Know Your Rights
Used motor vehicles – Consumer rights
When you buy a used motor vehicle from a trader, you enter into a legally binding contract. You are entitled to expect that the vehicle is of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose, and as described. An older vehicle with high mileage may not be as good as a newer vehicle with low mileage, but it should still be fit for use on the road and in a condition that reflects its age and price.
Traders must not mislead consumers by using phrases such as ‘sold as seen’ or ‘no refunds’. If you buy a used vehicle from a trader online, you may have additional rights under the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000. You do not have the same legal rights if you buy a vehicle from a private seller or from an auction.
If the used vehicle is faulty, you may have a short time after buying it to reject it for a full refund. You may have other remedies such as repair or replacement. You should write to trader you bought it from, confirm the details of your complaint and the remedy you are seeking and keep copies of all correspondence. As a last resort, you may need to consider taking court action. Bear in mind that used vehicles may have some faults, but they should not be excessive. Fair wear and tear is not considered to be a fault.
In the guide
- The law
- Private sales
- Internet sales
- Online auctions
- Credit and other payment methods
- Insurance claims
- Action to take
When you buy a used vehicle from a trader you are making a legally binding contract. You have legal rights against the trader under the Sale of Goods Act 1979.
The vehicle should be:
– Of a satisfactory quality
Free from minor defects, safe and durable for a reasonable length of time. When assessing satisfactory quality you should take into account price, age, mileage and condition at the time of sale.
– Fit for its intended purpose or a purpose that you made known to the trader
Fit to be driven on the road.
– As described
The vehicle should correspond with any description applied to it. In some circumstances, the trader may be liable for any statement made by the manufacturer of the goods.
If the vehicle was faulty at the time of sale, you are legally entitled to request one of the following remedies:
- a full refund
- compensation (damages)
- repair or replacement
- rescission or reduction in price
You can find more information about these rights in the ‘Buying goods – your rights’ leaflet.
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 prohibits commercial practices that are unfair to consumers. If a trader misleads you or engages in an aggressive commercial practice and you make a decision to purchase a vehicle which you would not otherwise have done, the trader may be in breach of the regulations. For example, a trader may fail to inform you that the vehicle has previously been accident damaged or may claim it is ‘sold as seen’ to avoid their responsibilities to you. If you have been misled,report it to Citizens Advice for investigation by trading standards. Guarantees and warranties are in addition to the statutory rights you have under theSale of Goods Act 1979. Please see our ‘Guarantees and warranties’ leaflet for more information.
When you buy a used vehicle from a private individual, you don’t have the same rights as you do when buying from a trader. The legal principle of caveat emptor, or ‘buyer beware’ operates. You have no right to expect that the vehicle is of satisfactory quality or fit for its purpose, but there is a requirement that it should be ‘as described’. For example, if an advertisement says ‘low mileage, one previous owner’, it must be correct. You should check the vehicle thoroughly before you buy it.
Whether you buy privately or from trader, you are entitled to expect that the vehicle is roadworthy, unless you and the seller clearly agree it is bought for scrap or for spares and repair. You should be aware that a vehicle sold with an MOT certificate does not guarantee that it is currently roadworthy, only that at the time it was tested it met the required safety standards needed to gain the MOT certificate.
You are entitled to expect that the seller has ‘good title’ to the vehicle. This means the person selling the vehicle must own it. If you buy a vehicle that you later find out is stolen, you do not have the legal right to keep it. You may have to give it back and you will have to try and get your money back from the seller.
The Consumer Credit Act 1974 gives ‘good title’ to the first private purchaser of a vehicle that later turns out to be subject to a claim by a finance provider. This means that if the previous owner sold the vehicle to you when there was finance outstanding and you were unaware of this, the finance provider cannot repossess the vehicle from you. Remember, this does not apply to vehicles that have been stolen, or vehicles that were subject to a lease or hire agreement.
You should be aware that some traders pretend to be private sellers – by selling vehicles at the roadside or via a classified advertisement – to avoid their legal obligations to consumers. If you come across a situation like this, contact Citizens Advice for the case to be referred to trading standards.
If you decide to buy a used vehicle online from a trader, you have the same legal rights as you have when buying from a trader face-to-face. The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 may also give you additional protection because the contract you enter into is concluded at a distance and without personal contact. See our leaflet ‘Shopping from home‘ for more information.
If you decide to buy a used car privately online, your limited rights are the same as those you have buying from a private seller in other ways, such as via a classified advertisement.
When you buy from a motor auction, it is not generally considered to be a consumer sale, so your consumer rights can be, and usually are, reduced. The auction will have terms and conditions setting out the role of the auctioneer and the obligations of the buyer and seller. Before bidding at auction, check the terms and conditions as well as the vehicle you intend to bid on.
Most online auctions only provide the site for the auctions to be held and are not generally liable for the goods bought and sold. You should check the terms and conditions of the website for full details.
You have the same legal rights against a trader as you do with any other purchase, although online auction sales are exempt from the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 . Take note that your usual consumer rights cannot be excluded when buying from a trader through an online auction using ‘Buy it now’.
You should also research information relating to the seller. You have fewer rights against private online sellers.
Credit and other payment methods
If you buy a vehicle on hire purchase, you have the protection of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 and the Supply of Goods (Implied Terms) Act 1973. The vehicle should still be of satisfactory quality, fit for its purpose, and as described, but it is the finance provider, as owner, that is legally responsible to you as hirer. The normal rules on ‘acceptance’ (in other words loss of right to reject the vehicle and seek refund) do not apply to hire-purchase or conditional sale agreements and, therefore, you may only lose your right to reject if you are aware of problems with the vehicle but continue to use it. This is a complicated area of law and you should seek advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service as soon as possible if you are looking to ‘reject’ a vehicle under a hire purchase agreement.
If you paid for the vehicle wholly or in part using a credit card or a finance agreement arranged for you by the trader, then you may be able to hold the finance provider ‘equally liable’ (which means equally to blame) for a ‘breach of contract’ (such as selling faulty or misdescribed goods). You can also hold the finance provider equally liable if the trader misrepresented the vehicle to you. These additional rights apply if the cost of the vehicle was below £30,000. If the cost of the vehicle exceeds £30,000 and is less than £60,260, you may be able to claim against the finance company under section 75A of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 if the finance was arranged specifically to buy that vehicle. If you are unhappy with the finance provider’s response, seek the advice of the Financial Ombudsman Service. This is a complicated area of law and you should seek advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service.
Under the Consumer Rights (Payment Surcharges) Regulations 2012, traders are banned from charging fees to consumers that are excessive for using payment methods such as credit and debit cards. The fees charged must reflect the actual cost to the trader of using that particular payment process. The regulations apply to most sales and service contracts but excludes some contracts, such as those for social and health services, certain financial services and food and drink delivered by regular roundspeople. A contract term relating to requirement to pay a fee is unenforceable against you to the extent of the excess charged. If you have paid an excessive fee, the excess must be repaid to you. If you believe a trader’s fees are excessive report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service.
If you are buying from a trader, check to see if there is a disclaimer stating that the mileage is not guaranteed and so cannot be relied on. It should be ‘bold, precise and compelling’ and effectively brought to your attention. If there is no disclaimer, it could be argued that the trader is stating that the mileage is correct and you can rely on it. It then becomes part of the contract and the description of the vehicle. It can be difficult to prove a car has been ‘clocked’, so the golden rule is to walk away if you are not satisfied. There are organisations that will provide you with information on a vehicle for a fee – check online for details. If you believe the mileage has been altered on a vehicle you have bought contact Citizens Advice for the case to be referred to trading standards.
An MOT certificate simply confirms that the vehicle passed the test on the day it was submitted. It only covers the specific tests required and does not provide an absolute guarantee of the general quality of the vehicle. If you have a problem with an MOT, contact the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA), which enforces the law relating to these tests.
Selling a vehicle that has been classified as a category C or D write off without making this clear to the consumer may be an offence under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and you should report this to Citizens Advice for the case to be referred to trading standards. It is advisable to ask the trader whether the vehicle has been in any accidents before the sale.
Action to take
If you have bought a vehicle from a trader, which turns out to be faulty or you think has been misdescribed, you need to take action straight away.
If you have only had the vehicle for a very short time, have only driven a few miles and you discover a major problem, you are probably entitled to reject it and get your money back plus the return of a ‘traded in’ vehicle if there was one, or its value if it has been disposed of.
If you decide to reject the vehicle, stop using it and contact the trader. Make it clear that you wish to reject it. You can accept a repair for a major fault but this won’t stop you claiming a refund if the repair turns out to be unsatisfactory. It is best to make your position clear before any repair is attempted.
The law only allows you a short time to reject the vehicle before you have ‘accepted’ it. This means that you have had the vehicle long enough to establish it is satisfactory, or that you have told the trader that you have accepted it. Only a court can make a decision on this point and would take all relevant factors into account.
If the fault was present when you bought the vehicle you have other remedies, even if you are not entitled at that point to reject it and get a refund. You may be entitled to seek a repair or replacement vehicle. These have to be carried out within a reasonable time and without significant inconvenience to you. If repair or replacement is not possible, then the law allows for the options of full or partial refund. Each case depends on its own facts.
The onus is normally on you rather than the trader to prove a claim (that is, to prove that the vehicle is faulty in some way). However, the law states that if you are claiming repair, replacement, full or partial refund within the first six months of ownership, the onus is on the trader to prove that the vehicle was sold without faults when you bought it. This is called the ‘reversed burden of proof’. After six months, the burden of proof reverts back to you to provide evidence to support your claim that the vehicle was faulty when it was sold.
Keep a note of all actions you take. Where possible write to the trader and get the trader to put everything in writing to you.
Some points to note about accepting a repair:
- if the repair will take a long time, you may also be able to claim compensation – for example, you may be able to claim for the cost of hiring a vehicle or the trader may, of course, offer a loan vehicle
- if the repair adds to the value of the vehicle, the trader could have a case for asking you to make a contribution
- you may choose to claim under any warranty or guarantee you were given, or which you bought but if you do, you must comply with all the terms of the warranty or guarantee
- remember that you do not have to rely on the warranty or guarantee – you can use your legal rights instead
When you approach the trader to discuss your complaint, ask to see the owner, manager or a senior member of staff. Explain the problem clearly, take any supporting documentation with you and state which of the remedies described above you are seeking. If you are entitled to a refund and this is what you want, be persistent.
Most vehicle faults can be repaired and, in cases of genuine faults, the trader is likely to offer repair. Try to get specific details as to what the diagnosis is and what is to be done. Get this in writing if you can. If the repair fails to rectify the fault, inform the relevant person and, again, try to agree an acceptable course of action. This is where a second opinion or a good technical report is useful, so that you are in a stronger legal position. Keep the finance provider involved, if there is one. If the trader offers something but it is not what you want, don’t be rushed into a decision. Take time to think about it – you can either accept the offer or continue to negotiate.
If you have given the trader the opportunity to repair the vehicle and they refuse, or the vehicle remains faulty, you can have the repairs carried out elsewhere. You should inform the trader in writing of your intentions (keep all copies of correspondence). Ask the repairer to write you a report on the faults, provide full written details of the work carried out and the cost. It is best to keep all faulty parts that have been replaced. This should provide you with the evidence to show that you have given the trader the opportunity to resolve the problem – together with the evidence of fault and cost of repair – should the dispute end in court.
If negotiations fail, you could consider using an alternative dispute resolution scheme. Check to see if the trader is a member of a trade association that has such a scheme.
If you bought your vehicle from a trader online check the website from which you bought it for details of how to report a complaint. Report your complaint as soon as possible, preferably in writing. Follow the advice given above and remember that you may have additional rights under the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 . If the vehicle is faulty or misdescribed, and you have the right to reject it, the trader should arrange the collection at their own expense. You may, however, be prepared to negotiate on a replacement vehicle or to have it repaired. The trader may agree, if they trade some distance away, to have repairs done locally to you at their expense.
If you bought your vehicle via an online auction, check the website to see if it runs a dispute resolution scheme.
As a last resort, you may need to consider taking court action. You should write and notify the trader and finance provider (if there is one) of your intentions. Most claims up to £10,000 can be settled using the small claims procedure in the county court and you can obtain further information from your local county court or online at www.justice.gov.uk.
Used vehicles may have some faults, but they should not be excessive. Fair wear and tear is not considered to be a fault.
This leaflet is not an authoritative interpretation of the law and is intended only for guidance. Any legislation referred to, while still current, may have been amended from the form in which it was originally enacted.
For further information please contact the Citizens Advice consumer service, which provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues.
Call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.