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Consumer rights: what to do if you have a problem with a car bought from a dealer

Cars are the most complicated piece of machinery and technology any of us will own. And given the challenges they face when being used, it’s understandable that from time to time, things may go wrong.

Written by James Mills
Edited on
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When trouble arises with a car bought from a dealer (motor trader) it’s best that drivers know their rights and what steps they should take to resolve matters to their satisfaction. After all, heated exchanges are unlikely to be the most effective way to settle any dispute.

In 2015, an important change was made to consumer rights, to offer greater protection to car buyers and create clear terms for dealers selling cars. If you have a problem with a car bought from a dealer and it does not have a warranty in place, follow these steps to help ensure the right outcome is reached.

How old is your car?

If your car does not have a warranty, then before you set out to have a fault fixed, bear in mind the Consumer Rights Act says that if the vehicle was purchased from a dealer more than six months ago, it’s up to the owner to prove any fault was present when they bought the car. That means a dealer doesn’t have to repair or replace anything.

However, it is always advisable to speak with the dealer and see if any amicable agreement can be reached. And for that reason, ensure that you maintain a professional approach; ranting and raving is unlikely to help matters.

Right to reject for the first 30 days

If you bought a car within the past 30 days, drove it for a period of time, then discovered that the clutch was worn out and starting to slip, you have the right to reject any vehicle that is ‘unsatisfactory’ and receive a full refund.

At least, that’s the principle. What it means in practice is that the goods, in this case your car, must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described. The slipping clutch is something that you may be happy to have fixed with a replacement.

Whereas if the engine has a misfire, or the car is suffering from electrical gremlins, getting to the root of the problem could be more of a challenge for the dealer. In that case, you would be better advised to reject the car and claim a full refund.

Bear in mind that any days the vehicle is in the workshop do not count towards the 30-day threshold.

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Right to repair a faulty car after 30 days

Should any fault occur after the 30-day period but within the first six months of owning a car, the Consumer Rights Act says a dealer is entitled to one attempt to repair the car, rather than replace it or refund the original purchase price.

If the first repair fails, you have the right to reject the car and ask for a refund. Or you may choose to let it attempt another fix. This does mean that the dealer can deduct a sum of money from the original purchase price to allow for the use you have had of the car.

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How to notify the dealer

Remember, the dealer is there to help. Reputable dealerships will want to ensure they have happy customers because these will most likely stay loyal and spread the word about the good service they’ve experienced. Dealerships are as keen as you to ensure an amicable outcome.

Telephone the dealer and inform it of the trouble you’ve been having with the vehicle, and the steps you’d like it to take. Take a relevant email or postal address and follow this up in writing. Then keep a record of all correspondence.

Is there an independent organisation that resolves disputes?

If you reach an impasse with a dealer, consider turning to the Motor Ombudsman.  It provides impartial automotive dispute resolution and operates according to Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI)-approved Motor Industry Codes of Practice.