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Legal rights when buying a car explained

Last updated December 1st, 2023

Your legal rights when buying a car will depend on how you bought the car, how it was described and whether the car is faulty.

You will receive a higher level of legal protection if you buy a car from an established dealership than if you buy privately or at an auction.

However, no matter how you purchase your car, it is important to be aware of your legal entitlements. Many motorists lose out after buying a new or used car, simply because they are not aware of their rights.

In this guide, we will define the Consumer Rights Act – and explain how it applies to car buyers. We’ll also clarify your rights when you buy a car from a dealership - and a private seller.

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What is the Consumer Rights Act?

Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, you are legally entitled to claim a full refund within the first 30 days of buying any product (including a new or used car), if it proves to be faulty (whilst taking into account its age and mileage).

This law also provides protection for any servicing and repair work that causes your vehicle to develop faults. (If you believe that work has been carried out on your car without reasonable care, you can ask for a refund – or request for the work to be re-done.)

What are my legal rights when buying a car from a dealership?

When buying from a dealership, you are covered under the Consumer Rights Act. Therefore, your vehicle must be:

  • Of satisfactory quality.
  • Fit for purpose.
  • As described.

If your car does not meet the above criteria, you are entitled to a refund. However, a seller might not agree with this. If this is the case, you’ll need to pursue legal action to secure your refund.

What are my rights when buying a car privately?

When you buy a car privately, you aren’t covered by the Consumer Rights Act. Therefore, it is vastly important that you check the vehicle before you buy.

However, you do have some limited protections:

  • The seller must have the right to sell the car.
  • The car must match the seller’s description.
  • The car should be roadworthy (unless you have accepted that the vehicle is ‘scrap’ or in need of repairs).

If the seller has failed to meet any of the above criteria, you are entitled to a claim a refund.

As consumers have limited rights with private sales, some unscrupulous dealers will purport to be private sellers, so proceed with caution. Before purchasing a used car, it is a good idea to run a free car check and a HPI check to ensure the vehicle doesn’t have a hidden past.

How long do I have to return a car?

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 states that you are legally be entitled to return a car for a full refund within the first 30 days if it is faulty.

What are car dealers responsible for by law?

If you buy your car from a dealer, you will be protected by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. This means that your car must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described. If it fails to meet any of these conditions, you are entitled to a refund within 30 days of purchase.

After this 30-day window has passed, you cannot claim a refund but are entitled to request repairs or a replacement. However, after 6 months, you must be able to prove that the car was faulty at the point of purchase if you want to claim for repairs or a replacement.

Something is wrong with my car – what should I do?

If you have bought your car from an official dealer, then you are covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. This means you can get in touch with your dealer, reject your faulty vehicle and claim a full refund up to 30 days after purchase.

However, you do not have the same protections if you buy from a private seller. If they have the legal right to sell it, the vehicle is roadworthy and matches the description, there is not much you can do.

Similarly, when you buy from an auction, you are not covered by the Consumer Rights Act. Therefore, before committing to a purchase, you should familiarise yourself with the auction house’s terms and conditions, so that you can plan what to do if the vehicle proves to be faulty.

The seller has disputed my claim – what next?

If your claim has been disputed, you can take the case to court. However, this can be an expensive and time-consuming process.

If you find yourself in this position, the Motor Ombudsman can help you. They are approved by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) and help buyers find solutions that are fair and legally correct. If your claim has been disputed, you are entitled to an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service.

Are there any other laws to protect car buyers?

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 means that it is illegal for sellers to engage in unfair business practices. This means that sellers are not allowed to give false information or omit important details about a vehicle.

In addition to this, if you purchase your vehicle using a credit card, you will also be covered by the Consumer Credit Act.