Used / Second-Hand Cars

Your Privileges When Purchasing a Used Car 

When you purchase a second hand vehicle, what rights do you have as a consumer? Our guide describes the legal rights that you have.

For several, one of the greatest financial outlays they would have to make is buying a vehicle. Parting with huge sums of cash to buy your dream car, or even only one to get you from A to B, needs to come with some promises to make sure you don’t waste your cash. Fortunately, regulation is in place to safeguard you and your money if the vehicle you purchase is not fit for purpose. If you buy fresh or old, and whether you buy from a main distributor, a used forecourt, or even privately, that applies. If you’re buying a used car, this article aims to help you know your rights. 

If you are buying a used car in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, the first thing to be mindful of is that your consumer rights will differ. Here, with comments on differences between the other countries in the UK, we will discuss the key Consumer Rights that cover England. 

Perhaps the easiest way to purchase a used car is through the licenced used scheme of a dealer. These vehicles will be fairly new, and while the coverage of the warranty will not be as good as it is for a brand-new vehicle, an Approved Used Warranty that lasts 6 to 12 months should at least be covered and will likely provide breakdown protection for the same duration. 



Used Car Purchases From a Dealer 

The best way to purchase a used car is from a dealer, but the resources you have can vary from one manufacturer to another. If you’re buying as part of an accepted used scheme, then you may be able to take advantage of a 30-day no-quibble return policy if you find like the car you’ve purchased isn’t right for your needs. This may only mean, though, that you can give it back in return for another vehicle, and might not even get you a refund. To see what they sell, it’s worth testing the manufacturer’s return policy. 

If you have purchased a used car that turns out to be unreliable, then the Consumer Rights Act 2015 protects you. This means that if you take the vehicle back to the dealer within 30 days of the transaction, you are entitled to a full refund if you can show that the fault was already there when you bought the car. However, when it comes to identifying a car with a flaw, there are strict legal definitions, so if you are thinking about handing a car over, you need to tread carefully. 

If it meets one of three legal descriptions, a car is identified as faulty: 

  • If it’s not of a satisfactory quality (meaning it’s not what you’d expect for its age, mileage and price range for a car). 
  • If it’s not suitable for function (for example, you were told that a car is capable of towing when it is not) 
  • If it isn’t ‘as illustrated’ (Equipment mentioned in advert is not available) 

If, with a complaint that suits one of these three categories, you take the car back to a dealer within 30 days, then you are entitled to a full refund. And if you used your old car to get into the new one as a part-exchange, then as part of the refund, you are entitled to ask for it back. 

When you have reached the 30 day period, if a mistake occurs, then a refund would be much less likely. But you do have certain protections provided by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Six months after it is bought, the seller also has a duty to ensure that the car is satisfactory. The three legal descriptions all apply, and by either providing a refund to reflect the status of the fault or fixing the car at their own cost, not yours, you can contact the dealer to make the faults correct. 

You still have 6 years of legal rights to protect you after the six-month span (in Scotland, the limit is five years). The older the car, the harder it would be for you to be able to show that before you purchased it, it was unreliable. The three legal definitions still apply in this case, but they would be a lot harder to prove. It is worth finding a second opinion from an unbiased garage if you are adamant on pursuing a lawsuit against a dealer, but keep the dealer informed of what you are doing, rather than just dumping a problem in their laps without advance notice. 

If a fix is still unsatisfactory, then for a refund, you can still return the vehicle. You will not, however, get back the full amount you paid, as even after six months of use, the car will lose value. But if you want to cut down on your losses and get rid of your vehicle, that’s the only way you can do it. The other choice, and as long as the dealer agrees, if you believe it is unsatisfactory, is to accept reimbursement to represent the reduced value of the vehicle. 

Whatever you plan to do, starting from when you make an initial complaint, it’s good to keep a record of all communications with a dealer. 

Used Car Purchases from a Private Retailer 

If you buy from a private seller, you have even less rights to defend yourself. This is one of the reasons why it is important that you do homework on the car you want to buy, so that before parting with your cash, you are aware of potential issues. 

This is also why you should ensure that every aspect of the vehicle is working properly. As well as testing the mechanical components, always make sure that all electrical products work correctly and that you are satisfied with the car you purchase. It’s best to have a receipt drawn up before you buy that confirms the vehicle’s selling and makes a list of any flaws that you and the seller agree on that you are willing to accept. That implies that if you find out later that the car has been clocked or some fault has exposed itself after purchase, you will then have some comeback. 

The period of time you have to make a case is six years (five years in Scotland), so the longer you keep the car, it will be much more difficult to sue against any seller, so if you have a complaint, get in touch as soon as possible. The car essentially needs to be as defined in the advertising and what you were told by the seller when you bought the car. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you would be entitled to something if the car is defective or the vendor has forgotten to say anything. And if, as part of the deal, a seller has issued a disclaimer, then you do not have any rights at all. 

If a car is not as advertised, then you are protected by the Selling of Goods Act 1979, which specifies that, as described in the advertising, a car should be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose. If it is not, then you should contact the seller in order to claim some kind of compensation, but this would typically be in the form of paying for repairs rather than a refund. 

A vendor can refuse to pay for a repair, and you can go and get quotes from garages in this instance and come back to the vendor with the quotes to get them to pay for the repairs. As with buying from a supplier, instead of landing them with a repair bill without any warning, keep the seller updated about the situation. Also, in the first place, the repair bill can not amount to more than what you paid for the vehicle. 

If a seller refuses to pay for repairs, then the next compromise is for them to give you the value difference between what you paid and what the car is actually worth. 

But if that’s going to get you nowhere, then you should submit a formal letter of complaint to a vendor. For such cases, there are form letters available that you can use that provide legal language, and tell the seller that you are trying to escalate your case. You can select an alternate dispute resolution (ADR) scheme above that. This prohibits the small claims court from taking the case (which can be costly and time consuming), and sees a third party involved to help mediate between the two sides of the complaint. 

Hopefully, when buying a used car, you won’t have to use any of these measures, but it’s nice to know you’re not alone if the car you buy lets you down.

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