If a car you buy turns out to be faulty, your rights and options largely depend on who you bought it from and how they described the car. You have less legal protection when buying from a private seller or from a car auction than when buying from a dealer.
Problems with cars bought from dealers
If you buy a new or used car from a dealer and experience problems with it, you have some statutory rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
The Act states the car must be “of a satisfactory quality”, “fit for purpose” and “as described”. (For a used car, “satisfactory quality” takes into account the car’s age and mileage.)
You have a right to reject something faulty and you are entitled to a full refund within 30 days of purchase in most cases.
After 30 days you lose the short-term right to reject the goods.
You’ll also have fewer rights, such as only being able to ask for a repair or replacement, or a partial refund.
In fact, you’re legally allowed to return it up to six years after you bought it (in Scotland, it’s five years after you first realised there was a problem).
But it gets more difficult to prove a fault and not normal wear and tear is the cause of any problem.
How to get things put right
Here’s what to do if you have a problem with a new or used car bought from a dealer:
- Contact the dealer as soon as you notice the problem – in person if possible.
- If the dealer offers to fix the problem, make sure you understand any costs involved. Keep a record of your conversations and correspondence, and get all verbal agreements in writing.
- If all else fails, you can reject your car as long as you tried to resolve the issue with the dealer first.
- You must give the dealer details of your reasons for rejecting the car in writing, and within six months of taking delivery of it.
- If the dealer refuses to accept your rejection of the car, contact the customer relations department of its manufacturer straight away. They might be able to mediate.
- For help making your complaint, you can use Resolver.co.uk. The Ombudsman Services said “Resolver.co.uk is a free online service and app offering consumer advice and simplifies the process of complaining.”
- Contact the dealer as soon as you notice the problem.
- Try to keep conversations with them as amicable as possible.
- Keep a record of all your exchanges and make sure any verbal agreements are put in writing.
Extra protection when buying from a dealer
If you buy a new car or used car from a dealer and something goes wrong with it, you’ll have extra protection if you bought it through:
Hire purchase: You have protection under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 and the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
The vehicle should be of satisfactory quality, fit for its purpose and as described.
With hire purchase, it is the finance provider, rather than the dealer, who is legally responsible if there are problems with the car.
Using a credit card: If you paid all or part of the cost of your car by credit card, the card company and the trader might be jointly responsible for compensating you under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.
Paying cash using a debit card: Your purchase won’t be covered by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, but you might be able to claim a refund from your debit card provider through a voluntary scheme known as ‘chargeback’. Visa, MasterCard, Maestro and American Express are among the companies signed up to chargeback.
Depending on the card you used, you’ll probably need to make your claim within 120 days of noticing the problem.
Chargeback claims can take some time to process because the card company has to get the money refunded before it can pass it on to you.
Consumer rights is a complicated area, so we recommend getting more detailed advice. Try contacting Citizens Advice or Motor Codes. Find out more about how you're protected if you pay by credit card.
Problems with used cars bought privately
Buying privately is one of the riskiest ways of buying a car. If something goes wrong with it you don’t have as much legal protection as you would if you’d bought the car from a dealer.
The car must match the seller’s description, be roadworthy and the seller must have the legal right to sell it to you.
In other words, the car must work, meet the legal requirements for being driven on public roads, and be owned by the seller.
But you are responsible for ensuring the car is “of satisfactory quality’’ and “fit for purpose” before you buy it.
Watch out for any unscrupulous sellers pretending to be private owners so they can offload faulty or stolen cars.
Problems with used cars are the most common single reason for people contacting the Citizens Advice consumer service – more than 50,000 complaints a year. Source: Citizens Advice November 2015
Problems with used cars bought at auction
Car auctions are fast-paced and exciting, but can spell danger for the inexperienced and unwary.
Once you’ve made a bid you can’t undo it. So make sure you know in advance what comeback you’ll have if the car proves to be faulty.
Live car auctions: You might not have any rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and the car might be sold to you “as seen”.
So before bidding, always check the auction house’s terms and conditions as well as the car itself.
Find out your rights on the Citizens Advice website.
Online car auctions: With online auctions your legal rights depend on whether the seller is a private individual or a car dealer.
If the seller is a private individual, the car only needs to be as described – so it’s a case of ‘buyer beware’.
Your legal rights are the same as if you were buying from them in person (see ‘’Problems with used cars bought privately’ above).
If the seller is a dealer, you’ll be protected by the Sale of Goods Act if you find the car isn’t of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose or as described.
You will also be covered by Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, which means you are entitled to cancel the order within 14 days of the original purchase.
Did you know?
If you buy a car or any other item from an auction website using the ‘buy now’ option, this doesn’t count as an auction purchase. If you choose ‘buy now’ your normal consumer rights – including distance selling rights – will apply, as long as you are buying from a business trader.