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Our rights when buying a car or getting a car repaired

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Here are our rights and protection as a car buyer or owner under a variety of laws.


An EC study found this week that we in the UK are more dissatisfied with the second-hand car industry than any other, including banking, investments and real estate. The industry we're fourth-least happy with (out of 51) is the new car industry, including sales.

Vehicle repair and maintenance fares significantly better, but still only comes in 28th place.

However, a variety of laws and some legally-binding consumer codes offer protection when buying new or second-hand cars, when borrowing to buy a car, and when getting your car serviced or repaired.

Legally-binding consumer codes of conduct

It still doesn't seem to have hit many industries yet that voluntary consumer codes are legally binding on all those signed up to them. This rule was hidden in the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, which took effect in 2008.

Presumably, however, the motor repair and servicing industry is aware of this, because it has two codes that have been specially approved, or re-approved, by the Office of Fair Trading recently.

These are the Motor Codes “Motor Industry Service and Repair Code” and the Vehicle Builders and Repairers “Code of Practice”. Look out for repairers signed up to one of these.

Both codes protect you in similar ways by setting out rules for repairers.

  • Written quotations or estimates must show a full breakdown of labour, parts and all other applicable costs.
  • Replaced parts must be available for your inspection.
  • Repairers must ask your permission before proceeding when further work is required.
  • Repairers must be signed up to a low cost, independent redress scheme for customers.
  • Both codes include basic cancellation rights, complaints-handling guidelines and advertising guidelines.

The Motor Codes' code of conduct bans up-front deposit taking and repairers signed up to it must allow customer reviews on the Motor Codes website, but beware fake reviews; I think I've seen a few. I would also imagine that many repairers only direct happy customers to the website.

Each code has extra, unique rules about payment options, staff conduct, high-pressure sales tactics, minimum warranty periods on work carried out, the option to cancel work if it will take longer than expected, and more.

Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations

Paying with a deposit

According to the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations, it might be unfair if you're required to put money down up front and then lose this money if you pull out, unless a term in the contract requires the car seller or repairer to compensate you in a similar way if it pulls out. Requiring you pay a disproportionately high sum for pulling out might also be deemed unfair.

The business isn't the only judge

It might be unlawful if a contract gives the trader the only say in whether the vehicle or repairs meet the agreed contract, or if the contract gives the trader the sole rights to interpret any terms in the contract.

Use of Plain English

If a contract term is unclear, it must be interpreted in the way that is most favourable for the customer.

Individually negotiated terms

All of the above rights don't apply if you have negotiated the disputed contract term individually. The term has to be standard.

Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations

Misleading or aggressive actions

According to the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, misleading or aggressive actions are prohibited. If this would have caused the “average customer” to take a different cause of action, such as to buy a car, agree to repairs, or to not cancel a contract, it's likely to be unlawful under these regulations.

Claiming to be signed up to a code of conduct

It is unlawful for a trader to pretend to be signed up to a code of conduct or to display any kind of mark of trust without authorisation, such as the Thatcham BSI Kitemark. If the trader claims to be affiliated with a public or private body, such as DuPont Five Star (which would give customers a lifetime warranty on paint repair quality) and it isn't, the same applies.

"Bait and switch"

According to CPUTR, it's unlawful for a seller to promote a car, then refuse to show it to you – or show a defective version – in order to then try to sell another vehicle to you.

Limited time offer

Here's one activity that most industries still partake in even though it was made unlawful by CPUTR four years ago: pretending that a particular offer is on for a very limited time, in order to pressure you to buy immediately.

Stolen vehicles

It's unlawful for a trader to sell you a stolen car or part.

Harassment

Making persistent calls or emails beyond the extent justified to try to enforce a contractual obligation.

Asking customer's permission before doing further work

CPUTR forbids repairers from carrying out extra repairs without permission and then refusing to release the vehicle without receiving full payment.

Under the Sale of Goods Act and Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumer Regulations

Refunds

If a car is defective, unsafe or otherwise doesn't conform to its description, the Sale of Goods Act and the Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations (SOGA/SSGCR) give you rights across Europe to a refund, particularly if the fault occurs soon after buying, but also if there are problems a bit later on and there are unreasonable delays in getting the vehicle repaired or replaced. It's still best to complain about problems as soon as possible.

Repair and replacement

When you buy a defective car, repairs must not cause you significant inconvenience and the seller must bear all the costs. You can require the seller to reduce the purchase price if repairs or other remedies are unrealistic in a reasonable period of time.

Note that if you buy through an auction that you have – or could have – attended in person, your rights to refunds, repairs and replacements are more limited. These limitations don't apply to internet and telephone auctions.

Warranties and guarantees

After any warranty or guarantee period, or after six months, you might have to prove that any defect existed before you purchased. Guarantees are transferable to subsequent buyers.

Car is damaged in transit

If a car is being dropped off to the customer and is damaged on the way, SOGA/SSGCR requires the seller to take responsibility.

Free ombudsman for loan or debt-collection complaints

The Financial Ombudsman Service is free to all who have a complaint about a lender or debt collector. If the ombudsman rules in your favour, it can order the company to compensate you.

Getting a refund

If a seller or repairer breaches your contract, mis-sells something to you, or commits fraud, and you have paid a deposit or even in full using a loan or credit card, you can usually get all your money back from your lender using section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

Right to cancel internet orders

Under The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations, if you buy a car online and you haven't customised it, you usually have the right to a full refund if you cancel within seven days of receiving or picking up the vehicle. It's your duty to return the vehicle.

If you have part-exchanged, the seller will return your car. If that's not possible, it must pay you its pre-agreed value. If no value was pre-agreed, the seller must pay a reasonable sum.

Buying cars or services from private sellers

If the car or service you buy is from a private individual instead of a sole trader or limited company, the above laws don't apply. However, according to CPUTR, a dealer can't put a car on the road with a handwritten sign to pretend that he's a private individual instead of a trader.

Complaining about breaches of law

If you don't have access to an independent redress scheme, such as through the Motor Code or through legal expenses insurance, and if you can't use the Financial Ombudsman Service for your complaint (because it's not linked to a loan or debt) your only way to get redress is through the courts.

The courts can order traders to compensate you for financial loss and even to pay you for stress and inconvenience. They could also strike out terms in a contract, or the contract in its entirety. It's relatively easy, cheap, and informal to make a small-claims petition in the courts yourself. You can read more in Small claims court: get the money you are owed. However, if you lose, you don't get those costs back.

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