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Jamie Gibbs

Your rights when buying a used car


Buying a car is always tied with hours of research. But, in the end, driving it away is always exciting.

Man paying for a car

Most car purchases pass off without a hitch. But things do sometimes go wrong and, as with any product or service, you have consumer rights to protect yourself against dodgy deals.

Your rights depend on where the car is bought from.

Buying from a private seller

In general, you could save quite a bit if you’re buying from a private seller, but on the flip side, it tends to be riskier. You’ll have fewer consumer rights should the car turn out to be a dud.

There are basically two consumer rights involved – the seller must be legally allowed to sell the vehicle, and the car has to match its description.

To avoid buying the car from a fraudulent seller, always try to view the car at the owner’s property. You may be asked to meet at a mutually-convenient location, but try to avoid that. When the viewing takes place, you can record the address should something go wrong and you need to take legal action.

Also, in order to avoid their legal obligations and to get rid of unroadworthy cars quickly, dealers sometimes pose as private sellers. When viewing, keep an eye out for other cars for sale parked around the property. Be on your guard if you contact the seller about the car and he is unsure about which car you’re enquiring.

The car you’re buying needs to match its description, whether that’s in an online advert, in a newspaper, conversation over the phone or in person, email or in relevant documents. It’s your responsibility to make sure that everything matches before you part with your hard-earned cash.

If you aren’t very motor savvy, you can take someone more clued up with you carry out the required checks when viewing. The car must be roadworthy and safe to drive. If it’s not, by law, the seller must explicitly tell you, and you must both agree it’s being bought for scrap.

Private seller handing over keys to buyer

Buying from a dealership

If saving money on your next car isn’t a priority and you’d prefer to have more legal protection and less risk, then buy from a dealership. You have some statutory rights under the Sale of Goods Act 1979: the car you’re buying must be fit for purpose, of satisfactory quality, and match its description.

Your statutory rights aren’t affected by any additional cover that’s available for the car, such as a warranty or breakdown insurance. The dealer still has the responsibility for rectifying any problems. It’s worth considering the mileage and the age of the vehicle.

Before you part with your money, make sure you’re also happy with the condition of the car (which reflects its age and price), everything included in the description, past history and purpose.

If the car has any defects or known faults, the dealer must make you aware of them when viewing and before buying the car.

Family buying a car from a dealership

On 1 October 2015, consumer rights changed

On 1 October a new rule came into force which applies to all transactions between businesses and consumers. This is known as the “short term right to reject”. If you've bought a new motor from a dealership, on that date or after, you’ll have the right to return the vehicle within the first 30 days of purchase.

Previously, you could return the car within “a reasonable time” – but now the Consumer Rights Act is more definitive. If you discover a fault with the car within that period, you’ll have the right to reject it for a full refund, or to ask for a repair if you want to keep it.

However, it’s worth keeping in mind that you’ll have to prove that the fault was present at the time of purchase.

Buying online

When buying online you’re still covered by the same consumer rights. What’s more, you may also have additional rights under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013.

This includes a “cooling-off” period, during which you can cancel the order should you change your mind.

Buying at auction

Finding a bargain at an auction is a great way to save when buying a used car, but it tends to be riskier. The regular consumer rights won’t apply here as the car auction isn’t considered to be a consumer sale.

However, the rights you have must be stated in the auction’s terms and conditions, which should be made available to the bidders involved. Often, auction cars are “sold as seen”, so make sure you know what you’re buying.

Alternatively, bring someone more clued-up with you before you bid and fork out any cash.


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