Your legal rights

When you buy a car your rights depend on who you buy from and how you buy

When you buy a car your rights depend on who you buy from and how you buy

When you buy a car your rights depend on who you buy from and how you buy

Wherever and however you're buying, the best advice is not to sign anything or hand over any money until you're absolutely happy.  With around 6 million used cars changing hands every year there's almost certain to be other similar cars available so there's no need to take the risk if you feel uneasy about anything related to the current deal.

If you have any doubts about the car or its history then it’s safer not to proceed.  Even if the law is in your favour, recovering your money through the courts can be expensive and time consuming.

Your rights will depend on where you buy.  You will have less protection from the law if you buy privately or from an auction compared to buying from a dealer.

Car dealers

Dealers are generally the safest route to a new car - maximum legal protection with the least risk.

Dealers are obliged to prepare the car before offering it for sale, including verifying the accuracy of the recorded mileage.

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Sale of Goods Act

Buying a new or used car from a car dealer comes under the scope of the Sale of Goods Act which states that any item you buy from a Trader must be:

  • Of satisfactory quality
  • Fit for purpose, and
  • As described

The dealer must have the right to sell the vehicle and is legally obliged to sort out the problem if it fails to meet these basic requirements.

Satisfactory quality means that the vehicle should be of a standard a reasonable person would expect, taking into account factors such as: age, value, history, mileage, make, durability, safety and description.  An old car with high mileage would not be expected to be as good as a younger car with low mileage but each should still be roadworthy, reliable, and in a condition consistent with its age/price.

The dealer is liable for faults with the vehicle - that mean it was not of satisfactory quality - that were present at the time it was sold even though they may only become apparent later on.

The dealer is not liable for fair wear and tear, where the vehicle broke down or the fault emerged through normal use, nor are they liable if they drew your attention to the full extent of any fault or defect before you bought the car. 

Fit for purpose means that you must be able to use the vehicle for the purposes that you would normally expect from a vehicle including any particular purpose that you tell the dealer about before you buy, or which the dealer has advertised or gleaned from your conversation.  This would include towing or short journey use.

Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations

Dealers must also comply with the requirements of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (2008), which prohibit them from engaging in unfair business practices across five main categories:

  • Giving false information either verbally, visually or in writing, for example misrepresenting the vehicle's specification or history at any time before, during or after the transaction.
  • Giving insufficient information - leaving out or hiding important information for example not disclosing the existence and results of all checks carried out on the vehicle's mechanical condition, history and mileage or failing to draw your attention to the key elements of any warranty e.g. what's covered, claim limits and conditions to be followed.
  • Acting aggressively for example using high pressure selling techniques to sell a vehicle or associated finance or warranty.
  • Failing to act in accordance with reasonable expectations of what's acceptable
  • Banning outright of 31 specific practices including: falsely claiming to be a signatory to a Code of Practice; falsely claiming to be approved, endorsed or authorised by a public or private body; falsely stating that a vehicle will only be available for a very limited time in order to elicit an immediate decision to buy.

Consumer remedies

If a vehicle turns out not to be of satisfactory quality then the remedy will depend on the time that has passed and the nature of the fault - it's best to seek legal advice or visit http://www.adviceguide.org.uk

Read OFT guidance for second hand car dealers »

Don't get caught out

Ask the right questions and get any agreements in writing.

  • What mechanical, mileage or history checks has the dealer carried out?
  • How many and what type of owner has the car had?
  • Has it been modified or involved in an accident and repaired?
  • Is the dealer signed up to a Code of Practice?  What's their customer complaints procedure?

Internet

If you choose to buy over the Internet, your rights will depend on who the seller is.

If you're buying online from a dealer then you have the same rights as you would if you walked into the dealership and bought face-to-face.  The Distance Selling Regulations give you the additional right to cancel your order within seven working days and receive a full refund within 30 days.  The same applies if you buy from a dealer on a 'buy it now' basis using an online auction site.

Distance Selling Regulations require that you are given clear information about the 'product' you are about to buy - this should include accurate details, delivery arrangements, supplier details and the full price including taxes and charges to cover extras such as delivery.  You should also be given written information about how to cancel your contract and a postal address.

If you're buying online from a private seller you have the same rights as if buying face-to-face from a private seller.  This also applies if you're buying online from an auction site where you bid to buy from a private seller.

Private

If you buy privately, it's a case of 'Buyer Beware'. You won't have the same legal protection as you would if buying from a dealer and it's up to you to ask the right questions and inspect the car thoroughly before you buy.  It's a good idea to get an independent engineer to give the car a thorough mechanical inspection, and to get a car history check to make sure there's no shady past.

Because your legal rights are more limited, unscrupulous dealers may masquerade as private sellers: be very wary if a private seller wants to meet you somewhere other than at their home, or if their name is not on the V5C registration document.  A dealer pretending to be a private seller is committing a criminal offence.

The only legal terms that cover a private sale contract are:

  • the seller must have the right to sell the car
  • the vehicle should match the description given by the seller
  • the car must be roadworthy - it is a criminal offence to sell an unroadworthy car and an MOT certificate from a test several months ago is no guarantee that the car is roadworthy today.

Auctions

If you buy at a live auction you will have very little legal protection and is not an ideal place for the inexperienced.  Check the specific terms and conditions of the auction before bidding - if your rights under the sale of goods act are excluded then you're buying 'sold as seen' and should check it over thoroughly before bidding.

Generally the auctioneer won't be liable if the seller doesn't have the right to sell the car in the first place – if it is stolen for example. Any comeback you may have will be against the seller himself, if you can find him.

Some auctions offer 'guarantees' or 'insurance' for an extra sum, but any rights are limited, so check the wording on any paperwork carefully.

There may be a cooling off period too but this is likely to be very short.

(6 December 2012)

 

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