Consumers complain about cars more than any other item, according to Citizens Advice. Typically, the consumer body receives over 45,000 grumbles a year, with just over two thirds relating to used cars.
However, few of us know the law or what it entitles us to if we’re not entirely satisfied. Read on to find out what you can and can’t ask for if things go wrong.
When you buy from a dealer
You will enjoy the greatest level of consumer protection if you buy from a dealer. New cars and motorbikes, or those that are less than six months old, can be rejected if they are faulty. The dealer must prove the fault was not present at the time of manufacturing, and should be offered one chance to fix the fault. After that, you’re entitled to reject it.
However, it becomes more complicated for those who bought their car through a finance company. And given the rise in finance packages for new or nearly-new cars, that’s the majority of drivers. In that case, you’ll need to instruct the finance company to speak with the car’s supplying dealer.
Older cars should be fit for purpose, of satisfactory quality for their age and price, and must be as described, as stipulated by the 1979 Sale of Goods Act. So, if something is preventing the car from working correctly, you could be entitled to a repair if this is uncharacteristic for the car’s age and price.
When you buy privately
Drivers who buy a car from an auction have little legal protection, so it’s not an advisable option for the inexperienced car buyer.
Trading Standards urges only slightly less caution for anyone buying from private individuals: “The legal principle of ‘caveat emptor’, or ‘buyer beware’ applies. 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’.”
That means if an advertisement says ‘low mileage, one previous owner’, the vehicle must fulfil those criteria. You are also entitled to expect that the vehicle is roadworthy – unless it has clearly been bought for spare parts, to help keep a classic car running for example, or scrap.
Buying a new car online
Some good news. The law is scrabbling to keep pace with consumers’ shopping habits. Increasing numbers of us are comfortable with buying expensive items such as a car or motorbike online. Automotive industry analyst Frost & Sullivan says that by 2025, a quarter of new cars sold in the UK will have been bought over the internet.
To protect those shopping from the comfort of their sofa, buyers now have a 14-day ‘cooling off’ period, where they can change their mind after placing an order online. The directive was introduced in June, ahead of a new UK Consumer Rights Act that will come into force later this year.
Buyers can also change their mind for up to 14 days from the moment they take delivery of the car, so long as they received cancellation information when placing their order, or before the car was delivered. If they are passed the cancellation information after they take delivery of the car, the cooling off period ends 14 days after they got that information.
The dealer must then refund the customer within 14 days of being notified of the cancellation.