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Buyer beware

22nd October 2013

The art of buying a second hand car.secondhand car

You have heard of defensive driving. Now consider defensive buying. We get a ton of calls from people unhappy with their second hand cars. Here are some key tips to stop you making a very expensive mistake.

Who is the seller?
If you buy from a trader, you will be protected by the Sale of Goods Act 1979. That means that the car must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as it was described to you – so if the working air con turns out to be a hole in the back windscreen, that isn’t good enough. The Consumer Regulations 2002 also add an extra layer of protection so that if a fault develops with the car within 6 months of the sale, it is assumed that the fault was there at the time of the sale unless the seller can prove it was not. If this 6 month presumption applies then, depending on the circumstances, you may have one of four remedies to choose from;

  • repair (at the seller’s expense),

  • rescission (you give the car back and they give you your money back),

  • replacement (they replace the faulty car with a similar one in working condition), or

  • reduction (you and the seller agree a reduction in the price to reflect the car you actually got and the seller refunds you the agreed amount).

Buying from a private seller offers much less consumer protection, but if you are sold a ‘lemon’ there are still things you may be able do. You could sue for breach of contract, if you have not been given what you and the seller agreed you were getting and/or misrepresentation if the seller misled you or outright lied to you about the car. In practice, however, this can be difficult.

How will you pay?
Where possible it would be advisable to make payment by credit card as you may be protected by s75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. If the total value of the car is between £100 and £30,000 and you pay for part of it on your credit card, this law makes the credit card issuer jointly and severally liable with the seller for a possible refund to you if something goes wrong with your purchase. For this you would have to make a claim direct to the credit card company.

If you pay in cash or by debit card, s75 does not apply.  However some banks do offer a charge back service for some debit cards and it is always worth a call to check as you might be able to get some of your money back.

Top Tips

  • Get things in writing wherever possible and if buying a car privately always keep a copy of the original advert to demonstrate how the car was described.

  • When buying from a garage/dealer take time to check the seller’s reputation. Ask around; see if there are any reviews online. If a deal looks to good to be true, it probably is. If you get a bad feeling about a seller, do not go ahead.

  • Do a HPI check to protect yourself from fraud. A HPI check will tell you whether a car has been stolen, written off or has outstanding finance, as well as giving you a mileage check. Some HPI checks also include CO2 certificates, whether a car has had previous plates or other useful extras. There are many online companies offering HPI checks at relatively little cost.

  • You should also consider an independent mechanic check, especially if a car has been a “write off”. An independent mechanic will be able to alert you to any mechanical issues. With cars it is often a case of ‘buyer beware’ so if it is a large or important purchase getting the car checked can save a lot of stress later.

  • You could also do a “car wash check”. For about £10, you can put the car through an automatic wash and see what happens. Doctored rust spots, leaks or any discrepancies in the paint finish as well as small scratches, nicks and cracks may become apparent.

  • If you need to prove a fault/defect with a car, you should consider getting it checked by a member of the Institute of Automotive Engineer Assessors. Members are specialists in faulty vehicle issues and have to comply with the Institution’s examination and training requirements and must have had a least two years experience in a responsible position in the profession before applying for membership.

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