RAC Cars

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Your rights and legal protection when buying and selling vehicles

Buying privately

Question the seller

  • When buying from a private seller, it is your responsibility to ensure that the vehicle you are interested in is in fact what the seller claims it is. This is a principle in law called 'caveat emptor'. This means that the responsibility is on the buyer to find out everything he or she wants or needs to know about an item before buying it. Effective questioning is therefore key. It is important to ensure that you do your research on the seller as well as the vehicle. This can be done by looking at online reviews and reputation scores on the selling website. You should also check that a ‘private seller’ is not selling multiple vehicles and does not operate or work for a business selling vehicles that may be trying to get around the Consumer Rights Act by posing as a private seller instead of a dealer.

Check the documents

  • It is also wise to check any registration documents for the vehicle as well as the MOT certificate. The vehicle you buy must be roadworthy which means it must be fit and safe to drive. Section 75 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 states that it is illegal for anyone to sell a vehicle that is not roadworthy. This applies equally to private sellers and vehicle dealers. It is a criminal offence to sell an unroadworthy vehicle. Please note that an MOT certificate from a test several months ago is no guarantee that the vehicle is roadworthy on the day you are looking to buy it. The MOT certificate can also highlight any issues that the owner or registered keeper was advised to monitor with a view to putting right. If you think you have been sold an unroadworthy vehicle, report it to your local Trading Standards and the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).
  • It is worth noting that a V5C is not proof of ownership of a vehicle, but does state the registered keeper at the time. It's a good idea to request to see proof of ownership from the seller i.e a receipt or invoice.
  • Please ensure all of the vehicle’s specifications match up to the vehicle documents provided i.e. mileage, address, vehicle specification, etc.
  • You can use the gov.uk website to check vehicle information by simply entering the registration number from the registration document along with the make of the vehicle. This can be found at https://www.gov.uk/get-vehicle-information-from-dvla.
  • If the vehicle you have purchased does not match the information you have received in relation to it, there could potentially be a case of misrepresentation under the Misrepresentation Act 1967. A misrepresentation is an untrue statement of fact made by a seller in order to convince a buyer to purchase. A false statement can be the result of something written, spoken or done by the seller. This applies equally to private sellers and dealers (please see below). If you believe a false statement of fact contributed towards you buying a vehicle then this could be classed as misrepresentation and you should seek independent legal advice.

Take it for a test drive

  • It is also advisable to inspect the vehicle fully which should include a test drive starting from the seller’s home and checking any faults with exterior and interior i.e bodywork, tyres and warning lights on the dashboard. You can also have a vehicle inspection carried out on the vehicle to highlight any faults that may exist. The RAC offers this service – to find out more click here http://www.rac.co.uk/buying-a-car/vehicle-inspections?WT.ac=MainNav_VehicleInspections.

Do a history check

  • Consider buying a History Check check as you will be able to tell whether the vehicle is stolen, written off, clocked or has any outstanding finance in addition to finding out its most common reasons for breaking down and failing its MOT. The RAC Car Passport also provides you with a valuation for the vehicle which may allow you to negotiate more effectively with the seller. You can find more information at http://www.rac.co.uk/buying-a-car/rac-car-data-check.

Get a valuation

  • It can be helpful to check that the price offered is in line with market value of other similar vehicles to ensure that you are getting a good deal. This may also give you an indication as to any faults with the vehicle as a vehicle with faults may have a considerably lower price.

Be careful how you pay

  • Before transferring funds, please ensure that you are completely satisfied with what you are buying. When transferring funds, ensure that you use a trackable method of payment such as a credit or debit card as paying by cash is far harder to trace.

Please note: It is important to be wary of online sellers and to ensure you research the seller thoroughly.

Buying a vehicle from a dealer

When buying from a dealer, it is advisable to undertake the same checks as when buying from a private seller. However, when buying from a dealer there is generally greater legal protection if things go wrong with the vehicle. It is also worth researching whether the dealer belongs to a trade association that states that the dealer has to abide by a code of practice.

Your rights under the law when you buy a vehicle from a dealer

When buying from a dealer, the provisions of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 will be applicable. The Consumer Rights Act states that a vehicle must:

  • Be of satisfactory quality
  • Is it fit for purpose?
  • Be as described
  • Match a model seen or examined

If a vehicle you have purchased does not meet the requirements set out above, then you may have a right to claim breach of contract by the dealer, require the dealer to repair or replace the vehicle or require the dealer to reduce the price of the vehicle (further details of these remedies are outlined below).

These rights do not interfere with any breakdown insurance, guarantee or warranty which may offer you additional ways of sorting out any problems but they do not remove the responsibilities of the dealer.

Does the dealer have the right to sell?

The dealer must have the right to sell the vehicle. Section 17 of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 requires the seller of the vehicle to have ‘title’ to the vehicle, meaning, he or she owns it, or has the authority to sell it. Therefore a dealer should disclose any issues regarding title in the vehicle to the buyer, such as when the dealer only has limited ownership.

Is the vehicle of satisfactory quality?

The requirement of a vehicle to be of satisfactory quality is outlined in Section 9 of the Consumer Rights Act. This this means the vehicle should meet the standard that a reasonable person would consider satisfactory, taking into account: the description of the vehicle, the price of the vehicle and all other relevant circumstances (which may include age, history, mileage, make, durability and safety for example).

The requirement of a vehicle to be of satisfactory quality is not applicable where the issue with quality is specifically drawn to the buyer’s attention before the sale is concluded or where the buyer examines the vehicle before the sale is concluded and that examination ought to have identified the issue.

Before you buy, make sure you're happy with the quality of the vehicle taking into account:

  • Age and make
  • Past history and mileage
  • Description
  • Price you intend to pay
  • What you intend to use it for
  • Any other relevant circumstances

Is fit for purpose?

Section 10 of The Consumer Rights Act states that a vehicle that has been purchased must be reasonably fit for the purpose for which you would normally expect a vehicle to be used, including any specific purpose that you disclose to the dealer before you buy and which the dealer has advertised or has understood from your previous conversations. This would, for example, include towing a caravan or short journey use.

Does it match the description?

Section 11 of The Consumer Rights Act looks at the description of the car and covers all statements about the vehicle, both written and verbal. For example, if the advert states the vehicle has air conditioning this feature should be present and work.

Section 14 of The Consumer Right Acts states that goods should match a model seen or examined by the consumer unless any of those differences are brought to the consumer’s attention before entering into the contract. For example, if you are shown a model of a vehicle which features alloy wheels this feature should be present on the vehicle you purchase unless a difference has been brought to your attention.

Is it in a roadworthy condition?

Section 75 of the Road Traffic Act makes it an offence for anyone to sell a vehicle that is not roadworthy. This means that any vehicle you buy must be fit and safe to drive. This requirement applies equally to private sellers and car dealers. It is also important to remember that an MOT certificate from a test several months ago is no guarantee that the vehicle is roadworthy.

What if a fault occurs up to six months after taking ownership?

Under Section 19 of The Consumer Rights Act 2015, if a fault arises within 30 days of buying a vehicle, the consumer can get a refund for that vehicle. Within six months of buying a vehicle, if a fault cannot be repaired or replaced then in most cases the consumer will be entitled to a refund.

During the first six months following the purchase, the dealer will bear the burden of proof on showing that the goods weren't, in fact, defective at the point of delivery and that they were of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose, or as described when sold.

However, after this six-month period, the burden of proof is reversed and a consumer will have to show that the goods were defective at the time of delivery.

How should you pay?

It is also advisable to pay by credit card when possible. If the vehicle has been purchased on credit card, and there has been a breach of contract due to a breach of the requirements of the Consumer Rights Act mentioned above, you may have a claim under Section75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. This explains that the credit card company is jointly liable for anything going wrong, as long as the amount paid for the vehicle is between £100 and £30,000. It does not have to be the full amount. The credit card company would be liable even if part payment was made on the credit card. If payment is made on a debit card, you can potentially claim all or some of your money back through the Chargeback Scheme. This means that the bank may be able to reverse the transaction and claim it back from the dealership’s bank account. However, you must make the claim within 120 days of buying the vehicle.

What are your options if something is not right?

If there is something wrong with the vehicle e.g. it is not of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose or as described you are legally entitled to a legal remedy. The Consumer Rights Act provides a tiered approach to ensure that the trader puts things right:

Tier 1: Short-Term Right to Reject within 30 days

If there is something wrong with the vehicle and it is brought to the trader’s attention, you are able to reject them under Section 22 of The Consumer Rights Act 2015.

You are entitled to a full refund which must be provided to you without undue delay and within 14 days of the trader agreeing that you are entitled to a refund.

Tier 2: Repair or Replacement

If there is something wrong with the vehicle and you have lost the Short-Term Right to Reject within 30 days or you have chosen not to reject the vehicle, you are entitled to a repair or a replacement under Section 23 of The Consumer Rights Act 2015.

The repair or replacement must be provided within a reasonable time and without significant inconvenience to you. The trader must also bear any necessary costs incurred in repairing or replacing the vehicle.

It is important to note that you cannot force the trader to repair or replace the vehicle if it is impossible or disproportionate to do so e.g. if the radio does not work, it would usually be disproportionate to ask for a replacement vehicle rather than a repair or the radio.

Tier 3: Price Reduction or Final Right to Reject

If repair or replacement is not possible, has been unsuccessful or is not provided within a reasonable time and without significant inconvenience to you, you are able to claim a price reduction or reject the vehicle. This right is under Section 24 of The Consumer Rights Act 2015.

The trader must reduce the price by an appropriate amount based on the seriousness of what has gone wrong when the buyer.

A deduction can be made to the amount refunded under the Final Right to Reject to take into account the use you have had of the vehicle.

Hire purchase

If you enter into a hire purchase agreement, your contractual relationship is with the finance company and any problems should therefore be raised with them. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 provides the same protection highlighted above. The difference is that a refund will only be applicable if you cannot come to an amicable resolution, any issues can be escalated to the Financial Ombudsman Service http://www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk.

Court procedure

If you cannot come to an amicable resolution with the dealership, there is a process in place which can still provide a remedy. If giving them an opportunity to remedy any breaches of contract do not come to fruition, the next stage is to send a ‘letter before action’. A useful guide outlining what needs to be included and a step-by-step guide on the court process can be found at:

http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/england/consumer_e/consumer_taking_action_e/consumer_legal_actions_e/consumer_going_to_court_e/consumer_taking_court_action_e/step_one_write_a_letter_before_action.htm

Another helpful website for the court process is: https://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/civil.

If it does get to court action stage, it may be helpful to check any household or motor insurance cover you have for Legal Expenses Insurance which could aid in court fees.