Buying a Second Hand Car: What are My Rights?


Buying a second hand car can be a risky business that sometimes can prove to be more expensive than we anticipated, especially if something goes wrong with it. If the car breaks down on you straight away or a part goes faulty rendering the vehicle not drivable what should we do? We have taken a look at different scenarios and have come up with some useful facts to help if the worst should happen.

Am I Within My Rights to Take a Second Hand Car Back to the Vendor?

If your second hand car develops a problem soon after you have bought it you should return it to the vendor as soon as possible. In fact within the first three weeks or so, as if you leave it too long, getting a refund will be very difficult. The time that elapses between you buying the car and trying to return it when it has a fault has to be thought of as reasonable.

There aren’t any hard and fast rules as to how long is acceptable to be classed as reasonable but a four week limit is probably the maximum accepted. Whether you bought the car from a car sale room, show room or simply from a friend you do have certain rights, while knowing where you stand in this regard is paramount if you are not to lose out.

What If it Was a Private Sale?

Unfortunately you have very little in the way of rights when you buy a second hand car privately. Many of the elements contained in the sale of goods act do not apply when a sale is private. Think about what you bought that day. Did the car come with a warranty that you bought? If so you may be able to make a claim on the warranty if anything goes wrong.

The two main categories that a private seller must comply with are

  • The description of the vehicle must be accurate and truthful. For instance it must not say it is in brand spanking condition with a low mileage if it isn’t
  • Any detail given to the buyer regarding the car must be accurate and any questions you ask about it answered truthfully.

Is it Really a Private Seller?

There are many unscrupulous people out there including dealers who will pose as private sellers in order to make a sale when a car may be faulty. We all need to be wary of this and look out for the tell tale signs that give this type of con away.

  • Watch out for adverts that have mobile phone numbers to call
  • Watch for adverts that state a specific time to call as a regular dealer will be open all hours
  • The seller asks to bring the car to meet you rather than you go to view the car
  • Does the seller ask which car you are after when you call?
  • The sellers name is not on the log book as the last registered owner

I Paid By Debit Card What are My Rights?

If you bought the car using your Debit Card you can claim on the Charge Back Scheme. You may request a transaction is reversed or cancelled by your card provider or bank if there is a problem with the car. The amount you can claim is minimal, £100 maximum plus there are no guarantees that you will succeed but it is worth trying none the less. You also need to prove that the vendor broke their agreement with you plus

  • You must claim within 120 days
  • If your claim is rejected you can contact the Financial Ombudsman who will look at your case impartially.

I Paid By Credit Card/Hire Purchase

You can claim against the Credit Card Company under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. Those of you who took out hire purchase can make a claim through the finance company who lent you the money for the car.

Buying from a Dealer

When you buy a second hand car from a dealer you have certain rights that fall under the Sale of Goods Act, they are

  • The car must be as described before sale
  • Be of reasonable quality even though it is second hand
  • Be of sufficient quality in that it can be used for what its purpose is, that is to get from one place to another
  • You can claim against the dealer if these rights are flouted for breach of contract
  • You can give the car back and request a refund if it is not as described
  • You can keep the car and request compensation for what is wrong if you prefer

Remember these rules only apply if you bought a car that was described and represented in a certain way. If the dealer does not make any of these claims and you go ahead and purchase the vehicle anyway you will waive entitlement to redress and will be unable to claim any compensation.

Find a Car Dealer With a Good Reputation

Points to consider when looking to buy a car from a dealer include

  • Look for a well established company that has a great reputation for fairness and reliability
  • Ask around friends and family who have bought second hand cars in the past
  • Check if the dealer is a member of the Trade Association such as the Retail Motor Industry Federation
  • Ask the dealer if their cars have been independently inspected
  • Ask to see the inspectors report
  • Look out for signs that say sold as seen or any other such get out phrases

My Car Came from an Auction

Buying a second hand car at auction can be tricky as you cannot claim against the company who is holding the auction only the seller. If the car does not have any claims displayed on it then it will be difficult to pursue for a refund. Auctions can exclude certain conditions from the sale of goods act so leaving you with fewer rights than when you buy through other outlets or in other ways.

Tips When Buying Cars at Auction

Auctions are exciting places where buyers can easily get carried away and make a bad purchase. Try going to a car auction to view the proceedings first so you get a handle on how it all works

  • Take someone along who knows about cars to give you a second opinion
  • Always inspect the car inside and out
  • Decide what you want to spend and stick to it
  • Check the value of the make and year of any car that takes your interest by using Parkers or any other reputable used car valuation site
  • Don’t bid over a car’s market value
  • Check if a trial period is available on the car with the auctioneer

Procedures for Complaining

  • Contact the dealer in the first instance
  • Contact the Finance Company in the first instance
  • Do not use the car once you have lodged a complaint
  • Tell the Dealer/Finance Company you wish to reject the car and request  refund
  • If you want to keep the car request compensation or money for repairs if they are required
  • If the dealer, finance company, credit card provider refuse to assist you refer your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman who will adjudicate
  • You may decide to go to court. If the amount is under £5000 you can go to the small claims court (see our section regarding the small claims court) over that amount means going to the main court which may prove very expensive.

Prospective buyers should always have one thought in their minds when thinking of purchasing a second hand car, that is, “Buyer Beware”. Always think carefully and make sure that you have covered all bases. Take an expert with you when buying the car or at least someone who knows a lot about cars. Mechanics and companies like the AA charge a small fee for looking over a second hand car before you buy and it can prove well worth while plus can be a money saver in the long run.

Buying a Second Hand Car Check List

The first thing you must do when considering buying a second hand car is

  • Ask to look at the MOT certificate.  Buyers can also visit the Gov.UK website in order to view the history of the vehicle.
  • Check the date on the certificate and whether the car was considered roadworthy
  • Check the cars mileage online at the same website as checking the MOT
  • Ask to see the full service history of the vehicle
  • Make sure the car has been regularly serviced and that the mileage on the service sheet is not greater than on the clock
  • Check when the Cam belt was last changed as a dodgy Cam belt/Timing belt can lead to a break down
  • Check the car registration document to ensure you are not buying a stolen vehicle. More information can be accessed at the DVLA Registration website
  • Make sure the car has never been written off and holds a V5C Registration Document
  • Check the car doesn’t have outstanding loans owed on it such as a credit agreement or a log book loan. the RAC offer car data checks where buyers can access an instant on screen report in minutes
  • Always test drive the car you intend to buy
  • Examine the car for damage
  • Check the price is fair by using car valuation services such as What Car free valuations
  • View the car in daylight hours especially when buying privately and ideally take a friend with you as there is safety in numbers!