Broken promises – nobody likes them. But when you’re buying a car, and handing over £thousands, a broken promise can cost you much more than a bruise to your ego.
So what do you do if you end up buying a lemon? Where do you turn if the car of your dreams turns into a nightmare you’d rather forget?
Here’s our handy guide to your consumer rights, and how they can protect you as you take to the road.
Know who you’re buying from
Before we go into the meaty details, it’s worth remembering that your rights will be better protected by buying from a reputable dealer or seller.
Registered and recognised car dealerships – especially those with a link to a manufacturer – have clear guidelines and processes to hand to deal with complaints, returns or problems. They must also comply with a nifty bit of legislation called Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (2008).
This prevents them from:
- Giving false information about a vehicle (age, quality, condition etc) either directly or by leaving details out.
- Failing to provide a complete service history for a vehicle.
- Failing to inform you – or deliberately omitting – any details of the sale or warranty you need to be aware of.
- Selling the car aggressively or dishonestly.
- Falsely claiming accreditation or approval from trade bodies or manufacturers, or lying about their right to sell the vehicle to you in the first place.
These rights remain if you’re buying from a dealership online as well as in person.
Buying from a private seller (Ted down the pub) means that these rights become far less easy to enforce, with such obligations becoming a distinct grey area.
Recognised dealerships will also have repair teams and garages to hand to fix any issues under warranty (more on that in a moment) and bigger pockets to offer, and uphold, the warranty they offer.
In short: buy from an accredited, reputable business that you trust – both online and off.
The Consumer Rights Act 2015: the Three Pillars You Need to Know.
The 2015 Consumer Rights Act is the chunky wedge of government legislation that keeps you safe when buying a car. It legally insists that any goods or digital services must be:
- Of satisfactory quality
- Fit for purpose
- As described
If any of these criteria are not met, it is the seller’s responsibility to fix that problem, at no cost to you. Again, it doesn’t matter who you’re buying from: this is your right as a consumer.
If the car that you drive away with isn’t precisely as it was described when you bought it, or if it has faults, you have every right to complain to the seller and demand they sort it out. If they refuse, you can take them to court for a refund or to force them to set things straight.
Mainstream dealerships are notoriously shy about the bad press this can cause, not to mention the money they’ll have to spend fighting any case, that they usually put things right pro-actively to avoid any fuss.
Importantly, the Consumer Rights Act also applies to repairs and maintenance work, so if your car isn’t behaving as it should after they’ve had it up on bricks, it remains their responsibility to get it back in shape until you’re happy with it.
Time Limits on Your Rights.
Your right to a repair or refund is not indefinite. Under the Consumer Rights Act, you must be able to prove that the problem was there at the time you picked it up and there are time limits to this.
- 30 Days
If your car is not of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose or as described, you can return the vehicle for a full refund, without prejudice or fees, within 30 days.
- 6 Months
For the first 6 Months it is assumed under law that the fault existed at purchase unless the dealership or seller can specifically prove otherwise. You might not be able to simply return the vehicle straight away but you retain the right to have the car repaired at the dealers expense. If the dealer cannot repair the car to a satisfactory standard, a full refund should be offered.
- After 6 Months Have Passed
After 6 Months, it is up to you to prove that the fault was present at purchase. If you can prove that the fault was there at sale, you get the same rights as before. This can be very, very difficult to do unless you have direct evidence, so it’s worth getting you car checked out for potential issues sooner rather than later.
Again, these rights apply to online sales as well as in-person sales.
If you’re buying a car, whether new or used, you’re likely to be given or offered Warranty cover. Think of it like insurance – it doesn’t over-ride your statutory rights but it does cover more and, often, last longer. For example, if a car develops a minor fault a year after you bought it it might not be covered by the Consumer Rights Act. It may, however, still be covered under warranty.
All new cars come with some form of warranty cover – usually 3-7 years. Manufacturers often use them as part of their sales pitch: a demonstration of the longevity and quality of their cars. What’s great about this is that many cars on the used market still sit within their manufacturer’s warranty period, which automatically transfers to you.
Manufacturers and dealerships might also offer an extended or used car warranty, to show that they’re confident they passed it on in good nick.
The thing to remember about warranties, however, is that no two are the same. They all cover different aspects or parts of a car and it’s important to read the fine print in full to see what the Warranty protects and what it doesn’t.
A Warranty isn’t a right, however, it’s a product – just like insurance. You can request or buy a warranty on a vehicle but you can’t demand one – and used car warranties don’t tend to be all that long (sometimes only a few months) unless you pay to extend them.
Car insurance is less specific in what it seeks to protect – but a legally essential one. Insurance isn’t there to protect you from faults that existed when you bought your car, it’s there to protect you and others from accidental damage caused afterwards.
There are generally three types of insurance offered in the UK:
- 3rd Party: protects others against damage and injury caused by you in the event of an accident. This is the minimum legal requirement – you MUST have this – but DOESN’T cover damage to your car if you drive it into something.
- 3rd Party Fire and Theft. Does exactly what it says on the tin.
- Comprehensive Cover. This one covers everything that the lesser two do but usually includes cover for accidental damage to your car, medical expenses for an injury and cover for the theft of contents from your car.
While it might be tempting to buy the least of these, that’s usually a mistake. 3rd party doesn’t cover you for damage to your car: you will have to cover that cost.
Most people plump for 3rd Party Fire and Theft. This gives you greater protection but can leave you liable if you prang your car into a bollard, for example. It’s also not always the cheaper option when compared to Comprehensive Cover.
By an odd quirk of algorithms, Comprehensive Cover can sometimes be cheaper to buy than the lesser two options, as more people plump for those options which weights the liability – IE the total amount insurers pay out – towards them. Insurers, therefore, often end up paying out less money to customers on Comprehensive Cover, as a proportion of their business. Less money pair out = cheaper insurance.
It’s worth doing a proper comparison before you buy.