Buying a Used Car

OFT launches new campaign following sharp rise in complaints

15 September 2010

The OFT has launched a campaign to help people know their rights when they buy a used car from a dealer, as new figures released today reveal a rise in complaints.

New OFT/Consumer Direct campaign helps car buyers know their rights In the first six months of 2010, the OFT-managed advice service Consumer Direct received just over 38,000 complaints about second hand cars bought from dealers, an increase of about 18% compared to the same period last year. Complaints about second-hand cars continue to top the list of calls to Consumer Direct, above mobile phones and TVs.

A sharp rise in the number of complaints by used-car buyers is alarming, says the AA, responding to today's Office of Fair Trading (OFT) report.

Although financial hardship may be forcing buyers to dig deeper into the bargain basement of used-car sales, many purchasers help to set themselves up for the fall. The OFT's campaign is therefore very timely – coming when part-exchange vehicles from the September number plate change go into the used market.

AA/Populus research reveals just how much used-car buyers stand to lose if they get it wrong. A survey of 13,500 AA members found:

  • Of those looking to buy within a year, 34% had set their sights on a used car up to three years old while 28% were looking for something older.
  • 3% planned to spend less than £1,000 on their next car, 23% were setting aside between £1,000 and £5,000. A further 32% were prepared to spend between £5,000 and £10,000.
  • Financial vulnerability was highlighted by the 41% of buyers who were going use their savings to buy a car, and 37% who intended to take out finance with the dealer, a personal loan or use their credit card, bank overdraft or even remortgage their home.


"Getting it wrong when buying a replacement car is potentially a devastating financial mistake, not to mention the safety concerns. The OFT's campaign is important to remind anyone who owns a car, and will have to replace it at some stage, of their rights," says Edmund King, the AA's president.

"With two-thirds of used-car buyers spending less than a fortnight to choose a car, while many will spend months planning a holiday, rip-off merchants are handed easy pickings on a plate.

"The problem is that the second biggest purchase most people make in their lives happens relatively infrequently so buyers forget the pitfalls. Too many let their heart rule their head or see buying a car as a chore and are so worried about the consequences that they rush the process."

More from Consumer Direct on your rights when buying a car »

AA Car Buyer's Guide »


The OFT's consumer rights campaign follows the publication in March of their market study into the £24 billion second-hand car market which found that:

  • A clear majority of all second hand car faults come to light in the first three months, suggesting many second hand cars sold may not be of satisfactory quality, and are consequently the dealer's responsibility to fix. Consumers spend an estimated £425 each, or £85 million per year in total, fixing unresolved faults that are the dealer's obligation to correct.
  • Consumers could potentially over-pay to the tune of around £580 million a year as a result of illegal clocking, which involves adjusting a vehicle to show false mileage.
  • Some dealers may be in breach of the law by pretending to be private sellers to evade their legal obligations to consumers, often to offload unsafe or clocked cars, which the OFT estimates accounts for more than £40 million of second hand car sales annually.
  • One in 11 car dealers relies on illegal disclaimers about the car's history and condition, such as that a car is 'sold as seen' or 'No Refund'.
  • Many dealers fail to disclose what mechanical and other pre-sale checks they have carried out. A mystery shopping programme commissioned by the OFT suggested that one in four dealers failed to supply sufficient information about the vehicle.

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15 September 2010