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.
In the guide
This guidance is for England & Wales
When you buy a used motor vehicle from a trader, you are making a legally binding contract, which is covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. The law gives you rights and you are entitled to expect that the vehicle is of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described. If your rights are not met the law gives you remedies. An older vehicle with high mileage may not be as good as a newer vehicle with low mileage, but it should still be fit for use on the road and in a condition that broadly reflects its age and price. Fair wear and tear is not considered to be a fault.
Traders must not mislead you, perhaps by using phrases such as 'sold as seen' or 'no refunds' or by failing to disclose that the vehicle was previously damaged in an accident. Aggressive commercial practices, such as a trader engaging in high pressure selling are also prohibited.
If you buy a vehicle from a trader by distance means, such as from their website, you have extra rights under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013. You have the right to cancel most 'distance' contracts and you have a 14-day period in which to do so.
You do not have the same legal rights if you buy a vehicle from a private seller as you do when you buy from a trader.
It is an important element of a contract that the trader must give you specific pre-contact information as set out in the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013. The 'Buying from business premises - on-premises contracts explained', 'Buying by internet, phone & mail order - distance contracts explained' and 'Buying at home - off-premises contracts explained' guides explain what these pre-contract requirements are. If a trader does not provide the required information, you can make a claim to have your costs (if you have any) reimbursed.
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 sets out what you are entitled to expect from a vehicle supplied by a trader. These are commonly referred to as your 'statutory rights'. The law also gives you remedies against a trader if your rights are not met.
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 does not entitle you to anything if:
Whilst you have the same rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 when you are supplied with a used vehicle as you do when you are supplied with a new one, you should be realistic and have different, possibly lower, expectations when deciding if it is of satisfactory quality. Check the vehicle thoroughly before you buy it.
The 'Sale & supply of goods - your consumer rights' guide gives more information on your rights and which remedy you are entitled to.
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 prohibit commercial practices that are unfair to consumers. If a trader misleads you, fails to disclose an important fact or engages in an aggressive commercial practice and you make a decision to purchase a vehicle that you would not otherwise have done, they may be in breach of the Regulations. For example, a trader may fail to inform you that the vehicle has previously been accident-damaged or may claim it is 'sold as seen' to avoid their responsibilities to you. If you have been misled or a trader has behaved aggressively, report your complaint to the Citizens Advice consumer service for a 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 also give you the right to redress: the right to unwind the contract, the right to a discount and the right to damages. These rights are in addition to rights you have under the Consumer Rights Act 2015. The 'Misleading & aggressive practices - your right to redress' guide gives more information.
The general rule is 'let the buyer beware' when you buy from a private seller, as you do not have the same legal rights as you do when buying from a trader. You are entitled to expect that the vehicle is 'as described'. You do not have the right to expect that it is of satisfactory quality or fit for its purpose, unless the seller informed you that it was. For example, if an advertisement says 'low mileage, one previous owner', it must be correct. This also applies if you buy from a private seller online or through an internet auction. You should check the vehicle thoroughly before you buy it.
Whether you buy privately or from a trader, you are entitled to expect that the vehicle is roadworthy, unless you and the seller clearly agree it is bought for scrap or for spares and repair.
You are also entitled to expect that the seller has 'good title' to the vehicle. This means the person selling the vehicle must own it. If you buy a vehicle that you later find out is stolen, you do not have the legal right to keep it. You will have to try and get your money back from the seller.
The Consumer Credit Act 1974 gives 'good title' to the innocent private buyer of a vehicle that later turns out to be 'owned' by a finance provider. This means that if the previous owner sold the vehicle to you when there was finance (hire purchase or conditional sale) outstanding and you were unaware of this, the finance provider cannot repossess the vehicle from you. This does not apply to vehicles that have been stolen or vehicles that were subject to a lease or hire agreement.
You should be aware that a trader may mislead you by pretending to be a private seller - for example, selling vehicles at the roadside or via an advertisement - to avoid their legal obligations to you. If you come across a situation like this, complain to the Citizens Advice consumer service for a referral to trading standards.
If you decide to buy a vehicle from a trader by distance means, such as from a website, you have the same legal rights as you have when buying from a trader's premises. You also get additional rights under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013. These Regulations give you extra protection because the contract you enter into is concluded at a distance and without face-to-face contact. You have the right to cancel most 'distance' contracts and there is a 14-day cancellation period. The 'Buying by internet, phone & mail order - distance contracts explained' guide gives more information.
A court may not consider a motor auction to be a consumer sale, in which case most of your rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 would not apply. It is very important that you check the vehicle thoroughly before you bid on it. The auction will have terms and conditions setting out the role of the auctioneer and the obligations of the buyer and seller. Check these terms and conditions carefully before you bid. You are entitled to expect that the seller has the legal right to sell the vehicle. If you think it might have been stolen, report it to the auctioneer. The auctioneer must accurately describe the vehicle.
Most internet auctions only provide the site for the auctions to be held and are not generally liable for goods bought and sold privately. You should check the terms and conditions of the internet auction for full details.
You have the same legal rights when buying from a trader at an internet auction as you have when buying from their premises. The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 also apply to internet auctions. You may have the right to cancel a purchase from a trader if you change your mind, regardless of whether it is sold through the auction or via 'buy it now'.
As you have fewer rights against private online sellers, research the seller carefully before you go ahead with a purchase - for example, check their feedback.
If you buy a vehicle on hire purchase or conditional sale, the contract is regulated by the Consumer Credit Act 1974. You still have rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 to expect, amongst other things, that the vehicle is of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described but it is the finance provider as owner of the vehicle that is legally responsible to you as hirer.
If you paid for the vehicle on finance arranged by a trader or if you paid using your credit card and it cost more than £100 but less than £30,000, you have rights under the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Section 75 of the Act makes the finance / card provider as responsible as the trader for a breach of contract or misrepresentation. This could include supplying a faulty vehicle, non-delivery or making false claims about it. You are entitled to take action against the trader, the finance / card provider or both. If the cost of the vehicle exceeds £30,000 and is less than £60,260, and the finance was arranged specifically to buy that vehicle, you may be able to claim against the finance company under section 75A of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. If you are unhappy with the finance provider's response, seek the advice of the Financial Ombudsman Service.
You can check the MOT history of a vehicle on the GOV.UK website; it holds the test date, expiry date, test result and mileage of vehicles (mileage readings are only available for MOTs done from 1 August 2011).
If the GOV.UK website does not have the details of the vehicle you want to buy, check to see if the trader is using a disclaimer stating that the mileage is not guaranteed and so cannot be relied on; this may be on the odometer itself and/or on the contract. If there is no disclaimer, it could be argued that the trader is stating that the mileage is correct and you can rely on it. It then becomes part of the contract and the description of the vehicle. You should always ask the trader for specific information on the vehicle's mileage regardless of whether it is disclaimed or not. If you believe the mileage has been altered on a vehicle you have bought complain to the Citizens Advice consumer service for a referral to trading standards.
When you buy a vehicle, the tax cannot be transferred with it; you will need to buy new tax before you can drive it away. You should notify the DVLA when you sell your vehicle and you will get a refund on the remaining full months' tax; it cannot be transferred with the vehicle as part of the sale. For more information on vehicle tax see the GOV.UK website.
If a trader sells a vehicle that has been classified as a category C or D write-off without making this clear to you before you agree to buy or if they mislead you about any accident damage, they may be in breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. Ask the trader if the vehicle has had any accident damage before you buy. The 'What are your legal rights?' section of this guide has more information on these Regulations.
If the vehicle you bought does not meet your expectations - perhaps it is faulty, not fit for purpose or not as described - you should take action straight away.
You can complain to the trader in person, in writing or by phone but make sure you know what your rights are and which remedy you are entitled to. If you reject the vehicle within 30 days from the date it was supplied, you are entitled to a full refund and the return of any part-exchange vehicle. The trader is obliged to refund you without undue delay or in any event within 14 days from when they agreed to refund you. As an alternative to rejecting the vehicle, you can opt for a repair or replacement. You do not have to give the trader more than one opportunity to repair or replace the vehicle if it is faulty. If another fault occurs, or if the replacement is faulty, you can either:
Take note that if you are exercising your short-term right to reject the vehicle, you may need to prove it was faulty at the time it was supplied to you, unless the fault is obvious. However, if you opt for a repair or replacement or are seeking the remedies of either price reduction or final right to reject for a fault discovered within the first six months, then in most cases it is presumed that the fault was there at the beginning; it is for the trader to prove otherwise. This is commonly referred to as the 'reversed burden of proof'.
If the trader disputes your claim you may need to obtain an expert's opinion. The 'Getting evidence to support your claim' guide gives more information.
If attempts to resolve the dispute fail, consider using an alternative dispute resolution scheme. Check to see if the trader is a member of a trade association that has such a scheme. For example, Retail Motor Industry Federation members and customers have access to the National Conciliation Service.
As a last resort, you can take legal action in court. You should write to the trader and finance provider (if there is one) to notify them of your intentions. You can use the County Court's small claims track for claims up to £10,000. The 'Thinking of suing in court?' guide gives further details.
The vehicle may have been supplied with a warranty. A warranty is a form of insurance policy that provides cover for the unexpected failure or breakdown of your vehicle. You may decide to make a claim under the warranty but bear in mind that you still have legal rights and it must not affect those rights in any way. The 'Guarantees & warranties' guide gives more information.
The 'Sale & supply of goods - what to do if things go wrong' guide gives more information on the practical steps you can take when complaining to a trader about a faulty vehicle.
Last reviewed / updated: July 2017
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.