A report released during the summer of 2012 by the quarterly Auto Traders Owners' Guide has shown that prices for small used cars are rising higher than ever before. Consecutively, independent used car dealerships are attracting record numbers of consumer complaints.
People are naturally vigilant when they want to buy a used car, and though they may buy a car in good faith, accidents always happen. Citizens Advice released a document at the beginning of August this year, outlining the rights consumers possess when they buy a second-hand car. We've broken them down into the most important bits:
Your rights when buying a used car
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So, you're buying a car from a dealer. The law states that the car MUST match the description the dealer has used to advertise it. It must also be in reasonable condition, after things like its age, make and past history are taken into account. It also has to be roadworthy - even if it has an MoT certificate, it isn't a guarantee that the car's fit for the road.
A warranty or guarantee can also give you additional rights. Just make sure you read the small print before you sign, and whether it offers you value for money.
Losing those rights
Those rights will vanish though if the dealer points out the extent of any faults before money changes hands. The same applies if you examine the car and should have noticed the fault, though this is mainly for cosmetic effects. Any mechanical defects that aren't striking to the buyer on inspection make the dealer liable, should they damage the car at all.
Second-hand car vehicle checks
Checking whether the car has been stolen or has been a previous insurance write-off will also be worth your while in the long-run. Also, do some digging to see if the car has any outstanding loan payments on it. A mileage check can also give peace of mind. The Directgov website has more information on how to do this.
The dealership will have committed a criminal offence if they give you a false description of the car, sell you a car that isn't roadworthy, alter the mileage reading/sell you a car with altered mileage, or pretend to be a private seller when they're no such thing.
Buying a used car with cash/credit card
Be warned - if you're paying with cash then there's no cooling-off period. You're legally bound as soon as money changes hands.
If you're paying by credit card though, or you're buying the car on finance, then the credit company may also be in breach of contract if the car cost between £100 - £30,000 and something goes wrong. Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to get compensation from the finance company for a refund or the cost of repairs for a faulty second-hand car.
Refunding a second-hand car
Be wary when asking for a refund. If you've had the car for a long time and done a number of miles in it before reporting the fault, then your case may be weakened. You may be able to get the fault fixed, though.
You can be eligible for a full refund if you report the fault shortly after you notice it, haven't travelled many miles in the car and the fault is of a serious nature. If you used another car in a part-exchange deal, you may be able to get that back as well. If that car has since been sold, though, then you're entitled to the cash value printed on your paperwork.
Replacing a used car
If you don't want a refund, or you've left it too late to claim one, the dealer could potentially replace the car for another one or repair it for free. A reasonable timeframe is from within six months of buying the car.
Six months is a reasonable time to expect a used car to last for, and it's also likely that the problem existed during that period. The dealer could always prove otherwise, though, and claim that the fault came about during your period of ownership.
Realistically, you can ask for a replacement six years from the date you bought the car. You will still have to prove that the car was faulty at the time of sale, though, which gets harder over time.
What to do if you notice a fault
If you notice a fault then stop using the car with immediate effect to strengthen your position. Gather your guarantee, credit agreement, warranty, sales invoice and any other relevant documents.
Get in touch with the dealer and your finance provider as soon as possible, and take the car back if possible. If not then contact the manager/dealership owner. Make a copy of the sales invoice and send it to them, explaining the problem.
Ask for a full refund and set a time limit for their response. If you don't want a refund then ask for a replacement or compensation, depending on the extent of the fault and whether you feel a criminal act has been committed.
An expert opinion from a body such as the AA or RAC can strengthen your position. A written statement from any other qualified expert will also help. Note that if the dispute reaches a courtroom that you're bound by the findings of the expert you've paid for, so choose wisely!
The dealer may make an alternative offer, so it might be an idea to just cut your losses and negotiate instead of going through the courts. However, if the dealer doesn't reply to any letters or completely disregards you, then legal proceedings may work as a last resort - if you can afford it...
Compensation for a used car
If the dealership is in breach of contract or has made false statements about the car before you buy it (i.e. saying it has a new engine when it's only been reconditioned) then you're entitled to compensation.
You're also entitled if you accept a repair and find it to be unsatisfactory. Also, keep records of any additional expenses you've had to pay for because of the breach of contract, including phone bills, paying for public transport and more.
If the car has damaged property, injured yourself, passengers or other parties because it turns out to be unsafe for the road, then your best avenue is legal advice before considering any reparations from a dealer.
Written by John Meadowcroft