Advice: Know your rights when buying a used car

Pat Hutchinson MBE.
Pat Hutchinson MBE.

By Pat Hutchinson MBE, District Manager, Newtownabbey CAB

Q: I saw an advert in the newspaper for a car costing £2,000. It said in the ad that the car had just been serviced and the oil and brake pads had been changed. We bought the car and two weeks later the car’s brake pads are squeaking and need replaced. The mechanic we took it to said the oil needs changing, the radiator is leaking, headlights are faulty and two of seatbelts don’t work. What are my rights? I want my money back.

A: When you buy a used car from a private seller, you don’t have the same rights as you do when buying from a dealer. You have no legal right to expect that the car is of satisfactory quality or fit for purpose, but there is a requirement that it should be ‘as described’.

The description covers all statements made about the car - in writing, in a conversation over the phone, in a newspaper advert, website, email or text, or in documentation.

Sometimes dealers pose as a private seller to avoid their legal obligations and to dispose of faulty or over-priced cars. It is illegal for a car dealer to pretend to be a private seller. Look out for these warning signs:

• adverts which only give a mobile phone number or specify a time to call (it may be a public phone box, not the seller’s home)

• cars advertised for sale in car parks, roadsides or other public spaces as well as in local newspapers and shop windows, and the same phone number appears in several adverts

• 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 seller’s home and there seem to be a lot of cars for sale on the street

• the seller’s name does not appear on the logbook as the last registered keeper

If considering buying a car privately you should:

• inspect the car thoroughly

• consider getting a history check, which would show if there was outstanding finance or insurance claims or whether it was reported stolen

• consider getting an independent report, which would tell you more about the condition of the car, although it can be expensive.

If a private seller sells you something that’s not theirs to sell or which doesn’t match its description, the first step you should take is to ask for a refund. You need to do this quickly otherwise you may lose your right to a full refund, although you may still have a right to compensation.

If the seller refuses to give you your money back, you may want to consider taking them to the Small Claims court as the value is under £3,000. This should always be a last resort.

You’ll need to think about whether you have enough evidence to take the seller to court and find out if they have enough money to make it worth your while. There’s no point taking them to court if they can’t repay you. You will also need their full contact details.

• Get free, confidential and independent advice from your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau or log on to

Call Newtownabbey CAB, Dunanney Centre, Rathcoole on 028 9085 2271 or email