What is a warranty?
A warranty (a term which is used interchangeably with 'guarantee') essentially guarantees that a car will be free of defects for a certain amount of time. If the car develops a fault during that period, the provider of the warranty will need to fix the problem (as long as the malfunction was not caused by the consumer - eg because they crashed the car).
New cars generally come with a manufacturer's warranty, which typically lasts for 3 years or 60,000 miles, subject to the car being serviced on time. This warranty can sometimes be extended at cost - but extended warranties sometimes contain different terms than the initial warranty.
Second-hand cars which are relatively new will sometimes still be covered by the remainder of the manufacturer's original warranty. Separately, if a second-hand car is purchased from a main dealership, these may come with an 'approved used car warranty'. This is often marketed as a manufacturer's warranty but may have different terms - normally for a period of 12 months.
Smaller second-hand car traders may offer their own types of warranty in conjunction with certain insurance companies, but the terms can differ widely and may come with various restrictions and caps on any repair payouts.
What should a prospective purchaser ask about warranties?
It is vital that consumers understand the full terms of any warranty - especially if they are paying for an extended warranty or in respect of non-manufacturers warranties.
Questions to ask include:
the length of the warranty
who pays for repairs (eg does the warranty cover 100% of the repair cost or does the consumer also have to pay a proportion)
the length of a cap (eg is there a maximum limit on the amount of payment for repairs)
any restrictions on repairs (eg does the warranty cover all types of repairs or does it exclude certain faults)
liability exclusion (eg does the warranty not cover damage caused by driver fault or third party damage)
What other legal protection is available?
In addition to warranties, various other consumer protections are available in respect of cars that develop a fault.
New cars/used cars from dealerships
These are covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015 which provides protections for consumers if a car is not of satisfactory quality, not fit for purpose, or does not meet its description. For more information, read Consumer rights.
Used cars bought online
Cars purchased online are subject to the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation, and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, which means that consumers have the right to cancel a purchase for up to 14 days. For more information, read Online business regulations.
Used cars bought privately or at auction
These generally come with very few legal protections, so it's a case of 'buyer beware'. This means that it is up to the person purchasing the car to make sure it's free from defects and fit for purpose.
Asking the right questions and investigating the car ensures that buyers ‘get what they pay for’.