goods Act. 

Eventually, you have the drastic option of getting the dealer to court. However, most courts are likely to expect you to have attempted ADR first, and the Selling of Goods Act only allows you to take legal action after purchasing a product within six years.

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