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Returning a used car

If you buy a second hand car that turns out to be faulty, your legal rights depend on who you bought it from and how the car was described. You have less legal protection when buying from a private seller than when buying from a registered dealer.
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Replacing the Sale of Goods Act, the Consumer Rights Act covers the sale of new and used cars, but retains the old Act’s requirements that goods must be:

  • of satisfactory quality
  • fit for purpose and
  • as described

A car fails to meet these requirements when it develops a problem you wouldn't expect for the car's age and mileage, or it turns out not to be what you’d been led to expect.

For more information on consumer rights, read Consumer rights and Doing business with consumers.

The Consumer Rights Act states that if the car was purchased after 1 October 2015 and fails to meet one or more of the criteria, you are entitled to reject the car and get a full refund within the first 30 days of buying it. If you bought the car from a dealer, the dealer can make a deduction from the refund for ‘fair use.’

This right to reject replaces the previous rule, which said that dealers only needed to repair or replace a faulty item or part. If you bought the car before 1 October 2015, then you must reject the car within a ‘reasonable time’ under the Sale of Goods Act. While there's no clear definition of what a ‘reasonable time’ is, it probably needs to be within three to four weeks – less if the problem is obvious.

30 days to 6 months

If a defect is found once the 30 days have passed, but within 6 months, you are entitled to request a repair, replacement or refund free of charge. The law assumes that the fault was there at the time of delivery, unless the seller can prove otherwise. Where this right is exercised, dealers only have one chance at repair or replacement. If they fail to repair or replace the car, you are entitled to a full or partial refund.

6 months or more

After the first 6 months, the burden is on you to prove that the car was faulty at the time of delivery. In practice, this may require a form of expert report, opinion or evidence of similar problems across the product range. If the attempt at a repair or replacement is unsuccessful, you’re entitled to a refund.

If you bought a used car from a dealer, you have the right to expect it to meet the criteria listed above. If it does not meet these requirements, you have the right to claim against the dealer for breach of contract. In particular, if the car you bought is not as the dealer described it, you’re entitled to reject the car and get your money back. If you want to keep the car, you can ask the dealer for compensation covering the cost of repair.

When you buy a used car from a private seller as opposed to a registered dealer, key parts of the Consumer Rights Act do not apply. For example, there is no legal requirement that a car be of satisfactory quality or fit for purpose. The seller must accurately describe the car in any advertisements and not tell you something about the car which isn’t true. The car must also be roadworthy and the seller must have the legal right to sell it to you. 

In other words, the car must work, meet the legal requirements for being driven on public roads, and be owned by the seller.

However, when you’re buying from a private seller, the onus and burden is on you as the buyer to ask all the right questions before making the purchase. The seller doesn't have to volunteer extra information so, if you don't ask questions, you may not have the full picture of the goods' history or be aware of any potential faults. 

Therefore, when purchasing a car from a private seller, you should make sure that you ask questions and request information on the car before purchasing it. Failing to do this may result in you not being able to return the car and get a refund.

If you’d like further information about the sale of goods, you can always Ask a lawyer.

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Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest

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