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Guide to Buying a Used Car from a Dealer

Guide to Buying a Used Car from a DealerBuying a used car is generally cheaper than buying a new one, but it is still a big investment. One way to minimise problems in the future is to buy from a dealer, as there is more legal protection but buyers pay for this extra protection with the prices being higher than a private purchase.  The following guide explains how to find a reliable dealer and details consumer rights in the UK under the Sale of Goods Act 1979.

Rights when buying a car from a dealer

When looking for a second hand car, buying from a dealership is the legally safest way to buy, however there are unscrupulous dealers as in all types of retail.  Cars bought from a dealer must meet the following requirements – they must under the Sale of Goods Act 1979:

  • be of satisfactory quality
  • be fit for purpose as a road legal vehicle
  • be as described.

There are additional key rights come under the Consumer Protection Regulations (CPRs) that came into force in May 2008 and replaced the Trade Descriptions Act. These state a general rule that car dealers should operate fairly.

A car buyers’ rights are not affected by any breakdown insurance, guarantee or warranty included with the car or that the buyer may have independently. These offer additional ways for buyers to resolve problems, but they detract from a car dealer’s responsibilities.

It’s also worth checking whether or not a dealer follows any industry codes of practice such as those provided by the RMI, as these often ensure that car dealers stay within the law, and provides additional information.

“Be of satisfactory quality”

There is no specific definition of what “satisfactory quality” means for a used car, as quality for all used vehicle varies dramatically.  A buyer would expect something very different for a classic sports car than they would for a three year old four by four for off-roading.

It’s important that a buyer takes the quality into account for the price and is happy with its quality.  Considerations to take into account should be:

  • the cars’ age and make
  • the vehicles history and recorded mileage
  • its description
  • the negotiated purchase price
  • what the cars’ intended use is
  • any other relevant information

The vehicle shouldn’t have any faults other than those that the car dealer has detailed or that have been identified during an inspection of the car.  Having a vehicle independently inspected by a mechanic or taking along a knowledgeable friend to look at the car can help greatly.  Dealers are however not liable for:

  • Accidental damage of the car during its use
  • Mis-use of the car that causes damage or a fault
  • Wear and tear during normal use

“Be fit for purpose”

A car bought from a dealer should allow its owner to undertake regular journeys in a reasonable degree of comfort, deliver ease of handling and offer reliability that a reasonable person would expect.  If the car is bought for a specific purpose and this is stated to the dealer before the purchase, then it must be able to undertake this task.  An example of this would be if a car is bought specifically to tow a horse box, the vehicle should be able to do this.

“Be as described”

“As described” covers all statements made about the car that’s for sale by the dealer. This includes in writing such as a notice on the car, during a conversation in the showroom or over the phone, in a newspaper advert, or on a website listing.  When looking to buy a second hand car from a dealer, it’s important to ask to see what checks they have made on the car and its history for additional protection.  An example of a car not being as described would be if the dealers’ website details that there are electric windows, these should be on the car and working.  Similarly if a full service history is advertised, the relevant paperwork should be available and provided with the car.

Car dealers can use a disclaimer for the vehicles they sell, such as “sold as seen” or “no refunds” in order to try to limit their liability however these do conflict with the Consumer Protection Regulations and operating fairly so dealers should not do this regularly.

“In a roadworthy condition”

Dealers must sell cars that are roadworthy, i.e. they must be safe and legal to drive on UK roads.  The Road Traffic Act brought into enforcement in 1988 means that it’s illegal to sell a car that’s not roadworthy, for example a danger to the driver, other road users or pedestrians.  Examples of unroadworthiness can be:

  • Excessively worn tyres
  • Smashed or broken headlights / brake lights
  • Non-functionality seat belts

These items and many more are checked as part of all vehicles’ MOT test, so checking the certificate is important and if there is any doubt as the the MOT’s authenticity, it can be checked online at the UK Governments MOT Status website.

Tips for finding a good car dealer

When looking to buy a used car from a dealer, personal recommendations from friends and family can be highly beneficial as they’ll be from a reliable, independent source and should help when looking for an established company.

Look for car dealers that are part of a trade association as the dealer will have to follow a code of practise to retail their membership.  It’s also recommended that the dealers’ membership is validated with the trade association to make sure they are actually a member and not just advertising as such.

Some dealers have the cars they have for sale independently inspected by an engineer and if a car for sale is advertised as such, it’s within a buyers’ rights to ask to see that report.

Car dealers that have signs saying “Sold as seen” and “No refunds” should be avoided as they limit their liability should something go wrong with the cars they sell.

Some franchised dealers offer second-hand models and special deals on almost new display or ex-demonstration cars, come with main dealer warranties but buyers should still weigh these types of benefits against the overall deal for the second hand car.  For example Ford have dealerships for used cars in Dorset that offer both new and used cars, including non-Ford brands that have been traded in against other car sales.

It’s standard practice these days for dealers to undertake an HPI check to ensure that there are no outstanding loans of finance on a vehicle.  More reputable car dealers do this for all vehicles for their own piece of mind as well as that of their customers – look out for dealers that mention this in their marketing material.



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