Which? Legal

Second-hand, not second rate

Talk to Which? Legal for affordable advice if you're not satisfied with your second hand car purchase. We can help you understanding your rights and what to do next.

Rejecting a second-hand car

If there's a problem with a second-hand car soon after you've bought it - for example, the car develops a problem you wouldn't expect for its age and mileage, or it turns out not to be what you’d been led to expect - you may have the right to reject it and get your money back.

If you bought the car any time after 1 October 2015, you have only 30 days to reject it and get a full refund under the Consumer Rights Act.

Cars bought before 1 October 2015 would have come under the Sale of Goods Act, which has now been replaced by the Consumer Rights Act. This stated that you must have rejected the car within a reasonable time frame (probably within three to four weeks – less if it was an obvious problem). 

If you reject a second-hand car bought in the UK, you must stop using it immediately. 

New car problems? There's more information about your rights if something goes wrong with a brand new car in another guide.

Returning a second-hand car

If you're past the first 30 days but a problem has arisen that you think would have been there at the time of purchase, you're entitled to ask for a repair or replacement free of charge. 

In most cases this will be a repair, as whoever sold the car to you will usually be able to prove that the cost of replacing it would be disproportionate. 

During the first six months after purchase, it's the responsibility of the seller to prove the fault wasn't there, not for you to prove that it was. 

But after the first six months, the onus will be on you to prove that the fault was present from the day you bought the car. 

If the attempt at a repair or replacement is unsuccessful, you're entitled to a refund.

But the car dealer can make a deduction from the refund after the first 30 days for 'fair use'.

Get a repair, replacement or refund

Make a faulty goods complaint

You could be entitled to a repair, replacement or a refund even if the product is out of warranty, answer some simple questions and Which? can help you start your complaint for free

Start your letter

Second-hand car from a dealer

When you buy a second-hand car from a used-car dealership in the UK, you have rights under the Consumer Rights Act (which replaced the Sale of Goods Act from 1 October 2015). You should expect the car to:

  • be of satisfactory quality (taking into account its age and mileage)
  • meet any description given to you when you were buying it (whether in the ad or in discussions prior to sale)
  • be fit for purpose (in this case, to get you from A to B safely).

It's important that you take into account the mileage, age and how the car is described to you.

If the second-hand car does not meet these requirements, you have the right to claim against the used-car dealer for breach of contract. You should make contact with the dealer as soon as possible, and can follow our step-by-step tips on how to complain about a second-hand car not fit for purpose.

If something you buy is not as described, or the seller is guilty of misrepresentation, you're entitled to:

  • give the second-hand car back and get your money back
  • ask for compensation if you want to keep the car (usually the cost of any repairs it needs).

Second-hand car warranties

If you bought a warranty, or your second-hand car came with a guarantee, you may be able to claim on that to get any problems fixed. 

However, having a warranty does not affect your legal rights. You could still either reject the car or claim against the dealer under the Consumer Rights Act (if you bought it after 1 October 2015) or Sale of Goods Act (if you bought it before 1 October 2015).

Bought with a credit card

If you bought your car with a credit card, you can also claim against the credit company under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. 

Those bought with debit cards may be able to claim through the chargeback scheme. 

If you've bought the car on hire purchase, you can reject it through the finance company, as long as it meets the criteria above.

Second-hand car bought privately

You have fewer rights when  you buy a used car from a private seller, and key parts of the Consumer Rights Act don't apply. 

For example, there is no legal requirement for a car to be of satisfactory quality or fit for purpose.

But contractual rules about misrepresentation do apply. So, legally, the seller must:

  • accurately describe the second-hand car. For example, an ad must not say 'one owner' when the car has had several
  • not misrepresent the second-hand car, ie tell you something about it which isn't true. For example, if it’s been in an accident, the owner mustn't tell you it hasn't.

Car faults and history

If you're buying from a private seller, the onus is on you as the buyer to ask all the right questions before making the purchase. 

The seller doesn't have to volunteer extra information so, if you don't ask questions, you may not have the full picture of the car's history or be aware of any potential faults.

Recall notices

Make sure you ask the private seller if there are any outstanding recall notices for the car you're looking to purchase. 

If you don't ask, the seller is under no obligation to inform you otherwise - and there could be significant safety issues outstanding.

You should also check directly with the manufacturer to find out what recalls are outstanding on the car. 

You can also use the DVSA website to check your car - but not all recalls are listed here, so you are better off checking with the manufacturer directly.

You'll need to supply the registration and/or the car's vehicle identification number (VIN).

How do I find out the VIN number of a car?

You can obtain these from the seller who can find find the VIN in one of two places. 

The most obvious will be at the bottom of the windshield, on the left hand side when looking at your car from the bonnet. If not here, open the driver's side door and look at the pillar/door, as it may also be here. 

The other place you can find the number is in the front of the vehicle’s service book.

Second-hand car bought at auction

When you buy at auction, you have very limited legal rights when buying a second-hand car. 

The Consumer Rights Act - and its predecessor the Sale of Goods Act - generally apply to cars sold at auction. However, auction houses are allowed to exclude the main conditions of the Act (such as being of satisfactory quality, as described and fit for purpose) if they put a notice on display in the catalogue or on the wall.

Make sure you check the auction house conditions before you bid. When you buy at auction, your rights are against the seller of the second-hand car, not the auction house.

Find a car you can rely on

Whatever your needs, our new and used car reviews explain everything you need to know to choose your next car. We combine the results of rigorous lab and road tests with the experiences of owners to recommend the best cars.


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