Problems with cars

The advice sheets below have the lastest information on problems with cars. If you need more advice, please call the Citizen Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06.

Vehicle repairs and servicing: your rights

In the guide

This guidance is for England, Scotland & Wales

When you take your vehicle to a garage for a routine service or for faults to be repaired you are making a legally binding contract.

This guide gives information on the legal rights and remedies you have and includes practical examples to illustrate what you can do if things go wrong. 

The law

A vehicle is an expensive purchase so it makes good sense to maintain it and hopefully prolong its life by having it regularly serviced. Most traders are reputable and honest, but there are some traders that will carry out poor quality repairs and servicing at a high price, or charge you for work that has not been carried out. Knowing your legal rights will help you deal with any problems that may arise. 

An important element of the contract is that a trader must give you specific pre-contract information as set out in the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013. See the guide 'Buying from business premises - on-premises contracts explained' for more information on these Regulations.

When you take your vehicle to a garage for a routine service or for faults to be repaired you are making a legally binding contract, which is covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. This law gives you rights and remedies against the trader if the service you receive is below the standard you are entitled to expect and if any parts fitted as part of the service or repair fail to meet your expectations, possibly because they are faulty.

Service (covers vehicle repairs and routine servicing) - key rights:

  • the service must be carried out with reasonable care and skill. A trader must carry out the service to the same or similar standard to that which is considered acceptable within the vehicle repair industry
  • information about a trader or service is legally binding. Anything said or written down by a trader (or someone acting on their behalf) about themselves or the service forms part of the contract. Any information you take into consideration before you agree the contract or if you make a decision about the service after the contract is made will also form part of the contract
  • reasonable price to be paid for a service. You are only required to pay a 'reasonable' price for the service that a trader provides unless the price (or the way in which the price is worked out) is fixed as part of the contract
  • the service must be carried out within a reasonable time. Sometimes the contract will fix the time that a service must be completed by. If the time has not been fixed then the service must be completed 'within a reasonable time'

Service (covers vehicle repairs and routine servicing) - key remedies:

  • right to repeat performance. If you are dissatisfied with the way your vehicle has been repaired or serviced (because it has not been carried out with reasonable care and skill or the trader failed to complete the work in line with information they gave you beforehand) then they must perform the service again - for example, carry out a further repair. This should be carried out within a reasonable time, without significant inconvenience and at no cost to you
  • right to a price reduction. If repeat performance of the repair or service fails to resolve the problem (perhaps it is impossible or it cannot be carried out within a reasonable time or without causing you significant inconvenience) then you are entitled to a price reduction, which can be as much as a full refund

The 'Supply of services - your consumer rights' guide gives more information.

Goods, such as parts, oil or accessories, supplied during the repair or service - key rights:

  • the trader must have the right to supply the goods to you. If they did not, perhaps they did not actually own them and could not therefore sell them to you, if they did not then you have a legal remedy
  • the goods must be of satisfactory quality. The description, price, condition of the goods, fitness for purpose, appearance and finish, safety, durability and freedom from minor defects are all important factors when considering quality. Public statements, such as those in advertising or on labelling, made by the trader, the producer or their representative about the goods must be accurate and can also be taken into account when deciding if the goods are of satisfactory quality
  • if you make a trader aware that you want the goods to be fit for a particular purpose - even if it is something that they are not usually supplied for - then you have the right to expect they are fit for that purpose
  • you have the right to expect that the goods are as described. For example, a part described as being made by a particular manufacturer should be accurately described
  • if you see or examine a sample, then the goods must match the sample. For example, if you saw a sample tyre, then the tyres fitted to your vehicle must match
  • if you see or examine a model then the goods must match the model

Goods, such as parts, oil or accessories, supplied during the repair or service - key remedies:

  • short term right to reject the goods and obtain a full refund
  • right to a repair or replacement
  • right to a price reduction or a final right to reject the goods

The 'Sale & supply of goods - your consumer rights' guide gives more information.

If you pay for the vehicle repair or service by credit card and if the work costs more than £100 but less than £30,000, you are protected by the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Section 75 of the Act makes the card provider as responsible as the trader for a breach of contract or a misrepresentation. You are entitled to take action against the trader, the card provider or both. This does not apply to charge cards or debit cards.

If you use a debit card to pay for the vehicle repair or service or if you use a credit card and the price of the work is less that £100 (your rights under the Consumer Credit Act 1974 would not apply) you may be able to take advantage of the chargeback scheme. Chargeback is the term used by card providers for reclaiming a card payment from the trader's bank. If you can provide evidence of a breach of contract - for example, if the repair is substandard or the trader has ceased trading - you can ask your card provider to attempt to recover the payment. Check with your card provider as to how the scheme rules apply to your card and what the time limit is for making a claim.

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 prohibit commercial practices that are unfair to consumers. If a trader misleads you (for example, charging you for work it has not done, fits inferior parts when you only agreed to have a particular manufacturer's parts or fits second-hand parts and claims they are new) or engages in aggressive commercial practices, they may be in breach of the Regulations. You should report unfair practices to the Citizens Advice consumer service for referral to trading standards.

If you enter a contract because a trader misled you or because the trader used an aggressive commercial practice, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 give you rights to redress: the right to unwind the contract, the right to a discount and the right to damages. The 'Misleading & aggressive practices - your right to redress' guide gives more information.

Under the Consumer Rights (Payment Surcharges) Regulations 2012, traders are banned from charging excessive fees for using payment methods such as credit and debit cards. The fees charged must reflect the actual cost to the traders of using that particular payment process. The Regulations apply to most sales and service contracts. A contract term relating to requirement to pay a fee is unenforceable against you to the extent of the excess charged. If you have paid an excessive fee, the excess must be repaid to you. If you believe a trader's fees are excessive report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service.

How do I check if a trader is reputable?

The quality of service provided, the range of parts on offer and the price charged can vary from trader to trader so it is wise to shop around for the best deal. Take note of the following points before going ahead:

  • check to see if the trader is a member of a trade association such as the Vehicle Builders and Repairers AssociationMotor Codes, Bosch Car Service, the Retail Motor Industry Federation or a trading standards approved scheme such as 'Buy with Confidence'. The Vehicle Builders and Repairers Association, Motor Codes and Bosch Car Service have codes of practice that have been approved by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute
  • ask friends and family if they can recommend a good trader to you or warn you against using a disreputable one
  • ensure that the trader offers you clear information on repair and servicing options, together with prices, so you can make an informed decision before you go ahead
  • make sure the trader obtains your permission to do extra work beyond what was originally agreed. You should remember to leave contact details in case problems develop
  • the trader should give you a written quotation (a fixed price) if you ask for one; if this is not possible you should obtain a written estimate. You may wish to give a maximum amount for repairs that the trader can carry out before contacting you for authorisation
  • the trader should give you a written invoice that itemises all materials, parts fitted and their costs, as well as labour charges
  • if a trader cannot resolve a dispute with you they should refer you to a relevant alternative dispute resolution body. Some trade associations have alternative dispute resolution schemes
  • the trader should give you the old parts back if you ask for them. It is best to make sure you have made the trader aware of this before any work starts
  • check beforehand if the trader gives a guarantee or warranty on parts and/or service, although you should remember that these are in addition to your usual consumer rights and cannot take those rights away
  • the trader should tell you how long the work will take to complete and may offer you a courtesy car in the meantime. Always check the terms and conditions attached to the supply of a courtesy car before going ahead
  • if a fault diagnosis is required, the trader should explain the procedure to you and tell you the cost (if any)

If the trader is not willing to comply with your requests, or you are unhappy with the suggested repairs or their cost, be prepared to take your vehicle elsewhere.

What if things go wrong?

THE VEHICLE IS NOT REPAIRED PROPERLY

If a fault is not correctly diagnosed or is not properly repaired (in other words, the work has not been carried out with reasonable care and skill) you are entitled to ask the trader to carry it out again so that it is completed as the contract states it should be. This repeat performance should be carried out within a reasonable time, without significant inconvenience and at no cost to you. If the fault is still apparent you may be entitled to a price reduction (the difference between the contract price and the value of the work performed), which may be as much as a full refund if you have had no benefit from the work at all. 

The 'Supply of services - what to do if things go wrong' guide sets out the practical steps you can take when complaining to the trader.

A PART FITTED BY A TRADER IS FAULTY

If a trader supplies and fits a part that is faulty, you have 30 days from the day after the part was supplied to reject it for a full refund. As an alternative to rejecting the part for a refund, you have the option to ask for (or agree to) a repair or replacement part. From this time to the point that the part is repaired or replaced is called the 'waiting period'. If the repairs do not work or the replacement part is faulty you have seven days after the end of the waiting period or the remainder of your 30 days (extended by the waiting period) if it is later, to reject the part for a refund. 

After the 30 day time limit has passed, you can ask the trader to repair or replace the part at their expense. This must be carried out within a reasonable time and without causing you significant inconvenience. You do not have to give the trader more than one chance to repair or replace the part if it is faulty. If the repair or replacement is unsuccessful then you are entitled to ask for either a price reduction or claim your final right to reject the part. There is nothing to prevent you giving the trader more chances to repair or replace the part if you decide to do so.

Take note that if you want to reject the faulty part within 30 days for a full refund, you may have to prove that it was faulty when it was fitted, unless the fault is obvious. However, if within six months from when a part was supplied you discover a problem and you are prepared to accept a repair or replacement, in most cases you do not have to prove fault. It is for the trader to prove otherwise. This is called the 'reversed burden of proof'. After six months, the burden of proof reverts back to you.

The 'Sale & supply of goods - what to do if things go wrong' guide sets out the practical steps you can take when complaining to the trader.

THE VEHICLE IS NOT READY BY THE AGREED DATE

If you and a trader did not fix a time for repairs to be completed, then they must be completed 'within a reasonable time'. What is reasonable depends on the facts of the contract. Discuss your concerns with the trader and if necessary follow up with an email or letter making time of the essence (give a deadline) for the repairs to be completed. If the vehicle is still not ready, you are entitled end the contract, but you may have to pay for any work that has been carried out at that point. The 'Writing an effective letter of complaint' guide gives more information and has template letters you can use. 

REPAIRS HAVE BEEN CARRIED OUT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION

This can be problematic, especially with verbal contracts, as it can be very difficult to prove that the trader carried out the work without your authority. If the trader carried out unauthorised work, you could ask them to put the vehicle back to its original condition. This course of action can create problems, especially if it would leave your vehicle in a worse condition or even render it unroadworthy. The trader may also refuse to undo the work or release the car without payment. If improvements have been made, the trader is entitled to exercise a lien over the vehicle (this is a legal right to hold disputed goods until payment is made). In these circumstances the only way you can recover possession of your vehicle is to 'pay under protest' and to pursue your claim for reimbursement. It is important that you seek advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service before paying under protest.

Ask the trader to arrange alternative dispute resolution. They may be a member of a trade association that offers an alternative dispute resolution service, which can help sort out your complaint.

As a last resort, you can take legal action against the trader in court. The 'Thinking of suing in court?' guide gives more information.

THE TRADER DOES NOT ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR SUBSTANDARD REPAIRS

Complain to the trader in writing. The 'Writing an effective letter of complaint' guide includes template letters. You may need to obtain a written report from an independent engineer to provide technical evidence to back up your claim.

If the trader does not respond to your complaint, you may have to have the faults fixed by another trader. You will have to pay for the repair and then claim the repair costs back. You may wish to consider alternative dispute resolution or take legal action in the small claims court. The court may not accept a report you have obtained prior to taking legal action and may direct you and the trader to appoint a single expert. If you and the trader cannot agree on the choice of expert or the arrangements for paying the expert's fee, then you or the trader must apply to the court for further directions. The court would then make a decision about the expert.

THE COST OF THE REPAIR IS HIGHER THAN EXPECTED

You are only obliged to pay a 'reasonable price' for the service that a trader provides unless the price of the service (or the way in which the price is worked out) is fixed as part of the contract. So if you have not agreed a price up front, what you are asked to pay must be reasonable. What is a reasonable price? This depends on the facts of each contract but as a guide it may be the average price charged by other traders providing the same service in that area. 

If you are in dispute and refuse to pay the price the trader is charging, the trader is entitled to exercise a lien over the vehicle. As for when repairs have been carried out without your permission, in these circumstances the only way you can recover possession is to 'pay under protest' and to make a claim for your costs to be reimbursed. If you decide to pay under protest, make this clear in writing at the time of payment. It is important that you seek advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service before paying under protest. 

THE VEHICLE WAS DAMAGED BY THE TRADER

The trader has a general duty of care to look after your vehicle while it is in his possession. If the vehicle is damaged, possibly due to the negligence of the staff, the trader may be responsible for carrying out the repairs at no cost to you or compensating you for the cost of having the repairs done elsewhere.

Key legislation

Last reviewed / updated: May 2016

Please note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.

For further information please contact the Citizens Advice consumer service, which provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues. Visit the Citizens Advice website or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.