Buying guides

When It Goes Wrong

Need to know what your rights are in the event of you buying a lemon?

Trading Standards get more complaints about used cars than anything else. Sometimes it's because buyers are unrealistic, sometimes it's because they've failed to take care when buying, but often it's because a trader isn't playing fair.

If you bought from a private seller you have no legal right to expect that the car is of satisfactory quality or fit for its purpose, but there is a requirement that it should be 'as described'.

If you bought from a dealer you're protected by the Sale of Goods Act (1979) so you may be able to get your money back, the car repaired or a replacement car. The Sale of Goods Act says the car should be:

  • Of satisfactory quality
  • Fit for its intended purpose or a purpose that you made known to the dealer
  • As described

If the dealer claims they were up front about any faults before the transaction, you may not be able to complain. But you may still be able to get the dealer to do something if they'd played down the scale of the problem. You might be entitled to a refund if:

  • The fault is serious
  • It's within a reasonable time of the sale and
  • You've stopped using the car.

A partial refund might be more appropriate; either way you'll have to prove the car isn't of satisfactory quality. If you're asking for a repair, replacement or refund it's the trader's responsibility to prove the car is of satisfactory quality.

If the fault is minor and repairable you could ask for the car to be repaired or replaced. The replacement should be of a similar age, mileage and model as the car you're handing back. If you accept a repair for a major fault you can still claim a refund later if the repair isn't of a satisfactory quality.

The responsibility is normally on you rather than the dealer to prove that a car is faulty. However, it's the dealer's responsibility to prove that the car was of satisfactory quality when you bought it, if you discover the fault within the first six months and you're asking for:

  • A repair or
  • A replacement or
  • A full or partial refund where a repair or replacement isn't possible, would cause significant inconvenience to you as the buyer or would cost a disproportionate amount to the dealer.

If you discover the fault after the first six months, you should contact the dealer you bought the car from, to give them the opportunity to inspect the car and where possible to fix it. The responsibility is on you after six months to prove the car was faulty when sold. The best way to do this is to get an independent inspection on the car – and probably a second opinion too, from another independent professional.

If the garage refuses to put things right, check whether they belong to a trade association with a code of practice setting out standards of service they must follow. You can use this to show the garage that they must put the problem right.