Cars are complex machines with so many things that can go wrong.

Buying a used car is more complicated as some of those things may be expected to happen depending on the age and mileage of the car (e.g. brake pads wearing out after about 50,000 miles).

Add in the lifespan of parts being variable depending on how the car was driven and maintained and it can be a bit of a minefield. So here’s our guide to your rights when buying a used car from a trader.

Your rights

Generally speaking the car should be of satisfactory quality, fit for its purpose (including any purpose you make known to the trader - for example being suitable for going off road) and be as described. This includes photographs of the car, descriptions on the car (such as the odometer reading or the presence of a feature such as air conditioning), descriptions written in an advert or told to you by the salesperson. Verbal descriptions are harder to prove so if it's an important description (that’s not made elsewhere) ask the salesperson to write it on the receipt.

So what does satisfactory quality actually mean?

The car will be of satisfactory quality if it is of the standard any reasonable person would expect, taking account of the price you paid and the description applied to it.

So, for example, you wouldn’t expect the head gasket to go on a 12 month old car with 10,000 miles on the clock. If that happened soon after purchase, the car probably wouldn’t be of satisfactory quality. However, it is more reasonable to expect the head gasket to go on a 12 year old car with 100,000 miles on the clock, unless its described as having been recently changed - so that car is more likely to still be considered to be of satisfactory quality.

What you are entitled to

Depending on the circumstances, you may be entitled to some or all of your money back or a repair or a replacement. Generally speaking you are only likely to receive a full refund if the fault appeared and you complained about it within the first 30 days after you bought the car.
After this point, in most cases traders are entitled to reduce any refund you are entitled to by an amount which reflects the use you had out of the car.

When something goes wrong

If you think the trader is in breach of contract (e.g. because the car is faulty or was misdescribed), get in touch with Citizens Advice Consumer Services online or call them on 0808 223 1133. Citizens Advice will be able to explain what you are entitled to based on your circumstances and advise you on how to resolve the issue. 

For more information on your rights when buying a second hand car, visit the Citizens Advice website or the Which? website.