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.

Can I get a refund for a faulty new or used car?

If a new or second-hand car you bought develops a fault, you could get it repaired or replaced at no further cost to by whoever sold it to you - or you could get your money back.

You have no legal right to reject a car purely because you’ve changed your mind, and cosmetic issues or minor faults that can be easily repaired are not enough to trigger your right to reject the vehicle. Although, these sorts of issues could be dealt with using your warranty, if you have one.

What you do next will be reliant by how you bought the car and how long ago you bought the car, the two most important differences to be aware of are:

Private purchase For private purchases the phrase 'buyer beware' applies. Unless the private seller untruthfully answers any questions you've got about the car, they're not under any legal obligation to declare the condition of the car to you when buying and you won't be able to claim for repairs.

Car dealer If you bought the car in the UK and it doesn't meet one of the standards below, the Consumer Rights Act gives you the right to return the car or have it repaired.

When you buy a new or second-hand car from a UK dealership, the Consumer Rights Act stipulates that you can expect it 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 the purpose (for example, to get you from A to B safely).

There’s no exact definition of 'satisfactory quality', but you must consider the age, price, mileage, description applied and all other relevant circumstances when trying to decide whether it's of satisfactory quality.

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

Top complaint tips

  • Let the seller know as soon as possible that there’s something wrong with the car
  • Try to remain calm and be polite but firm. Losing your temper will not help the situation
  • Keep a record of all your exchanges, just in case - keep emails, brochures, put verbal agreements in writing and take notes of any conversations.

Important time limits on faulty car claims 

I’ve owned the car for less than 30 days  The Consumer Rights Act gives you an initial 30 days to reject it, if it is faulty, and claim a full refund from the dealer that sold it to you. You can also ask for it to be repaired or replaced

After those first 30 days you have to give the dealer a chance to repair or replace the car.

I’ve owned the car for more than 30 days  You're entitled to ask for a repair or replacement free of charge.

If the repair or replacement is unsuccessful, you're entitled to a refund. The car dealer can deduct ‘fair use’ from the refund after the first 30 days.

First six months If you take the vehicle back within six months of purchase, the dealer should accept there was a problem when the vehicle was sold and offer a partial refund or to repair or replace it. 

If the dealer doesn't accept there was a problem when the vehicle was sold, they'll have to prove this.

After six months It will be up to you to prove there was a problem with the vehicle when sold to you, after you've owned it for longer than six months. 

You'll have to provide evidence of this so it may help to get an independent report which could establish the condition of the vehicle when sold. 

Up to six years  You can take action for breaches of the Consumer Right Act, like being sold a faulty car, for up to six years (five in Scotland) after the date of the contract. But you need to think carefully whether you're claim is realistic, especially if you've got an older vehicle that's been used for a reasonable length of time.

I bought a car from a dealer and it's faulty

A car is just like any other product you buy, you’re rights to redress if there are any problems are against the ‘retailer’ that sold it to you - in the case of cars that will usually be a dealership.

If a new or second-hand car you bought from a dealer develops a fault, you could get it repaired or replaced at no further cost to by the dealer that sold it to you - or you could get your money back.

If the car dealership agrees to repair the vehicle, these must be carried out within a reasonable time and without significant inconvenience to you.

If the dealer refuses, you could:

  • take the car elsewhere to be repaired and claim the cost
  • return the car and get back a portion of the money you paid, usually less a deduction for the use you've had (sometimes called 'rescission').

You'll have to negotiate with the dealer to decide what would be a reasonable amount. In deciding what’s reasonable, you’ll need to take into account how much use you’ve had from the vehicle.

If you want to claim a refund but traded in your old car for the new one, it's very unlikely you'll get your old one back. Instead you’ll be entitled to the full invoice price of the car (including road tax, VAT, etc).

The Motor Ombudsman

Some dealerships and garages have signed up to a Trading Standards backed code of practice that means if your dispute isn't getting anywhere you can refer it to an impartial third party to resolve it - the Motor Ombudsman.

I bought a car at an auction and it's faulty

You have very limited rights when buying a second-hand car at an auction.

Check the auction house terms before you bid. When you buy at auction, your rights are with the seller of the car, not the auction house - so you need to understand whether you’re buying from a dealer or private seller.

I bought a car privately and it's faulty

You have fewer rights when buying from a private seller because parts of the Consumer Rights Act don't apply. But, the seller must:

  • accurately describe the car. For example, an ad must not say 'one owner' when its had several
  • not misrepresent the car. For example, tell you something which isn't true, such as telling you it hasn’t been in an accident when it has.

Unfortunately, enforcing your rights in this instance can be a real challenge, if the seller isn’t willing to budge it may be that you’re only route to resolving the problem is going to be via the courts.

Check if your car has been recalled

You can check the government's vehicle recall website to see if a safety alert or recall notice has been issued for your car. If it has been all of the information needed on what to do next should be available on that website also.

I bought a car on finance and it's faulty

If you have a car finance agreement (like a PCP or HP) or a lease (usually contract hire), then it can be a bit more complicated because technically your car belongs to the finance company

You will need to speak to your finance company to begin with. Tell them why you are rejecting the car, but bear in mind that the vehicle may need to go back to the dealer for assessment or repair.

Any good finance company should be able to help you through this process.

It can be slightly drawn-out process because the dealer will have to refund the finance company rather than you directly. The finance company will then have to terminate your agreement and pay you back your deposit plus any payments you’ve already made, minus any deductions made for fair usage.

Can I use my car warranty or guarantee?

If your new or used car came with a warranty or guarantee, or you paid extra for one, you should be able to use it to get any problems fixed. It’s important you check the terms and conditions it came with so that you’re clear on what is covered and what isn't.

You also need to be clear whether you need to speak to the dealer or manufacturer to get the problems resolved.

Bear in mind that  having a warranty does not affect your consumer rights. You could still use the Consumer Rights Act to reject the car and claim a refund, repair or replacement from the dealer that sold it to you.

I paid using my debit or credit card. 

Some good news, if you bought your car with a credit card, you have additional protection with your credit card provider thanks to Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

This handy piece of law makes your credit card company ‘jointly liable for any breach of contract’, in other words if something goes wrong you can claim your money back from your credit card company just like it was the company that wronged you.

If you paid with a debit card may be able to claim through the chargeback scheme, but it’s a voluntary scheme and not guaranteed to work.

Can I take the seller of a faulty car to court?

You can take legal action for breaches of the Consumer Right Act, like being sold a faulty car, for up to six years (five in Scotland) after the date of the contract, but it would usually be unrealistic to consider legal action for defective cars bought in the UK, especially older vehicles, once you've used it for a reasonable length of time.

If your claim is worth more than the small claims limit where you live (£10,000 in England and Wales, £3,000 in Scotland or Northern Ireland) we recommend  that you get legal advice before you act, because you may risk facing time-consuming and expensive court action.

However, this doesn’t affect your legal rights and you could still either reject the car or claim against the dealer.


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