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Buying a car

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Quick Links

- Who is the seller
- How to pay

- Guarantees and Warranties

- Tips for buying a second hand car


Buying a car

A car is one of the most expensive and important purchases you will ever make. We get lots of calls from people unhappy with their car purchases, so we’ve put together some top tips to stop you making an expensive mistake.  If it has already gone wrong and you need some help sorting things out with whoever sold you the car, our advisers have lots of experience of sorting out these types of problems.


Who is the seller?

If you buy from a trader, you will be protected by the Sale of Goods Act 1979. That means that the car must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as it was described to you, taking into account the age, mileage, price and general condition of the car. So if the working air con turns out to be a hole in the back windscreen, that isn’t good enough.

The Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumer Regulations 2002 also add an extra layer of protection.  As with other goods, if a fault develops with the car within 6 months of the sale, it is presumed that the fault was there at the time of the sale unless the seller can prove it was not. If this 6 month presumption applies then, depending on the circumstances, you may have one of four remedies to choose from;

  • repair (at the seller’s expense),
  • rescission/rejection (you give the car back and they give you your money back),
  • replacement (they replace the faulty car with a similar one in working condition), or
  • reduction (you and the seller agree a reduction in the price to reflect the car you actually got and the seller refunds you the agreed amount).

Once 6 months has passed it is often more difficult to argue that the seller is responsible for the condition of the car as this is something you will have to prove.  Very often a buyer will need to get an independent assessment of the car to assess the problem and consider what further action can be taken.

Buying from a private seller offers much less consumer protection, but if you are sold a ‘lemon’ there are still things you may be able do. You could sue for breach of contract, if you have not been given what you and the seller agreed you were getting and/or misrepresentation if the seller misled you or outright lied to you about the car. In practice, however, this can be difficult.

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How will you pay?

Where possible it would be advisable to make payment by credit card as you may be protected by s75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. If the total value of the car is between £100 and £30,000 and you pay for part of it on your credit card, this law makes the credit card issuer jointly and severally liable with the seller for a possible refund to you if something goes wrong with your purchase. For this you would have to make a claim direct to the credit card company.

If you pay in cash or by debit card or the value of the car is under £100, s75 does not apply.  However some banks do offer a charge back service for some debit cards and it is always worth a call to check as you might be able to get some of your money back.

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Guarantees and Warranties

If you buy a new car it is likely to come with a guarantee or a warranty [link to buying goods]. Always check through any sale documents very carefully and make sure that you are getting what you think you are buying.  If a warranty says it covers repairs, to check to see whether you have to pay for parts and whether there is an upper limit on what is covered.

Be careful about optional extras – often the test car you get to drive will be full of extras which cost more and the price you are told for the car might be the basic price without the add-ons.

If you buy second hand, it may come with guarantees and warranties too and you should check carefully what they cover.

Remember that any guarantee or warranty is only as good as the company that has provided it. So if the company goes bust, it is unlikely that your guarantee will be honoured.

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Top Tips for buying a second hand car

  • Get things in writing wherever possible and if buying a car privately always keep a copy of the original advert to demonstrate how the car was described.
  • Check the MOT. This indicates whether a car is road worthy and should tell you its service history. This will highlight any faults/maintenance carried out by the seller.
  • Where possible, you should carry out a physical inspection of the vehicle which may highlight points of concern.
  • When buying from a garage/dealer take time to check the seller’s reputation. Ask around; see if there are any reviews online. If a deal looks to good to be true, it probably is. If you get a bad feeling about a seller, do not go ahead. 
  • Do a HPI check to protect yourself from fraud. A HPI check will tell you whether a car has been stolen, written off or has outstanding finance, as well as giving you a mileage check. Some HPI checks also include CO2 certificates, whether a car has had previous plates or other useful extras. There are many online companies offering HPI checks at relatively little cost.
  • You should also consider an independent mechanic check, especially if a car has been a “write off”. An independent mechanic will be able to alert you to any mechanical issues. With cars it is often a case of ‘buyer beware’ so if it is a large or important purchase getting the car checked can save a lot of stress later.
  • You could also do a “car wash check”. For about £10, you can put the car through an automatic wash and see what happens. Doctored rust spots, leaks or any discrepancies in the paint finish as well as small scratches, nicks and cracks may become apparent. 
  • If you need to prove a fault/defect with a car, you should consider getting it checked by a member of the Institute of Automotive Engineer Assessors. Members are specialists in faulty vehicle issues and have to comply with the Institution’s examination and training requirements and must have had a least two years experience in a responsible position in the profession before applying for membership.

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