Problems with a new or used car - your consumer rights

Buying a car should be an enjoyable and relatively easy experience, but what happens when something goes wrong? Here's how to go about getting a vehicle repaired or rejecting it outright.

What do I do if something goes wrong with my car?

If there’s something wrong with your car, you might have a legal right to have the vehicle repaired or get your money back. This includes if it isn't of satisfactory quality, isn't fit for purpose or doesn’t match the description you were given - including an advertisement of the vehicle - if you bought it from a trader. For this reason, make sure you keep a copy of the advert as it'll be taken down once you buy the vehicle.

When buying privately (from an individual rather than a business), you have fewer rights because certain parts of the Consumer Rights Act do not apply. You only have rights if the car isn’t as it was described.

You won’t be entitled to anything if you were told about the fault when you bought the car or you inspected the car and should've spotted the problem. Similarly, you don't have rights against the supplier if you caused the fault or the issue is to be expected based on the age of the car (fair wear and tear). So-called fair wear and tear could include things like the brake pads needing replaced on used car.

Faults on new cars should be dealt with under warranty.

The statute of limitations means you have rights for six years after buying the car (five years if you bought the car in Scotland), but it’ll be increasingly harder to prove the fault existed before you bought it as more time passes.

1What if I think I've been mis-sold a car?

What if you think you've been mis-sold a car?

As an example, if you explain to a dealer that you only do short trips and have a low annual mileage, but they sell you a diesel car, this could be classed as mis-selling.

Diesel vehicles are not suitable for short trips, they need to be driven around 15,000 miles a year for the DPF to actively regenerate. If not, it can lead to expensive repairs.

Unfortunately, unless you have written evidence then you have no case for a refund. Emailing the dealer to outline what you need/want from the vehicle will ensure you have proof of mis-selling if an issue arises.

2What qualifies as a reason to reject a vehicle?

The reasons to reject a vehicle

Cosmetic issues or minor faults aren't valid reasons to reject a vehicle. These sorts of issues should be dealt with under warranty, if you have one.

You can’t successfully reject a car for a trivial reason such as a little scratch or finding out you don’t like something about the car. Unless, for instance, you bought it for a specific purpose. So if you bought a car to tow a caravan and then you find out it cannot, for example.

3Your rights in the first 30 days

Short-term right to reject

The 2015 Consumer Rights Act covers the purchase of goods, digital content and services - including new and used cars - from official dealers. It doesn't apply to private sales. It outlines the fact that vehicles must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described. For cars purchased before 1 October 2015, the Sale of Goods Act still applies.

This Act gives you the statutory right to reject a new or used car (or anything else) within 30 days of purchase if your rights have been breached. This is called the short term 'right to reject'.

It covers faults that were present - or developing - when you bought it, or it was received in a condition that does not match what you were told. But it'll be up to you to prove that's the case. After 30 days you lose the short-term right to reject.

Your rights are against the supplier not the manufacturer, which is the dealer (and the finance company jointly if you bought it on finance).

4Your rights: 30 days - 6 months

Your rights after 30 days

If a fault comes to light between 30 days and six months of buying a vehicle, you’re entitled to a repair, replacement or refund.

It’s assumed in law that the fault was present at the time of purchase unless the seller can prove otherwise.

Unless you’ve agreed otherwise, the seller (dealer) has only one opportunity to repair (or replace) the faulty vehicle after which, if they fail to repair it, you’re entitled to a refund. But the seller may make a 'reasonable' adjustment to the amount refunded by taking into account the use that you’ve had of the vehicle.

For example, if you successfully reject a car for a refund, the dealer may take off the cost you'd have paid if you rented a similar vehicle. So, if you had a car for three months, and the typical monthly rental cost of that car is £200 - they could rightfully take £600 off the refund you receive. 

5Your rights after 6 months

After six months...

The burden is on you to prove that the vehicle was faulty at the time of purchase if you want to pursue a claim for repair or replacement. But you have legal rights for up to six years (five years if you bought the car in Scotland) after buying - these Acts are known as The Limitation Act 1980 and The Prescription and Limitation Act (Scotland).

This typically occurs, say, if you're having work done on the car and it's discovered that damage was hidden - meaning the real condition of the car was concealed (mis-selling).

The longer you’ve had the car, the harder it'll be to prove that the problem was there when the trader sold it.

6What steps should you take if something goes wrong?

What steps to take...

If you do purchase a vehicle that was faulty when it was bought, or if it is not as was advertised, then the best course of action is to contact the dealer or individual who sold you the car. If it was described as 'like new' and isn't, for example, that's a breach of your rights.

If you discover a fault with a car you’ve just bought, don’t immediately reject it. The fault may be relatively easy to fix. You’ll save time and hassle getting it repaired, rather than trying to reject it. The dealer may also not agree that the vehicle should be rejected.

The dealer doesn't owe you an immediate refund, they'll probably want to conduct their own assessment of the vehicle to see if you are owed your money back. 

Escalate the issue as high as you can in hopes that it gets resolved so you can avoid any legal action. Legal action is costly, time-consuming and stressful with no guarantee you'll win.

Write to both the dealer principal and send your letter by Post Office Special Delivery so you get receipts for them and your letters become 'matters of record' - which can't be denied. If the dealer refuses the rejection or doesn't respond, get in touch with Trading Standards and/or the Motor Ombudsman about the issue.

Keep a record of your conversations and correspondence, and get all verbal agreements confirmed in writing - including when you can expect the car to be ready if you’re asking for a repair, and whether they’ll offer you a courtesy car in the meantime.

If you are entitled to a refund, it must be given within 14 days of the trader agreeing that you are owed your money back.

You don't have to accept a second repair if something goes wrong and you'd rather not keep the car. You can ask for your money back if the repair hasn't solved the problem. You're likely to only get some of your money back depending on how much you've used the car. Alternatively, if you still want the car, you can ask for a discount.

7Does this apply to private car sales?

What about private vehicle sales?

When buying privately (from an individual rather than a business), you have fewer rights because certain parts of the Consumer Rights Act don't apply. You only have rights if the car isn’t as it was described. The car should be true to the advert and what you were told by the person you bought it from. You won’t be entitled to anything just because the car is faulty or because the seller failed to mention something in the advert.

However, the seller must accurately describe the car, such as the number of previous owners. They must also not misrepresent it, for example not disclosing that it has been involved in an accident or providing a false service history.

The car must be roadworthy, too. It's a criminal offence to sell an unroadworthy car and an MoT certificate from a test several months ago is no guarantee that the car is roadworthy today.

If the individual refuses to accept your rejection, you will need to take legal action to reject the vehicle. However, this is expensive and there's no guarantee that you will win.

If the vehicle isn't 'as described', you can either ask for the difference in value between what you paid and what the car is really worth or ask for the cost of making changes to the car so it matches the description.

The statute of limitations means you have rights for six years after buying the car (five years if you bought the car in Scotland), but it’ll be harder to prove how it was described as time goes on. Make a note of any evidence you have - for example, an advert or an email.

Keep a record of your conversations and correspondence, and get all verbal agreements in writing. If you’re still not getting anywhere, your last resort is to take your case to a small claims court.

8What if I didn't see the vehicle before buying?

What if I didn't see the vehicle before buying?

This most commonly occurs when you buy a vehicle online or over the phone. But buying online doesn't impede your consumer rights. If you buy the car remotely and have it delivered to your door, you may get extra peace of mind from the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 - commonly known as the 'Distance Selling Regulations'.

The dealer or trader should make it clear in writing if the sale falls under the Distance Selling Regulations - we'd always recommend checking this before you agree to the sale.

If you’ve placed a deposit on a new or used car - online or over the phone - the Distance Selling Regulations will give you the right to cancel the order within 14 days and receive a full refund of your deposit.

You get a 14-day 'cooling-off period' when you buy something you haven’t seen in person (unless it’s bespoke). The cooling-off period starts the day after you receive your order, and there doesn’t need to be anything wrong with the item for you to get a refund. But this doesn't apply to a private seller, only a business - like a dealer.

The seller has to pay you the refund within 14 days from when they receive the item.

However, the Distance Selling Regulations do not apply if you visit the dealer's forecourt to collect the car, pay the deposit or sign any forms or documentation. The law also gives some dealers the right to make a single one-off remote sale, without the Distance Selling Regulations coming into force. But they must tell you this in advance of the sale.

9What if my new car is not what I ordered?

What if your new car is not what you ordered?

Sometimes it's as small as a different navigation being fitted or an owner needs a tow bar and the car can't be fitted with one. Other times it's big changes such as a different engine or the wrong colour paintwork.

If you specifically order something and don’t get it, then you simply refuse to accept the car. But if the manufacturer changed the specification, the dealer has no control over that and he may try to push you to accept the car.

10What if I just don't want to car anymore?

What if I've changed my mind?

If you’ve changed your mind about the car and there’s nothing wrong with it, you don’t have an automatic right to get your money back.

But you get a 14-day 'cooling-off period' when you buy something you haven’t seen in person (unless it’s bespoke). The cooling-off period starts the day after you receive your order, and there doesn’t need to be anything wrong with the item for you to get a refund. But this doesn't apply to a private seller, only a business - like a dealer.

11What if you've part exchanged a car?

What if you've part exchanged a car?

If you part-exchanged your old car for the new one, you will not get it back. Instead, you'll be entitled to the price of the part-exchanged car. The dealer can't charge for usage, wear and tear, collection of the vehicle or anything else.

After the 30 days, if you part-exchanged your old car, you'll get a cash value for the new car. In this instance, the dealer is able to claim a reduction in the value of the vehicle for factors like mileage covered.

12Unfair Trading Regulations

Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations

Dealers must  comply with the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (2008), which prohibits them from engaging in unfair business practices like giving false information and giving insufficient information (for example, not disclosing the results of  checks carried out or failing to draw your attention to the key elements of any warranty).

It also prevents them from acting aggressively, like using high pressure selling techniques. 31 specific practices are banned outright including: falsely claiming to be approved, endorsed or authorised by a public or private body, and falsely stating that a vehicle will only be available for a very limited time in order to elicit an faster decision to buy.

13What about the Small Claims Court?

What about the Small Claims Court?

The first bit of advice is to try to settle the matter without going to court. Once a dealer knows you know your legal rights, they're more likely to settle - as long as you are being reasonable.

As suggested, contact the Motor Ombudsman first and try and get the situation resolved. 

Court is a last resort. If the dealer and finance company refuse to accept your rejection of the car, you can't continue to use it while taking County Court action against them and that could mean your car sitting on your driveway unused for months on end.

The limit for claims in the Small Claims Track of the County Court was raised from £5000 to £10,000 in 2013, making this service much more useful in disputes over purchases of cars.

14Buying at an auction

Buying a used car at a live auction

You have very little legal protection at a vehicle auction so check the specific terms and conditions of before bidding. If your rights under the Sale of Goods Act are excluded then you're buying 'sold as seen' and should check the car over thoroughly before bidding.

Generally, the auctioneer won't be held liable if the seller doesn't have the right to sell the car in the first place – if it is stolen, for example. Any comeback you may have will be against the seller himself, if you can find him.

Some auctions offer guarantees as extras, but check the wording on any documents carefully. There may be a 'cooling off period' too, but it's likely to be very short.

Ask HJ

What can I do if a dealer refuses my request for a full refund?

I bought a 2019 Nissan X-Trail in Feb 2020. The engine management light comes on at random. Two Nissan dealers did work on it but can't find the fault. I asked the selling garage for a full refund but it was refused. What can I do?
Rejecting a car for a full refund should be a last resort, and you've moved out of the right to reject period - which is six months from the date you bought the vehicle. Rejecting a car is a time-consuming, stressful, expensive process - and the dealer is unlikely to want to do this so stay civil with them if you can. We would suggest chatting some more with the dealer about what the problem is and how it can be fixed, as well as discussing some form of goodwill gesture to make up for the hassle. If you've already done this and they're unwilling to give you your money back or figure out what's wrong with the car, then move onto the next steps. You've already attempted to get it fixed, but I would let them try again. If they won't, or they do and still can't fix it, it'll make a stronger case in the long run if you do go via a legal route to get your money back. Secondly, if you'd be happy with a different car, consider asking for a replacement model. It'll save the dealer money and it'll save you time looking for a new model. Onto the rejection, if the dealer refuses to accept your rejection of the car, contact the manufacturer's customer services department for further support. It's worth sending a copy of your original rejection letter to the manufacturer's head office, too. If you’re still getting nowhere, then consider contacting the Motor Ombudsman or the Financial Ombudsman. You could also contact Trading Standards if you feel that the dealer has breached the Consumer Rights Act. An engineer’s inspection can also be useful, but you'd have to pay for that yourself. The final route should be court because it's very costly and there's no guarantee you will win even with a solicitor. But if all else fails, that's the option you're left with.
Answered by Georgia Petrie
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