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Your new rights when buying a car from a dealer

Carlton Boyce / 01 December 2015

Motorists now have more protection if something goes wrong with a new or used car that they have bought from a dealer.

Retro image of a man with a broken down vintage car
The new Consumer Rights Act gives you more protection and means you are less likely to be stuck with a 'lemon'

The Consumer Rights Act came into force on the 1 October 2015, replacing the Sales of Goods Act, the Supply of Goods and Services Act, and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations. 

Described as “the biggest overhaul of consumer legislation in a generation”, the new Act is designed to simplify the process of complaining about sub-standard goods and shoddy services. 

Think you know the law? Eight new rules that affect motorists?

Here’s our guide to how the Consumer Rights Act affects you if you’re buying a new or secondhand car from a car dealer.

Right to reject

The old legislation simply referred to a “reasonable period” of time in which a buyer could reject a faulty car. This was open to interpretation by dodgy car dealers, often to the detriment of the consumer. 

The new Act now makes it clear that you have 30 days in which to reject a car that is unsatisfactory and to receive a full refund.

What do we mean by ‘unsatisfactory’? 

Simply put, any physical goods – including cars - must be: of satisfactory quality; fit for particular purpose; and as described. If any of these apply, you can reject the vehicle within 30 days of taking delivery of it.

Importantly, the Act includes any discussions you’ve had with the dealer. So if you tell the salesperson that fuel economy is important to you and you find the real world fuel economy falls short of what you were told to expect, this is a breach of the Act. 

This makes it important to explain your needs very clearly to the dealer, preferably in writing; by doing so you are giving yourself an extra layer of protection against being sold an inappropriate or mis-described vehicle.

Beware of scams when buying a used car.

What should I do if I have a problem?

If you do have a problem, you must stop using the car immediately and inform the dealer as soon as possible. I’d phone and then back this up with a letter or email confirming what has been discussed. Include details of the fault(s) and make it clear what action you would like it to take.

I would suggest rejecting the car if a fault develops within the first 30 days, as you can always negotiate down from such a strong position.

What if the dealer offers to repair it within the 30-day period?

The dealer can offer to repair your car for you instead of giving a refund. Whether you agree or not is a matter for you to decide, but if you agree to try a repair, the clock stops during that time.

So, if your car breaks down after ten days, and the repair takes another five to effect, the 30-day clock only starts again at day ten when you collect it.

Seven things you need to know about buying a new car.

Right to repair after 30 days

If a fault occurs after the 30-day period but within the first six months, the dealer has a right to repair the car rather than replace it or refund the purchase price in full.

However, you do not have to put up with repeated attempts to get it right: if the first repair fails you can reject the car and get a refund. This is a significant change and will prevent garages waging a war of attrition in the hope you will give up and go away.

Refunds after 30 days

If you do ask for a refund after 30 days have elapsed but within six months, the dealer can deduct a sum for the use you’ve had of the car.

Read our top tips for buying a second hand car.

Faults after six months

If a fault develops after six months, the onus is on you to prove that the fault was present when you bought the car.

In the absence of a warranty that was given at the time of purchase, anything that the dealer offers over and above this is a matter of goodwill on its behalf, not law. This is just one of the reasons why it is better to have a good relationship with your dealer than a bad one.

Signing a pre-purchase contract

Some dealers might ask you to sign a contract saying you’ve driven the car and are satisfied that there no faults with it. This is a clear attempt on its behalf to dodge its responsibilities and cannot be enforced in the event of a future problem. While I wouldn’t suggest signing such a contract, it will have no standing in law if you do.

Six petrol myths busted. 

What if the dealer won’t accept responsibility?

If the dealer refuses to accept its responsibilities under the new Act, you can refer the matter to the Ombudsman under the provisions of the Alternative Dispute Resolution. You best course of action is to contact Citizens’ Advice for help.

If you’ve paid for all or part of the car with your credit card, you may be entitled to seek a refund from your credit card company under the provisions of Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act as well.

For more useful tips and information, browse our motoring articles. 

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.