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Your Legal Rights When Buying a Car

Whether you are buying a new or a second-hand car, there are regulations on your side to make sure that the dealer or seller does not take advantage of you.

Sale of Goods Act 1979

Under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, any goods sold in the UK must be fit for purpose, of satisfactory quality, and as described by the seller. These rights will protect you if you are buying a car.

The car must be fit for purpose

A car would be considered unfit for purpose if it is unroadworthy – such as if the brakes or seatbelts do not work properly, or if the wing mirrors are cracked or have fallen off. It is an offence to sell an unroadworthy vehicle under the Road Traffic Act, and those who are caught can be fined up to £5,000.

If you find that a vehicle you purchased is unroadworthy, you should stop using it immediately. As well as being unsafe, it may invalidate your insurance, and you could be committing a criminal offence and face a fine of up to £5,000.

A vendor can sell an unroadworthy vehicle to you if you want to use it for spare parts, or if you wish to repair or restore it. However, the seller must make this absolutely clear to you.

If the vehicle is roadworthy, it could still be unfit for your particular requirements, for example, if you need a vehicle for towing, you may discover that the car you bought is unsuitable for this purpose. You may be able to make a claim against the seller if you made it clear that this was the reason you needed the vehicle, and they falsely stated that the vehicle would be up to the task. This would be a case of misrepresentation.

The car must be as described

Any description of the car must be accurate, for instance, if a car is missing any features described in the advert, or if the car’s mileage is higher than promised, the seller has failed to describe the car completely accurately. Failure to do so is a violation of your sales contract, even if it was an honest mistake.

“As described” includes all descriptions of the car, so anything that the seller tells you about the car can be considered part of the description. It also includes any promises the seller made - for instance, if they promised that the car would undergo an MOT before you purchased it.

You should try to keep a record of any correspondence you have with the seller, or try to have a witness present when you are talking face to face.

The car must be of satisfactory quality

This rule can be tricky when it comes to second-hand cars, as the definition of satisfactory depends on a number of factors, including the car’s age, how much you paid, and how the seller described it. If the seller told you that the car was in good condition only for it to stop working a week after you bought it, this could be considered to be a misleading description. However, if the seller made no promises as to how well the car ran, it may be difficult to make a claim if it suddenly stops working.

The seller can also not be held responsible if they drew your attention to any defects the car had before you bought it – for example, you would not be able to make a claim that a rusted car was unsatisfactory if the seller pointed out the rust to you before you bought the car.

However, if the rust was more serious and noticeable than you were led to believe, you could have a claim.

Buying a used car

There are different methods of buying a used car and each has different factors to consider.

Buying from a dealer is the safest method, as dealers are required to meet the requirements of the Sale of Goods Act in full. Sifting the reputable dealers from the disreputable is also easier – look for one who is a member of a trade association.

However, be wary of dealers who display signs along the lines of “sold as seen” with their cars. If you buy a car under these conditions, it dramatically reduces your Sale of Goods Act rights.

Buying from a private seller can be a bit more risky – they do not have the same obligations to provide a car that is roadworthy or of satisfactory quality. However, they are still required to sell you the car as described, so if they tell you that a car is roadworthy, and this turns out not to be the case, you will have a legitimate claim. Make sure you inspect the car and question the seller thoroughly before buying.

What to do if you find issues with the car

If you find a problem with a car you have purchased, there are three different options you can pursue. You can:

  • seek a repair
  • seek a replacement, or
  • seek a full or partial refund.

Deciding which of these options to pursue is up to you, although your preferred option may not be available, for example, the dealer may not have to provide a replacement if it would be disproportionately expensive to provide one.

You may also be able to claim compensation from the dealer for other losses that you have experienced resulting from the faulty car, such as lost earnings, for example.

If you find the fault in the first six months, it is up to the dealer to prove that the car was in satisfactory condition when it was sold to you. If the car was bought more than six months ago, the burden of proving this lies with you, and you should get another garage to conduct a report on the vehicle. If the report supports your complaint, you will have a better chance of claiming a refund.

Buying a car with no tax

As of the 1st of October 2014, car tax (Vehicle Excise Duty) cannot be transferred from one owner to another, meaning that you will need to re-tax the vehicle regardless of much time remained for the previous owner. You cannot drive the car before it is taxed, so you will either need to tax it before you drive it away, or find some other method of transporting the car home (on a trailer, for example).

You should also find out whether the car has a current and valid MOT certificate – this can be transferred from the previous owner.