No matter where a customer chooses to buy a vehicle or how they choose to purchase it, the best advice is to not sign anything or hand over any money until they are completely happy with the sale.

Roughly six million used cars change hands ever year, so there is no need to rush into a purchase as it is almost certain that there is another similar car available.

If any doubts about the car or its history arise during the buying process, then it is safer to not proceed with the purchase. Regardless of whether or not the law is in favour of the customer, recovering money through the courts can be expensive and time-consuming.

Customers buying rights depend upon where they buy their chosen car. Customers will have less protection from the law when purchasing privately or from an auction compared to buying from a dealer.

Car dealers

Generally, the safest bet when buying a new or used car is when purchasing a model from a car dealer, as it represents maximum legal protection with the least risk.

Dealers are obliged to prepare the model before offering it for sale. This includes verifying the accuracy of the car’s recorded mileage.

Sales of Goods Act

New or used cars that have been bought from a car dealer fall under the laws laid out in the Sales of Goods Act.

The Sales of Goods Act states that any items bought from a Trader must be:

  • Of satisfactory quality
  • Fit for purpose, and
  • As described.

Furthermore, the dealer must possess the right to sell the vehicle and is legally obliged to sort out any problems if the model fails to meet these basic requirements.

Satisfactory quality means that the car should be of a standard that a reasonable person would expect. Satisfactory quality takes into account factors such as:

  • Age
  • Value
  • History
  • Mileage
  • Make
  • Durability
  • Safety
  • Description.

For example, an old car with high mileage is not expected to be as good as a younger model with low mileage, but each should be roadworthy, reliable and in a condition that is consistent with its age/price.

Remember that the dealer is liable for any faults with the purchased vehicle that were present at the time it was sold – even ones that may only become apparent later on.

However, the dealer is not liable for fair wear and tear, where the vehicle broke down or faults that have emerged through normal use. In addition, dealers are not liable if they drew the attention of the customers to the full extent of any fault or defect before they purchased the model.

Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations

When selling a new or used car, dealers must comply with the requirements of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (2008). These regulations prohibit dealers from engaging in unfair business practices across five main categories:

  • Giving false information – dealers cannot give false information verbally, visually or in writing, such as misrepresenting the model’s specification or history any time before, during or after the transaction
  • Giving insufficient information – dealers should not leave out or try to hide important information about a vehicle. This includes not disclosing the existence and results of all checks carried out on the model’s mechanical condition, history and mileage or failing to notify the customer of key elements of any warranty
  • Acting aggressively – dealers should not use high pressure selling techniques to sell a vehicle or associated finance or warranty to a customer
  • Failing to act in accordance with reasonable expectations of what’s acceptable
  • Banning outright of 31 specific practices – this includes: falsely claiming to be a signatory to a Code of Practice; falsely claiming to be approved; endorsed or authorised by a public or private body; falsely stating that a vehicle will only be available for a very limited time in order to prompt an immediate decision to purchase.

Consumer remedies

If a model turns out to not be of satisfactory quality, then the remedy will depend on the time that has passed and the nature of the vehicle’s fault. In such cases, it is best to seek legal advice.

However, you can make sure that you do not get caught out by asking the right questions and getting any and all agreements in writing. For example:

  • What mechanical, mileage or history checks has the dealer carried out on the chosen vehicle?
  • How many and what type of owner has the vehicle had?
  • Has the vehicle been modified or involved in an accident and repaired?
  • Is the dealer signed up to a Code of Practice? Also, what is their customer complaints procedure?


If a customer wishes to buy a vehicle over the Internet, their rights will depend upon who the seller is.

For customers buying a vehicle online from a dealer, they will have the same rights as they would if they walked into the dealership and bought their chosen model face-to-face.

However, the Distance Selling Regulations give the customer the additional right to cancel their order within seven working days and receive a full refund within 30 days.

The same rules apply if customers purchase a model from a dealer on a ‘buy it now’ basis using an online auction site.

Distance Selling Regulations require that a customer should be given clear information about the ‘product’ that they are about to buy. This includes receiving accurate details, delivery arrangements, supplier details and the full price of the model including taxes and charges to cover extras such as delivery.

Customers should also be given written information about how they can cancel their contract and a postal address.

If customers purchase a vehicle online from a private seller, they have the same rights as if buying face-to-face from a private seller. This also applies if they are buying a car online from an auction site where they bid to buy from a private seller.


Customers who purchase a vehicle privately need to be wary, as they will not have the same legal protection as buying from a dealer. Also, it is up to the customer to ask the right questions and inspect the car before purchasing in this scenario.

Furthermore, it is recommended that customers get an independent engineer to give the car a thorough mechanical inspection, as well as getting a car history check to make sure that the model has no shady past.

As the legal rights of the customer are more limited, some unscrupulous dealers may pose as private sellers. For this reason, be wary if a private seller wants to meet up somewhere other than their home or if their name is not on the V5C registration document.

Remember: a dealer who is pretending to be a private seller is committing a criminal offence.

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 – it is a criminal offence to sell an unroadworthy car an MOT certificate from a test several months ago is no guarantee that the car is roadworthy today


Customers who buy a vehicle at a live auction will have very little legal protection and this method of buying is not an ideal place for the inexperienced.

Customers should make sure that they check the specific terms and conditions of the auction they are attending before bidding.

If their rights under the sale of goods act are excluded then they are buying a model that is being ‘sold as seen’. Therefore, customers should check the vehicle over thoroughly before bidding.

Generally, the auctioneer will not be liable if the seller does not have the right to sell the vehicle in the first place – such as if the model is stolen. Any comeback customers may have will be against the seller himself – if they can find him.

Some auctions offer ‘guarantees’ or ‘insurance’ for an extra sum, but any rights are limited, so check the wording on any paperwork carefully.

Furthermore, there may be a cooling off period too but this is likely to be very short.