What are your rights when buying a second-hand car?

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Buying a second-hand car can mean you get a bargain, but it can be tricky if things go wrong. Find out your rights when buying a second-hand car – how does the law protect you if you buy a used car?

Your rights when buying a second-hand car

Your rights when buying a second-hand car depend on where you bought the car.

Buying a second-hand car from a dealer

You have the same rights if you buy a second-hand car from a dealer as you would if you bought a new one. The problem is that if a fault arises, it may be harder to prove that you were sold a faulty car and that it wasn’t down to wear and tear.

SAVVY TIP: Your claim depends on the condition of the car when you bought it but faults can sometimes take several weeks to emerge.

Any second-hand car you buy should be:

  • Fit for purpose. If you want a car for a specific reason (to tow a caravan or trailer, for example) it should be able to do this.

SAVVY TIP: Traders can’t use notices such as ‘sold as seen’ to get out of their responsibilities. If you buy from a trader, they can’t use disclaimers to bypass consumer law. If you come across a trader who does this, you should report them to Citizens Advice consumer service.

  • As described. It should be as described in the advert or conversation you had with the seller.
  • Of satisfactory quality. According to Citizens Advice, the threshold of ‘satisfactory quality’ is lower for second-hand cars than for new ones. But the car should be in reasonable condition (taking its age and how much you’re being asked to pay for it into account) and should work properly.

SAVVY TIP: If you buy from a dealer over the internet, you also have 14 days after the car has been delivered to cancel your order and get your money back. This is enshrined in law.

Buying from a private seller

You have far fewer rights if you buy a used car from a private seller. However, the car should be:

  • Theirs to sell. They must be the legal owner and have the right to sell it.
  • Roadworthy. This is hard to define by law but it means that the car should be in a good enough condition to be driven on the road and shouldn’t have major defects.
  • Match the description they gave you. The wording on an advert is important. The seller’s claims about the car should be matched by the vehicle.

Dealers who pretend to be private sellers

Sometimes dealers pretend to be private sellers. It’s against the law for them to do this. An obvious clue is that their name doesn’t appear on the log book as the last registered keeper.

SAVVY TIP: If the seller is a dealer you have better consumer rights (see above). You should also report them to Citizens Advice consumer service or your local Trading Standards (which you’ll be able to find details of from your local council).

Getting the car checked

There are several types of checks you can do on a second-hand car before you buy it. Sylvia Rook from Trading Standards gives the following advice: “Be wary of false keys. If there are separate keys to the driver’s door and boot it may indicate prior damage or theft.”

The types of checks you get include:

SAVVY TIP: There’s information on vehicle checks on secondhand cars on the gov.uk website.

  • DVLA check: You can go online to DVLA to do a vehicle check. Here you can find out when the car was first registered and whether it is taxed.

Paying by credit card

You get extra protection if you buy a car costing between £100 and £30,000 and pay for some or all of it by credit card. Under the rules the credit card provider is jointly liable with the company that’s sold you the car, if there’s a breach of the Sale of Goods Act or Consumer Rights Act (which took effect on October 1st 2015), for example.

You may also be able to get the payment reversed if you’ve paid by debit card under the chargeback scheme. You have limited time in which to make your claim.

SAVVY TIP: If you’ve bought the car on hire purchase (HP) your rights will be with the finance company not the dealer who sold it to you.

Related articles: 

Faulty goods – there are new consumer rights from October 1st 2015

What are your rights if a shop or online retailer you’ve ordered goods from goes bust?

Paying online or by phone – are you protected if there’s a problem?

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