Purchasing a Vehicle – Knowing Your Consumer Rights and Making Informed Choices

There is a lot of speculation around the ‘best’ date of the month and time of the year to purchase a car. Some argue that March and September are optimal months due to the increased numbers of new car registrations, and subsequent pressure placed on car dealers to meet sales quotas. Others suggest that quieter times are better for the same reasons. Regardless of the month or time of purchase, understanding our rights when it comes to purchasing a new or used vehicle is important.

For most consumers, the purchase of a vehicle is a serious decision. Used vehicles and vehicle repairs are two of the most commonly complained-about consumer issues in Scotland, and it is important to make sure that vehicles are not only worth what you are paying for them, but also that they are safe to drive your loved ones around in.

If you are buying a used car, this is especially important because these vehicles have greater chances of having or developing issues, depending on the length of time and manner in which they have been used.

So, what steps can we take as consumers to ensure we are getting value for money, whilst ensuring family safety?

Find a reputable car dealer
The first thing you should do when buying a used car is look for a reputable car dealer. Some car dealers will advertise as being part of a trade organisation who may offer help if something goes wrong (for example, the Retail Motor Industry Federation or the Scottish Motor Trade Association). Alternatively, some traders may offer to have their cars inspected by an independent engineer or motoring organisation before sale to provide extra reassurance.

If you decide to buy from a private individual or, at an auction, you will generally have less rights if something goes wrong.

Avoid buying at auction or privately (unless you are an expert!)
Avoid buying at auction or privately – your purchase will not have the same level of consumer protection as buying from a car dealer.

Test drive the vehicle
Once you have identified a car that you are interested in, you should arrange to test drive it, (ensuring you have insurance to cover you for this). You may be covered under the car dealer’s insurance for this. 
You should also inspect the car for any damage, its usually best to do this during the day, and when it’s dry as any damage will be easier to see. The AA have a handy checklist of things to look out for when buying a used car which you can find here.  
The Motor Ombudsman can provide with details of where to go if you wish to have a car independently inspected, however there is a charge for this service.

Check the car’s history
Before agreeing to buy a car, you should check the car’s history. Look out for a record of regular MOT’s and question any gaps if a document cannot be produced, or if you have concerns about advisories and mileage discrepancies.  MOT history can be checked here and it is free of charge.
There are other checks that you can also do, including:

  • If the car has been reported stolen
  • Whether there is unpaid finance attached to the car
  • Whether the car has been in a serious accident, written off and then repaired.
  • Whether the mileage on the car is correct

These checks can be carried out via the following websites:

Please note that there might be a small charge to use these services.

Check the paperwork
When you buy a used car there are certain documents that must be provided to you. These include the logbook (you should never buy a car that does not have one) and any current MOT certificate. You must be given the original documents and not photocopies.

It is also important to know that car tax can no longer be transferred to another person. So as a new owner, you will have to pay for your own car tax straight away and the seller will then be refunded for any leftover tax when the car is sold.

Payment methods
It is also important to choose the right method of payment for you and your finances but also to ensure that you are fully protected in case something goes wrong. You should also check the levels of protection that finance agreements offer you if you are paying by this method.
Get an independent report of the vehicle before purchasing
You can ask a monitoring organisation or specialist company to conduct a report the vehicle that will identify any issues. This will cost roughly £150. The Motor Ombudsman can provide advice on how and where to contact to get an independent report.

Consider the price before purchasing.
You should remember that you can walk away from any deal before purchase is made. Make sure you do not buy a vehicle you cannot afford. Do not be afraid to haggle if you believe the price is too high. If you are buying a car through hire purchase, you should also consider the interest and any final payments that will be required.

What if there is an issue after the car is purchased?
If there is an issue with the vehicle that violates your consumer rights, you will have the legal right to a refund or a free repair. Your consumer rights will not have been violated if any of the following apply:

  • The issue with the car was caused by you after the purchase.
  • The issue was something that could reasonably be identified before purchase (e.g., you are shown the vehicle and it has a clearly visible dent)
  • The issue is the result of wear and tear from the vehicle’s extensive use. These are issues that are expected from a vehicle that has been used for a certain period.
  • The trader made you aware of the fault before the vehicle was purchased.

If you do encounter a fault that does not come under any of the above, you should contact the trader with evidence. You should state that your rights have been violated under the Consumer Rights Act of 2015, and you are entitled to the cost of repair (if bought from a dealer), or a refund of costs to meet the description (if bought privately).

If you would like advice or guidance on any consumer matter, you can contact on 0808 164 6000. We are open 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday.

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