Advice: The second hand car I bought broke down after three weeks. What are my rights?

Pat Hutchinson MBE.
Pat Hutchinson MBE.

By Pat Hutchinson MBE, District Manager, Citizens Advice Newtownabbey

Q: I saw an advert in the newspaper for a car, the price was £2,500. It said in the advertisement that the car had just been serviced, oil changed, brake pads renewed and a new battery fitted. I bought the car, but three weeks later it wouldn’t start and the mechanic I took it to told me it needs a new battery and new brake pads. What are my rights?

A: Your rights depend on how the car was described to you. You won’t be entitled to anything just because the car is faulty or because the seller failed to mention something in the advert. The car should be true to the advert and what you were told by the person you bought it from.

If the seller gave a disclaimer before you bought the car, you may not have any rights. They’ll have had to follow the right procedures, so it could still be worth raising your problem.

As the car was not ‘as described’, you’ll be entitled to one of the following:

• the cost of a repair plus new battery

• the difference in value between what you paid and what the car is really worth

• a refund - so long as you haven’t customised the car since you bought it, eg painted it a different colour

Ask for the car to be repaired: Ask the seller if they’ll pay for the repair. If not, take the following steps:

• Get three quotes for the work. If you can, ask friends and family to recommend a reliable car garage. This may make you feel more comfortable than letting the seller choose someone.

• Tell the seller that you’re getting three quotes - get them to agree to it. Keep a record of your conversations and correspondence, and get all verbal agreements in writing.

• Go back to the seller with the quotes, and get them to agree to pay for the work.

Ask for the difference in value: This is more useful if the problem with the car doesn’t stop you from using it.

You’ll need to agree on how much the car is really worth, and ask for the difference between what you paid and what the car is really worth.

What to say: The seller might not agree with what you’re asking for - they may try to say you don’t have rights, or that they don’t owe you anything.

Let them know you understand what you’re entitled to. You can say something like this:

“Under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, this car should be of a satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described. My rights have been breached because the car you sold me is faulty. I would like you to put this right by giving me a refund/repairing the car at your cost.”

Keep a record of your conversations and correspondence, and get all verbal agreements in writing.

If you’re still not getting anywhere, take the following steps:

1. Fill in and send a complaint letter to the seller (see

2. Choose a Trading Standards-approved ADR scheme yourself to try and solve the problem more informally. It’ll help you later if you end up going to court.

3. Take your case to small claims, the small claims court deals with claims with a value of less than £3,000. The court option should be the last resort as it can be expensive and time-consuming.

• Get free, confidential and independent advice from your nearest Citizens Advice – go to or call at: Citizens Advice Newtownabbey, Dunanney Centre, Rathmullan Drive, Rathcoole, Newtownabbey, BT37 9DQ. Telephone advice is available 9am – 4pm each day on 028 9085 2271 (Lunch 1:00 - 1:30pm), email advice is available at