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Your rights when buying a used car from a trader

Trading Standards has to deal with more complaints about used cars than any other product. With more than seven million sold in the UK every year, perhaps that should come as no surprise – cars are complex things and can suffer from a wide array of problems.

But what are your rights when it comes to buying a used car? Just what legal protection do you have? Unsurprisingly, where the law is concerned it’s complicated and we can’t cover all eventualities here, but we’ll cover your key rights so you know what protection you have.

Underpinning your rights is the Consumer Rights Act, which was introduced on 1 October 2015. This Act superseded all or parts of the Sale of Goods Act 1979, Supply of Goods (Implied Terms) Act 1973, Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982, Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994, Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002, Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 and Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999.

However, the Consumer Rights Act covers you only when buying a car for private use, from a trader. If you’re buying privately or at auction, or for business use, you’re not covered – although you do have other rights.

Short-term right to reject

If you buy a new or used car and from the outset it has a fault, you can reject it without having to give the dealer a chance to repair or replace the vehicle. Be reasonable though; a rejected car costs the dealer a lot of money, so handing it back because of a minor fault that’s easily repaired won’t go down well.

The dealer can refuse your rejection which might mean court action, and that’s when things can get costly. And if you’re deemed to have acted unreasonably, you’ll lose. Alternatively you can take the Alternative Dispute Resolution route , which involves using an arbitration service.

Final right to reject

If your car develops a fault after more than 30 days of ownership, but within no more than six months, you can still reject it, but the goalposts are in a different position. At this point you have to give the supplying dealer one chance to fix the problem, but if they don’t do it satisfactorily you can then ask for it to be repaired, replaced or your money refunded.

Crucially, if a fault becomes apparent after 30 days it’s assumed to have been there since you bought the car, and it’s up to the dealer to prove that it wasn’t. However, if you’ve covered lots of miles or neglected/abused the car since buying it, rejecting it could be that much trickier.

If you reject a car within the first 30 days the dealer can’t charge you for use or wear and tear and they have to refund you in full. But after 30 days have elapsed you can expect to get back less than you paid, although how much less isn’t set out anywhere. As a result you’ll have to negotiate to reach an agreement.

After six months

Six months after you bought the car you’re reliant on the standard warranty to cover the cost of any repairs – assuming the car is still covered by some sort of guarantee at this point. In theory you could still reject the car even after this length of time, but to do so you have to prove the fault was there when you bought the car, and this probably won’t be easy.

Reasons for rejection

You can only reject a car because it’s not fit for purpose – which means faulty. Deciding that it’s not right for your lifestyle, you don’t like the colour or you should have bought a car with a diesel engine instead of petrol (or vice versa) aren’t valid reasons.

For your rejection to be valid the car doesn’t necessarily have to be undriveable. According to the Act, the car must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and free from any defect. With a new car this would mean it should be completely fault-free, but with a used car it’s different. You should expect some wear and tear and it might be that there’s the odd bit of damage – especially if it’s an old or high-mileage car.

Another reason for rejecting the car is because the supplying dealer has failed to disclose key information which might have affected your buying decision or the car’s value. It may have been clocked for example, or could have been an insurance write-off at some point.

Other protection

How you pay for your car can make a big difference to your consumer rights. If you buy on hire purchase it’s the finance provider rather than the dealer who is legally responsible to you if there are problems with the car.

If you pay for all or part of the car on a credit card, the card issuer and trader may be jointly responsible for compensating you under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act (1974). Use a debit card and your purchase won’t be covered by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, but you may be able to claim a refund from your card provider through a voluntary scheme called ‘chargeback’.

When buying a used car it’s best not to rely on a dealer’s history check because it may be sub-standard or non-existent. Don’t just take their word for it that they’ve done a check and the car has come up clear. Invest in your own HPI Check which will give you an insight into the car’s history.

If you have a problem with a used car that you’ve bought from a dealer and you can’t reach an amicable settlement your best bet is to get in touch with the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. However, if you think the trader needs to be taken to task because they’re sailing close to the wind legally or have treated you particularly badly, a conversation with Trading Standards might be more suitable.

Richard Dredge

October 2016