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Consumer rights and used cars

If you buy a second-hand car that turns out to be faulty, what are your rights? There are laws in place to protect you and your money, but they depend on whether you bought the car from a dealer, private seller or at auction.

If you buy a second-hand car that turns out to be faulty, what are your rights? There are laws in place to protect you and your money, but they depend on whether you bought the car from a dealer, private seller or at auction.

Written by
Rory Reid
Car and technology expert
Last Updated
7 min read
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What are my rights when buying a used car?

If something goes wrong with a second-hand car you’ve bought, the good news is that you might have a legal right to a repair or some (or all) of your money back. But this will depend on:

  • Where and when you bought the car
  • Whether you bought the car online
  • What the fault is
  • Whether you knew there was a problem when you bought the car
  • How long you’ve had the vehicle.

Legally, you can’t just reject the car because you’ve changed your mind, unless you’ve bought the car online – in which case you have a 14-day cooling-off period.

Citizens Advice has a handy tool that lets you check what your used-car consumer rights are. You’ll just need to provide the date you bought the car and state whether it was a private or trade sale.

Problems with a car bought from a dealer

You have quite a few safeguards if you buy a car from a dealer and find a genuine problem with it. You have the right to return it within 30 days under the Consumer Rights Act 2015. This means you’re entitled to a full refund, repair or replacement.

These are your consumer rights when buying a used car from a dealer. The car must:

  • Be fit for purpose (for example, if you asked for a car that could tow a caravan, it must be able to do that)
  • Be of satisfactory quality (for a used car, this takes into account the car’s age and mileage)
  • Match its description (equipment/specs listed in the advert must be accurate)

If the car has any known defects, the dealer must make you aware of them before you buy it. Don’t part with your money unless you’re completely satisfied with the condition of the car for its age and price.


How long do you have to return a faulty car?

Your rights change the longer you have the vehicle. After 30 days have passed, you technically no longer have the right to a refund on a car with a problem. But the Consumer Rights Act still offers you some protection.

If a fault occurs after 30 days but up to six months after the car is delivered by or collected from a dealer, you must give the retailer one attempt at a repair or replacement. The dealer will normally decide which is most cost effective, meaning you don’t get to choose. The seller will not be liable to repair or replace the car if it can prove the fault was not there at the time of purchase.

The Consumer Rights Act normally allows a full refund in the first six months, except for motor vehicles, where the dealer can make a ‘reasonable’ reduction depending on the amount the car has been used during that time.

After six months, it will be up to you to prove there was a problem with the vehicle when it was sold to you.

Technically speaking, you can take action for being sold a faulty car for up to six years (five in Scotland) after you signed the paperwork. But you might be on shaky ground here because, as time goes on, it gets more difficult to prove that a problem isn’t down to normal wear and tear, especially with an older car.

Problems with a car bought privately

Although buying a used vehicle from a private seller might save you a few quid, it’s also one of the riskiest ways to buy a car. If something goes wrong, you don’t have as much legal protection as you would if you’d bought the car from a dealer.
These are your rights when buying a used car from a private seller:

  • The seller must have the legal right to sell you the vehicle
  • The car must match the seller’s description. For example, an advert can’t say ‘one previous owner’ if it’s had several
  • The car must be roadworthy and safe to drive on public roads – it’s a criminal offence for someone to sell you an unroadworthy car unless you’re fully aware of its condition.

If the car isn’t as described you can:

  • Ask for a refund
  • Ask for the difference in value
  • Ask for changes to be made to the car so it matches the description (provided they won’t cost more than you paid for the car)

Before you buy, check that every part of the car works properly, including all the electrics as well as the mechanics.

If you’re taking it for a test drive, you’ll need car insurance for driving other cars. Ask for a receipt that confirms the sale and details any known defects that you’re happy to accept. That gives you some comeback if you find out later that the car was mis-sold.

Beware of dodgy dealers masquerading as private owners so they can offload faulty or stolen cars. Always buy from their home address and check to see if their ID and the log book addresses match.

Read our used-car buying guide for advice on what to look out for if you’re in the market for a second-hand vehicle.

Problems with a car bought online 

With the huge rise in online car sales, it’s even more important to know your consumer rights.

If you’re buying from an online dealer, you have the same rights as if you were buying in person. You’re also entitled to a ‘cooling-off period’ under the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013. This means you have the right to cancel the order within 14 days of when you bought the car. You’ll then have a further 14 days to return it, and you should get a full refund within a fortnight of the dealer getting the car back.

If you’re buying a car from a private seller online, your legal rights are the same as if you bought it from a private seller in person.

Top tip

Take a screenshot of the online listing so you have a record of how the car was described when you bought it. That way, you have evidence if there’s a dispute further down the line.

Problems with a car bought at auction

The thrill of a live auction can be addictive, but it’s easy to get carried away and end up bidding for something that doesn’t quite live up to expectations when you get it home. Once you’ve made a bid you can’t undo it. So, make sure you know beforehand exactly what redress you’ll have if the car turns out to be faulty.

At a live car auction, you may not have any rights under the Consumer Rights Act, because the car might be ‘sold as seen’. This is a way to get a car at a knockdown price on the understanding that liability is removed after the sale. Before bidding, always check the terms and conditions of the auction.

What can I do next if I discover a fault?

If you bought the car from a dealership, contact them as soon as possible. If they offer to fix the problem, make sure they don’t charge you for something they should do for free. Keep a record of all your conversations and correspondence, and get all verbal agreements in writing.

If the retailer doesn’t agree there’s a problem and you can’t reach a satisfactory solution, your next step is to contact the Motor Ombudsman. It offers free independent advice to help resolve disputes in the motor trade.

If you bought the car in a private sale, you can get in touch with the seller to ask them to pay for repairs, but this can often be tricky to negotiate.

If all else fails, you may be able to take your case to the small claims court for a breach of trading standards law. This is likely to be an expensive and time-consuming process though, so should only be done as a last resort. The judge will take things like age and mileage into account when weighing up whether a fault is considered major enough to reject the vehicle.

In the case of a car bought at auction you may have little comeback if the car has a fault, so it’s vital to check the terms and conditions of the auction house before you start bidding.

Frequently asked questions

What happens if you paid for a used car with your credit card?

If you paid for some or all of your car with a credit card, you may have some protection under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act

If you paid with a debit card, you might be able to claim a refund from your debit card provider through the chargeback scheme. However, there is no automatic right to receive money back through chargeback or Section 75.

What is classed as a fault in a used car?

Although there’s no exact legal description, a faulty used car is generally considered to be a vehicle that isn’t roadworthy or as described when you bought it. Minor issues, like a broken stereo or scratched paintwork, tend not to be acceptable reasons to reject a car under the Consumer Rights Act.

Dealers also aren’t liable for faults caused by ‘fair wear and tear’, for example, if brake pads or tyres need replacing after being used for a long time.

Will my warranty cover me instead?

If your used car is relatively new and came with a warranty or guarantee, or you paid extra for one, you can use it to get problems fixed. But make sure you read the terms and conditions carefully so you understand what’s covered and what’s not. You may also need to get the fault fixed by an approved garage.

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