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Used and abused? One in three have problems with second-hand cars

Whether you bought from a used-car dealer or a friend of a friend, you have rights

One in three people who’ve owned a second-hand car have had problems with their vehicles – 6% of those had problems so bad their car wouldn’t even start

Of those who had a major fault with the car they purchased, at least half said trying to resolve the issue meant:

  • they felt stressed and angry (54%)
  • wasted more time (50%)
  • wasted money (58%)

We asked 2,106 Brits about their experience with second-hand cars and found three quarters of them had owned one at some point in the past – and half of those currently own one.

Have a problem with your second-hand car? Find out your rights in our free guide

Most bought their second hand cars from a dealership (64%), with 22% buying from a private seller, and 11% buying from a family or friend.

And eight in 10 test drove the car before buying but only a third of people had the car checked by a mechanic before buying (28%) or and ran a vehicle history report to check for any prior accidents with the car, number of previous owners, etc (33%).

Dealer vs private: who do you trust more?

Our survey found more people trust second-hand car dealerships (62%) than private sellers (42%) – this could be because three quarters of respondents knew dealers have to meet different legal requirements.

We also found people also think car dealers are more likely to:

  • provide accurate car history and information (65%)
  • uphold the legal rights of a buyer (81%)
  • and provide a better quality product/service (72%)

But more people think private sellers (53%) are more likely to provide value for money over car dealers (25%). But almost one in four didn’t think either of them are likely to do this.

Top tips to remember when buying a second-hand car

  • If you​r car is faulty, ​​you have 30 days​ from taking ownership of it​ to reject it and get a full refund under the Consumer Rights Act.
  • 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. 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’.

Did you know you have different rights when you buy from a dealer versus a private individual? Find out more in our free guide.

Adam French, Which? consumer rights expert, said: ‘Buying a car is a significant decision and one that you will likely live with for several years.

‘Regardless of whether you bought from a used-car dealer or a friend of a friend, you do have rights.

‘Make sure you have a contract in place and run a full vehicle history check to avoid any nasty surprises.’

The car burst into flames

Which? readers and subscribers have used our free faulty goods help to claim on their second-hand cars. Some of the complaints include:

‘Dealer specified that [the] car had been serviced and all qualified checks had been done in car when sold, have had number of problems with car windscreen wipers, wiring and car not having an MOT or service, [the] heater was not working and the two oil pumps hadn’t been fitted in car properly.’ – £90,000, asked for a full refund after an attempt to fix it was unsuccessful.

In the space of less than 12 months, the IDrive broke, which the company did nothing about. But the more serious problem was that the car lost power on the motorway on several occasions while my 18-month-old daughter was in the car, which is obviously extremely dangerous.’ – £10,500, asked for a full refund after an attempt to fix it was unsuccessful.

‘The car has been in an accident, this was not declared. There are multiple faults with the car, for instance: Front suspension leaking, front bumpers badly repaired and replaced, front left headlight loose, front right fog light faulty, rear right brake stuck on, rear right hand brake line broken, gearbox oil leak, air conditioning leak, right front suspension mount badly rusted and several other smaller faults.’ – £4,000, asked for it to be repaired at no cost to them

‘The car burst into flames while I was driving.’ – £4,290, asked for the car to be replaced.

We’ve withheld the manufacturers and models as we don’t know the outcome of these complaints.

Stuck with a wreck? Read how to complain about your second-hand car in our free guide.

Second-hand, not second rate

You can talk to the Which? Legal team if you’re not satisfied with your second hand car purchase.

You’ll get one-on-one advice from one of our consumer law experts, who can help you get the outcome you want from your car dealer.

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