Second-hand car dealers criticised by OFTA fifth of consumers have problems with used cars

18 March 2010

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has heavily criticised second-hand car dealers after finding that one buyer in five ends up having problems with their vehicle.

A nine-month study carried out by the organisation into the £24 billion used car industry found that 67% of problems with second-hand cars occur within a month of purchase, suggesting that faults are covered up by the selling dealers. It also said that used car buyers spend a total of £85 million each year fixing problems that should have been resolved by dealers.

The OFT has says current legislation is powerful enough to clean up the sector, though. It says more needs to be done to ensure dealers are aware of the law, consumers are aware of their rights, and that dealers who fail to follow the rules will face enforcement action from Trading Standards as well as the OFT.

Used cars most complained-about issue

The study was triggered by the 650,000 complaints received by Consumer Direct last year, which made second-hand cars sold by independent traders the most complained-about consumer issue for the fourth year running.

The report also found that some dealers evade the law by posing as private sellers to offload unsafe or 'clocked' cars - which have their mileage adjusted to make them seem newer. This practice was found to cost buyers £580 million a year.

It also said that one in 11 dealers rely on illegal disclaimers about the car’s history and condition, such as that a car is ‘sold as seen’ or with ‘no refund’. Many also fail to tell buyers what mechanical and general pre-sale checks are carried out.

Heather Clayton, Senior Director of the Office of Fair Trading's Consumer group, said: ‘Buying a second-hand car is an expensive purchase for many people. Many dealers provide high standards of service and comply fully with the law, but there continue to be high numbers of complaints to Consumer Direct, which are often due to dealers' refusing to deal with legitimate complaints or provide appropriate redress.

‘We are issuing OFT guidance to the industry and expect all second-hand car dealers to be aware of their legal obligations. Along with our Trading Standards partners, we will take action against those dealers who continue to ignore the law.’