Brighton & Hove City Council Trading Standards Brighton & Hove Trading Standards Service

Consumer Advice - Advice Sheets


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 have additional rights under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013. 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  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
Auctions
Online auctions
Credit and other payment methods
Mileage
Tax
MOTs
Insurance claims
Action to take

The law
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 the price you paid for the vehicle, its 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 vehicle.

If the vehicle is faulty , you are legally entitled to request one of the following remedies:

  • a full refund
  • compensation (damages)
  • repair or replacement
  • rescission or reduction in price

The 'action to take' section of this leaflet explains more about the circumstances when each remedy applies. 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 consumer service for investigation by trading standards. Guarantees and warranties given or sold by a trader are in addition to the statutory rights you have under the Sale of Goods Act 1979. Please see our 'Guarantees and warranties' leaflet for more information.

If you enter a contract because a trader misled you or because the trader used an aggressive commercial practice, the Consumer Protection (Amendment) Regulations 2014 give you rights to redress - the right to unwind the contract, the right to a discount and the right to damages. Please see our 'Misleading and aggressive practices - your right to redress' leaflet for more information.

Private sales
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 do not have a legal right to expect that the vehicle is of satisfactory quality or fit for its purpose, but there is a legal 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 an advertisement - to avoid their legal obligations to consumers. If you come across a situation like this, contact Citizens Advice consumer service for your case to be referred to trading standards.

Internet sales
If you decide to buy a used vehicle online from a trader, you have the samelegal rights to expect that it is of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described as you have when buying from a trader's premises.. The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 give you additional rights because the contract you enter into is concluded at a distance and without face-to-face contact with the trader. Please see our 'Buying by internet, phone and mail order - distance contracts explained' leaflet 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 an advertisement.

Auctions
Motor auctions are not considered consumer sales so most of the rights under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 will not apply. It is very important therefore that you check the vehicle thoroughly before you bid on it. The auction will have terms and conditions setting out the role of the auctioneer and the obligations of the buyer and seller. Check these terms and conditions carefully before you bid. You have the right to expect that the seller has the legal right to sell the vehicle. If you think the vehicle might be stolen, report it to the auctioneer. The auctioneer must accurately describe the vehicle.

Online auctions
Most online auctions only provide the site for the auctions to be held and are not generally liable for the goods bought and sold privately. You should check the terms and conditions of the online auction for full details.

You have fewer rights against private online sellers so research the seller carefully, for example check their feedback, before you go ahead and buy anything from them. You have the same legal rights under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 when you buy from a trader via an online auction as you do with any other purchase.  Take note that your usual consumer rights cannot be excluded when buying from a trader through an online auction using 'buy it now'. The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 also apply to online auctions. You may have the right to cancel a contract to buy a vehicle, regardless of whether the vehicle is sold by a trader through the auction or through 'buy it now'.

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 the 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 and a refund 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.

Mileage
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. You should always ask the trader for specific information on the vehicle's mileage regardless of whether it is disclaimed or not. 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 consumer service for the case to be referred to trading standards.

Tax
When you buy a vehicle the tax cannot be transferred with it - you will need to buy new tax before you can drive it away. You should notify DVLA when you sell your vehicle and you will get a refund on the remaining full months' tax - it cannot be transferred with the vehicle as part of the sale. For more information visit the www.gov.uk website.

MOTs
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 Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), which enforces the law relating to these tests.

Insurance claims
Selling a vehicle that has been classified as a category C or D write off without making this clear to the consumer may be a misleading action or omission  under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and you should report this to Citizens Advice consumer service for your  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 evidence of fault and the cost of repairs. However, you may have to resort to court action to get your money back.  The court may not accept the repairer's report as expert evidence and may ask you obtain an expert's opinion. You can only claim £750 for expert witness costs in the Small Claims Court. For more information visit the www.gov.uk website.

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 Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 . 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 on the www.gov.uk website.

Used vehicles may have some faults, but they should not be excessive. Fair wear and tear is not considered to be a fault.

Please note
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. Visit www.adviceguide.org.uk or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.

Relevant legislation
Hire Purchase Act 1964
Supply of Goods (Implied Terms) Act 1973  
Consumer Credit Act 1974 
Sale of Goods Act 1979 
Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994 
Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002 
Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 
Consumer Rights (Payment Surcharges) Regulations 2012
Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 
Consumer Protection (Amendment) Regulations 2014

Last reviewed/updated: April 2013


Brighton & Hove City Council Trading Standards, Bartholomew House, Bartholomew Square, Brighton BN1 1JP.
Business Line: (01273) 292523   Fax: (01273) 292524   Electronic Mail: trading.standards@brighton-hove.gov.uk
Consumer Advice Line: 08454 04 05 06. Consumer Advice Electronic Mail: http://www.consumerdirect.gov.uk/contact

Web design: itsa Ltd