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Buying a used car? Then know your consumer rights


Silver car

For many people, buying a used car conjures up images of ‘Arfur Daley’ types prowling the forecourts for their next victim or internet chancers selling non-existent motors via eBay. 

Yet although such rip-off merchants do exist, the chances of running into one are slim.

But in case you do, the best chance of reclaiming your money is to know your consumer rights. Basically, a buyer’s rights vary depending on where the car is bought.

Buying a used car from a dealership

If peace-of-mind is more important than achieving the best possible deal, then buy from a car dealership.

A forecourt purchase is likely to be the most expensive used-car buying option, but a buyer has the most consumer rights should something go wrong.

According to The Sale of Goods Act (SGA) 1979 (as amended), a car bought from a dealer must be:

  • As described
  • Of satisfactory quality
  • Fit for purpose

If the car fails on any of these points within a reasonable period after purchase, you are entitled to repair, replacement, or a partial or full refund.

However, a car’s age and mileage must be taken into account before pursuing a claim, which means it’s reasonable to expect a high-mileage banger to be more problematic than a motor with low mileage. However, any car must still be:

  • Fit for use on the road
  • In a condition which reflects its age and price
  • Reasonably reliable

Two more points to note are that a car must be roadworthy when you buy it, and a car dealer cannot reduce the above legal rights by displaying a ‘sold as seen’ sign.

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Buying a used car privately

Although buying a car privately is almost always cheaper than buying the same car from a dealership, there is more risk involved as you have less consumer rights should the car turn out to be a dud. 

This is because privately sold cars need only be 'as described', which means the responsibility lies with the buyer to ensure it's fit for purpose - so take someone along who knows about cars before parting with any cash.

However, the car should still be roadworthy when you buy it, unless it’s explicitly agreed that it’s to be sold as scrap.

When buying privately, always view a car at the owner’s address and never at some ‘convenient’ car park or lay bye. That way, if something goes wrong, you’ll know where the seller lives in case you need to take legal action. 

For extra peace of mind, why not grab a photo of the vendor on your mobile phone, just in case the car has been fraudulently sold to you.

Note: to reduce your consumer rights, dodgy car dealers often pretend to be private sellers. Watch out for a string of ‘private’ ads that share a common phone number – a sure sign that you’re actually buying from a dealer.

Buying a used car online

Everyone’s heard scare stories about the risks of buying online, but the truth is you actually have the same basic consumer rights when buying a used car online as you have when buying from a dealer forecourt.

Additionally, you may be also be covered by The Distance Selling Regulations, which protect buyers who enter into contracts that are concluded at a distance and without personal contact.

However, despite the above consumer protection, exercise caution if buying a car ‘unseen’ over the internet.

Buying a used car at auction

In terms of consumer rights, a buyer’s worst option is the car auction. True, it’s possible to find great deals, but consumer rights won’t protect you as a car auction is not considered to be a consumer sale. 

What rights you do have will be stated in the auction’s terms and conditions, which must be available for bidders to view.

In short, auction vehicles are ‘sold as seen’ so you’re well advised to take someone along who knows their way around a car before you stick up your hand to bid.


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