Your consumer rights – buying a car by Dean Dunham

publication date: Apr 26, 2013
author/source: Dean Dunham

Dean DunhamYour basic consumer rights (buying from a dealer)

When you buy a car from a car dealer (also known as traders), the car must be:

  • of satisfactory quality
  • fit for purpose – if you ask for a car that can tow a caravan it should be able to
  • as described – the car should match its description given in conversation or in an advert

If a car doesn’t meet the above criteria you will usually have the right to one of the following:

  • a repair
  • a replacement
  • a refund

Buying online or over the phone (from a dealer)

If you buy a car from a trader online or over the phone, you also have the right to a "cooling off" period. This gives you seven working days after the car has been delivered to cancel your order for any reason and get your money back.

Your rights when buying from a private seller

If you buy a car from a private seller you have fewer rights. The car only has to:

  • match the description given by the seller; and
  • be theirs to sell, e.g. the car isn't stolen or owned by a finance company because the car loan hasn't been paid off


Some car traders try to use disclaimers such as "sold as seen", "trade sale only" or "no refund" to restrict your rights. This is against the law and you can report any trader that does this to Consumer Direct, the Government funded consumer advice service. The only exception to this is if the car is sold at auction, as described below.

Your rights when buying at auction

Sellers at auctions can restrict your rights by putting signs up around the car or including information in the auction catalogue such as:

  • sold as seen – this means that the car doesn’t have to be of satisfactory quality
  • your legal rights don't apply – this means the seller does not have to give you a repair, replacement or refund if the car is faulty

The responsibility for checking a car at auction is yours. However, it is illegal for auction houses to put the wrong vehicle history in the auction catalogue, because this could result in you buying a stolen car. You can report any auction houses you suspect of doing this to Consumer Direct.

Returning a faulty car to a trader

If you discover a fault with a car you’ve bought from a trader, you should contact the trader immediately.

If the trader agrees to deal with the fault, what the trader will offer you will depend on:

  • how long you've had the car – if you've had good use from car it's unlikely you'll get a full refund;
  • how serious the fault is;
  • whether the fault happens again and again; and
  • the cost of carrying out repairs or replacing the car.

The law here is complex and you may need to get advice about whether the trader should offer to repair, replace or refund the car.

Key checks

Before you buy a car, you should carry out the following checks to reduce the risk of it being faulty or stolen:

  • HPI Check - this will confirm that the car is not subject to a finance agreement. If it is you should not purchase the car unless the seller can prove that the finance agreement will be settled 'before' you purchase
  • Make sure that the address at which you view the vehicle matches that which is shown in the car's log book. Do not feel embarrassed to ask a private seller to show you photo id (such as a passport) in order to verify this. Further, when paying for your car, make sure you pay by a method which is documented and easily traceable, such as cheque, bankers draft or bank transfer. 
  • V5C registration document: check the registration date, number of owners, the colour (if it's a used car), and the chassis number – it should match the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) that's usually on display near the bottom of the windscreen.
  • Look at the service history and query any gaps or any use of Tippex. Services vary in size and expense.

And finally

Make sure you get a dated sales contract (or, if buying privately, a dated invoice) showing that you've completed the deal and paid the right money. Make sure that all relevant information is shown: your name and address, plus the full details of the car, the agreed purchase price, and any deposits or payments made. 

For more information on your consumer rights or any other legal matter visit Dean’s website