22 December 2011
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When you buy a car, the law gives you certain rights that protect you if it turns out to be faulty. Find out what these rights are and who to complain to if things go wrong.

Your rights when you buy a car

When you buy a car from a car dealer or an online car dealer (also known as traders), the car must be:

  • of satisfactory quality, eg the windscreen should not be chipped
  • fit for purpose, eg if you ask for a car that can tow a caravan it should be able to
  • as described, eg the car should match its description given in conversation or in an advert

If a car doesn’t meet any of these points, it is faulty and you will usually have the right to a:

  • repair
  • replacement
  • refund

If you buy a car from a trader online or over the phone, you also have the right to a 'cooling off' period. This gives you seven working days after the car has been delivered to cancel your order for any reason and get your money back.

If you buy a car from a private seller or at a car auction for traders, you have fewer rights. The car only has to:

  • match the description given by the seller
  • be theirs to sell, eg the car isn't stolen or owned by a finance company because the car loan hasn't been paid off
  • Before you buy a car, you should carry out checks to reduce the risk of it being faulty

If the car you buy has a disclaimer

Some car traders try to use disclaimers such as 'sold as seen', 'trade sale only' or 'no refund' to restrict your rights. This is against the law and you can report any trader that does this to Consumer Direct, the government funded consumer advice service.

Car Dealers who say they are private sellers

Some car dealers pretend they are private sellers to get rid of faulty cars. Signs that a private seller may be a car dealer include:

  • the seller's name doesn't appear on the logbook as the last registered keeper
  • the same phone number appears in several car adverts
  • cars are advertised for sale in car parks or other public spaces

If you believe a private seller is a car dealer, report them to Consumer Direct.

If you buy a faulty car from a private seller who turns out to be a car dealer, you would have the right to a repair, replacement or refund.

Second-hand car auctions – your rights

Sellers at auctions can restrict your rights by putting signs up around the car or information in the auction catalogue such as:

  • 'sold as seen' – this means that the car doesn’t have to be of satisfactory quality
  • ‘your legal rights don't apply’ – this means the seller does not have to give you a repair, replacement or refund if the car is faulty

The responsibility for checking a car at auction is yours (see link below).

It is illegal for auction houses to put the wrong vehicle history in the auction catalogue, because this could result in you buying a stolen car. You can report any auction houses you suspect of doing this to Consumer Direct.

Returning a faulty car to a trader

If you discover a fault with a car you’ve bought from a trader, you should contact the trader immediately.

If the trader agrees to sort out the fault, what the trader will offer you will depend on:

  • how long you've had the car – if you've had good use from car it's unlikely you'll get a full refund
  • how serious the fault is
  • whether the fault happens again and again (is recurring)
  • the cost of carrying out repairs or replacing the car

The law here is complex and you may need to get advice about whether the trader should offer to repair, replace or refund the car.

  • If you want to make a complaint about your car, first contact:
  • the trader if you bought the car from a dealer
  • the seller if it's a private sale or you bought your car from an auction house
  • the finance company if you paid for the car using a credit card or a loan arranged by the trader
  • The auction house doesn’t have to give you a seller’s details.