thinking about buying a car?Before you buy | Buying from a dealer | Buying privately | Buying at an auction | Buying online
Before you buy
Decide how much you can afford to pay. Include the cost of insurance, road tax, petrol, repairs and servicing. Don't rush into a decision. Shop around. Look through price guides to see how much you should expect to pay for the car you want.
If you don't have much knowledge of cars, use our checklist. It gives the main things to look out for when assessing a car's condition, and tells you the signs that point to a car which has been stolen or clocked (had its mileage altered). As a back up, take someone with you who knows about cars.
Or you could pay for an independent inspection by a professional mechanic. Motoring organisations such as the AA or RAC offer this service.
Buying from a dealer
This is the safest way of buying as you get the maximum protection of the law. Look for an established firm with a good reputation. Ask family or friends if they can recommend anyone.
The Office of Fair Trading operates a Good Trader Scheme. Members of the Scheme have agreed to provide high standards of customers service. Check out the details of the Scheme and those businesses which are members.
A trade association sign may also mean that the firm follows a code of practice. The Retail Motor Industry Federation can tell you which local dealers subscribe to itscode of practice and if you have problems with a dealer who is a member of the Federation you can contact it for advice.
Look for a garage with a quality checking scheme, such as Ford Direct, Rover Approved or Vauxhall's Network Q.
When buying from a dealer your rights under the Sale of Goods Act still apply. And the car must be:
- Of satisfactory quality - it must meet the standards that a reasonable person would regard as acceptable, bearing in mind the way it was described, how much it cost and any other relevant circumstances. This covers, for example, the appearance and finish of the car, its safety and its durability.
The car must be free from defects, except those that were pointed out to you by the seller or which should have been uncovered by you if you inspected it (or had it inspected by someone else) before you agree to buy it.
You should also know: -
- it is not sufficient that a car is merely roadworthy and safe;
- the dealer may be liable for faults that were present at the time of the sale, even though they may only become apparent later on;
- dealers are not liable for fair wear and tear, when the car broke down through normal use, nor are they liable for your misuse or accidental damage.
- As described - a car said to have had "one careful lady owner" shouldn't turn out to have three previous owners, all males under 22;
- Reasonably fit for any normal purpose - it should get you from A to B - and for any other purpose that you specify to the seller - for example, towing a caravan;
- Reasonably fit for any other purpose you make known to the dealer - for example, if you require a vehicle for a specific purpose such as towing a caravan.
These rights are not affected by any mechanical breakdown insurance (often sold by dealers if the manufacturer's warranty has run out), guarantee or warranty giving additional protection. It's a good idea to get a description of the vehicle's condition from the dealer. Ask whether there is a pre-sale inspection checklist.
Some dealers may use disclaimers, such as 'Sold as Seen', 'Trade Sale Only' or 'No Refund' to try and limit your rights. However your rights under the Sale of Goods Act cannot be taken away or restricted by a dealer.
This should be cheaper than buying from a dealer. It is also riskier. You have fewer legal rights if you buy privately. The car must be as described and roadworthy but the other rights don't apply. If a private seller lies about the condition of a car, you can sue for your losses - if you can find the seller.
Some traders pretend to be private sellers to avoid their legal obligations and to get rid of faulty or over-priced cars. They advertise in local newspapers and shop windows.
Signs to look for include:
- ads which give a mobile phone number or specify a time to call. It may be a public phone box, not the sellers home;
- the same phone number appears in several ads;
- when you phone about the car, the seller asks "which one?";
- the seller wants to bring the car to you or meet you somewhere, rather than you going to the seller's home;
- when you get to the sellers home and there seems to be a lot of cars for sale on the street.
Buying at an auction
You can pick up a bargain at an auction but you need to know what you are doing. Go as a spectator first and see what happens.
If you don't know much about cars, take someone with you who does. Decide the maximum you can afford and stick to it. The entry form attached to the windscreen will give you an idea of the car's history.
Auctions are probably the riskiest way of buying a used car. Your usual legal rights may not apply if the seller issues a disclaimer, such as the term "sold as seen", which excludes all or some of those rights. Read the auctioneer's conditions of business carefully to check whether this is the case.
If you can attend the auction in person, the Sale of Goods Act remedies of repair or replacement, partial refund and full refund will not apply to used cars. However you would have the right to reject the car or to request compensation if the car was not of satisfactory quality or misdescribed. The auction house may put up notices excluding these rights, however the notices will only be effective if they are reasonable.
When buying a used car from a dealer over the internet, your rights are the same as when buying a car from a dealer in person.
However, if you are buying a used car from a private seller over the internet, your rights are limited to those you have when buying from a private seller in person.
If you find a car you want to buy you should always go and see the car - preferably in day light - before you pay a deposit or buy the car.
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