Buying a car

Buying from a car trader

To find a reliable dealer, ask for recommendations from friends. You can also look for a trade association sign which should mean the dealer follows a code of practice. Check with the trade association to confirm that the dealer is a member.

Your rights when buying from a car dealer

When you buy from a dealer a car must be of satisfactory quality. This means that it must meet the standard a reasonable person would regard as satisfactory, bearing in mind the age, the history, the mileage, the intended usage of the car and any other relevant circumstances. It is not sufficient that a car is merely roadworthy and safe.

It must be as described. This covers all statements made about the car, whether in writing or in a conversation. If the advert states 'air conditioning and CD player', then the car should have them and they should be working.

The dealer may be liable for faults that were present at the time of sale, even though they may only become apparent later on.

These 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.

Some dealers may use disclaimers such as 'Sold as Seen', 'Trade Sale Only' or 'No Refund' to try and limit your rights. However, these rights cannot be taken away or restricted by a dealer.

Warranties and guarantees

Warranties and guarantees provide a way for you to have faults corrected at little or no cost. They are in addition to your statutory rights, not a substitute for them - so a dealer cannot refuse to consider your complaint about a fault or defect with a vehicle simply because the warranty has expired or the type of fault is specifically excluded.

Key elements of a warranty or guarantee should clearly be outlined prior to sale. For example, what is covered and excluded, claim limits and procedures, conditions that need to be followed in order for it to remain valid, etc.

Even a free warranty is legally binding and must state that it does not affect your legal rights. You should also be able to view it in writing before the purchase.

Buying privately

If you are want to buy from a private person look at GOV.UK (link opens in new window) for guidance on your civil rights.

Research the car

You should check the vehicle for mileage discrepancies, MOT history, if a vehicle has outstanding finance, is stolen or has been written off. Use the DVLA’s online vehicle enquiry service (link opens in new window) to check that the details you’ve been given match their records.

Check the vehicle identification number (link opens in new window) and engine number. Make sure these match the details on the V5C vehicle registration certificate – often known as the log book.

If possible, get someone who knows what they are looking for to help you inspect a car. Consider using a qualified vehicle examiner. Examine the vehicle’s documents – logbook, service history and previous MOT certificates – and check the recorded mileages. You can check the vehicle’s MOT history free online at GOV.UK (link opens in new window).

Agreeing the deal

Don't be afraid to haggle. You may be able to get a bigger discount if you pay by cash, or if you arrange credit through the dealer.

Make sure you are being quoted the on-the-road price which includes VAT, number plates, delivery charges and road tax.

If you are part exchanging your old car, make sure you know what it is worth. You can check this online with a number of commercial sites.

Before you sign

Make sure you understand the conditions of sale, the trade -n price on your existing car and any finance agreement, including deposit terms and interest charges, monthly repayments and payment protection options on any finance deals. Don't be afraid to ask questions - examples include:

  • what mechanical, history and mileage checks have they done on the car you want to buy? Ask to see the results of these checks
  • how many former owners has the car had and is the full service history available?
  • has the car been modified from its original specification?
  • has the car previously been used for rental, as a taxi, or similar?
  • has the car previously been accident damaged?
  • what after-sales customer service does the dealer provide if there is a problem?