When you buy a car, whether brand new or second hand, you benefit from the protection of certain statutory consumer rights as provided for under the Sale of Goods Act. However there is some variation in these rights depending on how you buy the car and who you buy it from.
Your statutory rights
First and foremost, whoever sells you the car must ensure they have the right to sell it and can pass on full ownership to you. If it turns out that the car is stolen or belongs to a finance company, you will not automatically then own it, even if you have already handed over the cash.
Secondly, the seller must ensure that the car is exactly as described. Therefore if it has air con, CD player etc, then these features must not only exist, but they must also work; if it is in excellent condition, it should be relatively free from marks, scratches, dents and rust; if certain parts have been replaced, they must not then break down after a short time and so on. The description of the car also includes make, model and accurate mileage
Thirdly (and this is where your rights differ), if you have bought the car from a dealer, the car must be of satisfactory quality. Satisfactory quality is defined as what a ‘reasonable person’ would regard as acceptable, taking into account factors such as price paid, fitness for purpose specified, appearance and finish, safety and durability. If it becomes apparent that the car was not of the quality you were led to expect, you are quite within your rights to go back to the dealer, even after some weeks or even months of use. If it was the case that you were invited to carry out a thorough inspection of the car before purchase, and then you go back to complain about something which that inspection should have revealed, you will have no legal rights in that regard.
If you have bought the car from a private seller, who does not normally trade in cars, then there is no legal obligation on the seller to provide a car of satisfactory quality, and it is therefore a much riskier purchase. For this reason, there are more consumer complaints about the purchase of second hand cars than any other, so exercise significant caution – buyer beware!
The seller’s responsibility
In the event that you have to take a car back to the seller on the basis of a breach in one of your statutory rights, the seller cannot try to refer you to the manufacturer under the context of a guarantee or warranty – and particularly not when it involves additional cost to you. Any warranties or insurance policies offered by the seller are additional to these rights and cannot replace them.
Beware of car dealers posing as private sellers. They do this to evade their legal rights as regards satisfactory quality. If the individual trying to sell the car cannot provide paperwork to prove that he/she is the actual owner of the car and has been so for a while, then they may be a dealer trying to get rid of a dodgy car.
If there is a problem
These are your statutory consumer rights. If any of them are breached you are within your rights to go back to the seller, who will then be legally required to remedy the situation in a number of different ways, depending on your situation and the nature of the complaint. The law requires you to act reasonably too, so if the problem is minor and can be repaired easily, within reasonable time, at no additional cost to you and without causing any significant inconvenience, then the dealer can insist on a repair as a first option. But remember that this will not stop you from taking it back if the repair is unsatisfactory or there is something else wrong with the car.
If the car cannot be repaired, if the repair is unsatisfactory, or takes an unreasonable length of time, your next option would be to have it replaced. If this is undesirable or impossible, then you can request a refund, although if some time has passed, you should be aware that any the refund given may well take account of any use you have had of the car since you took possession of it.
In situations where you would like to keep the car and undertake to carry out the repairs yourself, you have another option, which is to request a discount on the price paid.
Buying a car at auction
You may well get the best deal, but there is the risk of reduced consumer protection if something goes wrong. Look out for disclaimers such as ‘sold as seen’ and enquire as to how this affects your statutory rights as regards quality issues. You may not have an opportunity to examine the car or take it for a test drive, and any bid you make will become a legally binding contract at the fall of the hammer!
Buying a car on the internet
When buying a car on the internet, you have just as many rights as if you had bought the car after having seen an ad in the newspaper, provided this is from a dealer. If you go ahead with the purchase, not having had any face to face contact with the dealer, you will also benefit from rights provided under the Distance Selling regulations, which include a 7-day cooling off period.
If however you buy the car as a private sale from an individual, who doesn’t trade in cars for a living, you won’t benefit from the legal requirement of the seller to provide a car of satisfactory quality. It could be a heap of junk, and you would have no legal recourse.
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