When it comes to framing laws to protect the interests of buyers and sellers, motor vehicles have always proved something of a conundrum. Fair wear and tear, the nub of so many disputes across the industry, is a hard concept to define; one man’s component failure is another man’s wear and tear. And there’s the question of timing. Was there an underlying issue when the vehicle was sold or did the failure occur after the sale? Very often the answer is all but impossible to determine.
Before pondering further on these problems let’s first have a look at the 2015 Consumer Rights Act which protects the interests of consumers buying from car dealers. When purchasing a car from a dealer it should be:
- as described
- of satisfactory quality, and
- fit for purpose
- safety, and
Essentially all aspects of the car should work, the car should be safe and in reasonable condition given its age, mileage and price. If anything doesn’t work from a light bulb to the engine, the dealer must either;
- make the buyer aware of the fault, or
- repair it.
With regard to safety a valid MOT certificate is not sufficient warranty and a dealer is obliged to ensure the car is roadworthy when it leaves the premises following a sale, so for example, selling a car with a bald tyre (unless the buyer is made aware of it) would contravene the Consumer Rights Act as the car would not be fit for purpose or of satisfactory quality.
The consumer has 30 days in which to reject a vehicle if a fault is found which was present at the time of purchase which renders the car not, of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose or as described. For example, if it is discovered that the car has serious engine damage and a dispute arises, the onus of proof is with the dealer to prove that the fault arose after the sale of the vehicle. Otherwise the consumer has the right to reject the vehicle and receive a full refund.
After 30 days but before 6 months, if a problem comes to light which was present at the time of purchase the onus of proof remains with the dealer who will be responsible for any repairs. The dealer has one opportunity to rectify the fault otherwise the buyer is entitled to reject the vehicle in exchange for a refund (minus a reasonable adjustment for the use that the buyer has had during their time of ownership).
That is not to say the car has to be in good condition or even roadworthy as long it is described accurately in advertising media and the buyer is not misled.If a car is a non-runner a dealer is entitled to sell it as long as it is described as so.
Distance Selling Regulations, in force since the year 2000, have been replaced by the Consumer Contracts Regulations of 2013 which, like their predecessor, was framed principally to protect consumers buying on the internet.
These laws make ‘distance buying and selling’ far more practical. In the case of a car it gives the dealer a clear incentive to furnish the buyer with an accurate description of the car which means the buyer has a reasonably expectation of it's condition without actually viewing it.
The new regulations came into force in June 2014 and give the consumer the right to cancel a contract placed 'at distance' within fourteen days of delivery. This right is effectively a 'cooling off' period and you are not required to provide any reason for your decision. The dealer must also give clear information including delivery arrangements, contact details and the full price including taxes and charges to cover extras such as delivery. They must also provide written information about how to cancel the contract.
These regulations open up the UK’s car buying market and make making buying a car over the internet a realistic proposition.
If you do decide to buy a car on the internet without viewing, we strongly recommend that you check out the dealership you are intending to buy from and ask for written confirmation of the following:
- What mechanical, mileage or history checks has the dealer carried out?
- How many and what type of owner has the car had?
- Has the car been modified or involved in an accident and repaired?
- Is the dealer signed up to a Code of Practice?
- What's their customer complaints procedure?
These questions will help protect your rights further as any failure to provide honest and accurate answers may be in breach of Unfair Trading Regulations
How does this work in practise?
All this protection is good for the consumer of course but don’t necessarily expect an easy ride if you have to resort to the law for recompense. The law should be a last resort especially if your claim is not covered by an insurance policy. You may well have a cast iron case but it still could take more time and effort than it is worth to arrive at a satisfactory resolution.
Let’s look beyond the legal stuff and think about the real world. At one end of the spectrum a dealer may be part of a large national or international company with plush showrooms sprinkled around the country (Inchcape and Lookers for example) and on the other, a dealer may be a one-man band who sells one car a week from his house. Both have obligations under the Consumer Rights Act. If you are involved in a dispute with a large dealer which has the means and resources to investigate your claim, you could expect your issues to be addressed based on their findings. Furthermore, because of the importance of reputation to a large dealership you would expect that they would try hard to resolve issues to your satisfaction without resorting to the law.
Now, let’s move to the other end of the spectrum. You have purchased a small inexpensive car from ‘the bloke round the corner’ who sells a few cars on the side. There’s an intermittent problem with the car which triggers a warning light with a handbook recommendation that the car should be immediately returned to the dealer. The chances are high that the dealer who sold you the car has neither the know-how nor the equipment to diagnose or rectify the problem.
Although in this scenario you would have the law on your side it may be a hard slog to get recompense especially if the dealer’s name is not on the log-book. You hope the dealer complies with the law and agrees to pay for the diagnosis and repair but if he doesn’t you could be faced with a long and arduous battle. Unfortunately, it’s not unheard of for dealers to be purposely unhelpful on the basis that you will eventually take your problem elsewhere.
Private Purchases and Auctions
If you buy privately, you can expect to pay less for your car but it's a case of 'Buyer Beware'. Your purchase won’t be covered by the Consumer Rights Act and it really is up to you to make any necessary enquiries. It may be a good idea to bring along a mechanic to look over the car and be extra vigilante with the paperwork. If the name and address where you inspect the car doesn’t match the V5 log-book you should proceed only with extreme caution. Check the service record and look for signs that dates or mileage readings have been tampered with.
With almost 1 in 3 vehicles subject to some ‘hidden history’ we also strongly recommend an HPI Check to ensure your new car is not subject to any outstanding finance or worse. The HPI Check Report will alert you to problematic information held against the vehicle by finance and insurance companies, the DVLA or the Police. Many dealers will automatically HPI Check their cars but if not, it should be your first line of defence against vehicle fraud, especially if you are buying privately.
Some small dealers may masquerade as private sellers to avoid their legal obligations so be wary, especially if it is not their name on the registration document. It is a criminal offence for a dealer to pretend to be a private seller.The only legal terms that cover a private sale contract are:
- the seller must have the right to sell the car
- the vehicle should match the description given by the seller
- the car must be roadworthy
The situation is no better if you are buying from an individual via an auction. The auction house is an intermediary and therefore not deemed to be the ‘seller’ of the vehicle. Any potential claim you have, would, therefore, be against the actual ‘seller’ (whoever put the car into auction) and as cars are generally ‘sold as seen’ at auction, your chances of pursuing a successful claim are slim.