Car Buying and Selling Consumer Rights
The following information has
kindly been supplied by the Office of Fair
Trading. This fact sheet is intended to provide general
information only, and should not be taken as a
full statement of the law on this subject. Phone your
local Consumer Rights Direct centre, or contact an
alternative consumer rights support service if you need further
or more detailed advice.
Consumer Rights - Before You Buy
Consumer Rights - Buying from a dealer
Rights - Buying privately
- Stolen cars
Consumer Rights - Cars still owned by a credit company
Rights - Clocked cars
Rights - If things go wrong
Decide what you want and how much you can afford. Include the cost of insurance, MOT, road tax, petrol,
repairs and servicing. If you are taking out a loan, add up the repayments.
Its also well worth adding to your budget the cost of a
vehicle data check for peace of mind. The cheapest at
the moment is offered by the RAC at £5.00 for a
comprehensive check. Visit
RAC Hpi check site.
Don't rush into a decision. Shop around. Look at car magazines and price guides to see what is
available for the price you want to pay.
If your knowledge of cars is sketchy, use the Office of
Fair Trading consumer rights fact sheet Buying a used car - checklist. It gives the
main things to look out for when assessing a used car's condition, and tells you the signs that point
to a car which has been stolen or “clocked” (had its mileage altered).
If you don't know much about cars, it's a good idea to take someone with you who does. Or you could pay
independent inspection by a professional mechanic or one of the motoring organisations. It costs
between £100 and £300, but could save you money in the long run.
Buying from a dealer
Buying from a dealer is the safest way of buying as you get the maximum protection of the law. But
there are dodgy dealers, so look for an established firm with a good reputation
and exercise your consumer rights fully. Ask the advice of
friends and look for a trade association sign which should mean the dealer follows a code of
The Retail Motor Industry Federation or the Scottish Motor Trade Association can give you
a list of dealers that are trade association members and follow a code of practice.
Look for a dealer whose cars have been inspected by an independent engineer or one of the motoring
organisations. Ask to see the report on the car you want to buy. It will not be as detailed as one you
pay for yourself, but will provide useful information. Or choose a dealer with a quality-checking
scheme, such as Ford Direct, Rover Approved or Vauxhall's Network Q.
When buying from a dealer, the consumer rights law says a car must be:
- Of satisfactory quality.
It must meet the standard a reasonable person would regard as
acceptable, bearing in mind the way it was described, how much it cost and any other relevant
circumstances. Amongst other things, this covers the appearance and finish of the car, its safety
and its durability. The car must be free from defects, except when they were pointed out to you by
- As described.
A car said to have “one careful lady owner” shouldn't turn out to have
three previous owners, all males under 22.
- Reasonably fit for any normal purpose.
It should get you from A to B.
- Reasonably fit for any other purpose you specify to the seller.
For example, towing a
These consumer rights are not affected by any mechanical
breakdown insurance (which is often sold by dealers if the manufacturer's
warranty has run out), guarantee or warranty giving additional protection.
If you inspect the car, or someone does so for you, the dealer may not be
liable for any faults which should have been uncovered by the inspection.
It's a good idea to get a description of the vehicle's condition from the
dealer: ask whether there is a pre-sale inspection checklist.
Buying privately should be cheaper than buying from a dealer. But it is also riskier: the car may be
stolen, or it may have been used as security for a loan or hire agreement and actually belong to a
You have fewer legal consumer rights if you buy privately. The car must be as described, but the other rules
don't apply. If a private seller lies about the condition of a car, you can sue for your losses - if
you can find the seller.
Some dealers pretend to be private sellers to avoid their legal obligations and to get rid of faulty or
over-priced cars. They advertise in local newspapers and shop windows. Warning signs to look out for
- Ads which give a mobile phone number or specify a time to call (it may be a public phone box,
not the seller's home).
- The same phone number appears in several ads.
- When you phone about the car, the seller asks “Which one?”
- The seller wants to bring the car to you or meet you somewhere, rather than you going to the
- If the seller is really a dealer, then your full legal rights apply.
If you buy a stolen car, the police can take it from you to return it to the original owner or the
insurance company. You will not get any compensation even though you bought the car in good faith. You
can sue the seller for your losses, but this might be difficult if you bought privately and the seller
Also, if you bought the car on credit, you may still have to pay off the loan - it depends on the type
of agreement you have. Its always good practise to get a car
data checked to reduce your risks. Comprehensive data
checks are now available from the RAC for £5.00.
It can be hard to tell whether a car is stolen. Its identity may have been changed. For example, the
identity number and number plate of a legitimate car may be transferred to a stolen one. Vehicle
registration documents can be forged or obtained by fraud.
But there are tell-tale warning signs to look out for:
- The seller can't produce the vehicle registration document (V5) - a common excuse is that it
has been sent to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) for updating. This may be true -
for example, the seller may have changed address recently. But be wary: it means you cannot check
the car's ownership and identity details.
- If the seller claims the car was bought very recently and the V5 is with the DVLA for the
change of ownership to be recorded, the seller should have a green slip (this applies only to cars
issued with V5s from March 1997).
- There are spelling mistakes or alterations to the V5, or it does not have a
- The name and address on the V5 are different to those on the seller's driving licence,
passport, or recent gas or electricity bill
- The three main identifying numbers listed below don't match the numbers on the V5:
- The vehicle registration mark (the number plate).
- The vehicle identification number (VIN) - this can be found on a metal VIN plate, usually in the
engine compartment, and stamped into the bodywork under the bonnet and the driver's seat. As a
security measure, some cars have the VIN etched on their windows or lamps.
- The engine number.
- The engine and VIN numbers have been tampered with. Areas of glass may have been scratched off
the windows, or stickers may cover up etching which has been altered.
- The seller cannot show you the insurance policy for the car.
Cars still owned by a credit
A car bought on hire purchase or conditional sale belongs to the finance company until the payments
have been completed. If you buy such a car, the lender can take it back. You can sue whoever sold you
the car, but only if you can find them.
There are only a few exceptions to this. If you were not aware the car was subject to an outstanding
hire purchase agreement and bought it in good faith, you may be allowed to keep it. This does not apply
to stolen cars or cars which are subject to a hire agreement. Contact Consumer Direct for professional
advice on this subject.
There are companies that can tell you if a car is clear of any outstanding finance deals. You can
usually find details of such companies in motoring magazines. If you are buying from a dealer, ask
whether this check has already been carried out.
Low mileage can be a selling point, but the clock can be turned back to reduce the number of miles
shown. Sellers sometimes protect themselves by covering up the mileometer or issuing a disclaimer
saying that the mileage may be wrong. To be valid, such a disclaimer must be at least as noticeable as
the mileage reading and as effectively brought to your attention.
If the mileage is low but wear and tear on the car looks heavy, the car could have been “clocked”.
Clockers sometimes change pedal rubbers, steering wheels and gear knobs to hide this. Another sign is
that the mileometer numbers don't line up correctly.
There are several ways you can find out about the history of the car:
- Check MOT certificates and service documentation for mileage readings taken by
- Contact previous owners named on the V5 and ask what the mileage was when they sold the
- Get mileage information from companies that research the car's history (you can find these in
- If buying from a dealer, ask whether the dealer has used trade-only database companies such as
IMVA and VMC to check mileage.
If things go
If something goes wrong, go back to the dealer straight away, explain the problem and say what you want
If you aren't happy with the outcome, contact Consumer Rights Direct for advice.
If the dealer is a member of a trade association that follows a code of practice, then the Retail Motor
Industry Federation or the Scottish Motor Trade Association may be able to help.
If the car is still under manufacturer's warranty, then contact the Society of Motor Manufacturers and
If you are a member of a motoring organisation, they may be able to help if you have problems.
There are companies that can tell you whether a car is an insurance company write-off or belongs to a
finance company. They may also have mileage information. They charge for this service. Check car
magazines for details.
© Crown copyright 2004