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Over £55 million spent on dodgy used cars

28 August 2012

Citizens Advice is warning consumers to be on the lookout for problem motors after dodgy used cars bought from independent dealers topped the list of the ten most complained about consumer issues between April and June of this year.

There were over 12,000 complaints about second hand cars bought from independent dealers - 8 per cent of all cases the Citizens Advice consumer service dealt with and three times as many complaints as those made about used cars bought from private sellers and franchise dealerships.

In total, our callers spent a staggering £55 million on used cars from independent dealers where the car or the assistance from the dealer was not up to scratch. Two thirds of the complaints about independent used car dealers were about the car being faulty and over 1 in 10 revolved around salespeople giving misleading information about the vehicle.

Also causing problems for consumers were faulty furniture and mobile phone contracts with poor service or customer service. Problems with second hand cars bought from a franchise dealer was the tenth most complained about issue.

The full top ten consumer complaints between April and June 2012 were:

  1. Used cars bought from an independent dealer
  2. Problems with upholstered furniture
  3. Mobile phone contracts
  4. Repairs from an independent garage
  5. Problems with women’s clothing
  6. Mobile phone handsets
  7. Building work
  8. Troublesome TVs
  9. Lap-tops, notebooks and tablet PCs
  10. Second hand cars bought from a franchise dealer

It’s not just the Citizens Advice consumer service which has been helping people with their car troubles – during the same period, Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales dealt with over 3,500 problems around second hand cars including the car being unsafe or not working properly.

Over two years ago the Office of Fair Trading gave traders guidance on selling used cars to help them comply with consumer protection law – yet as our evidence shows many people are still falling victim to bad practice.

Citizens Advice wants to see a robust approved code introduced for the second hand car market which will help buyers filter the good dealers from the bad by identifying the sellers willing to go the extra mile to make sure their customers get a car that is in good working order and one they are happy with.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:

“It’s time these dealers parked their sharp practices. People save for years to update their car or buy one for the first time. If you’re not a motor head, stepping onto a used car dealer’s forecourt can feel like entering a lion’s den. But there are things consumers can do to protect themselves, like looking out for unusually low mileage on an old car, which could mean it’s been tampered with.

“The Citizens Advice consumer service and local bureaux are at hand to help people with their consumer problems. And we also have practical information to guide consumers through big purchases – like buying a car or signing up to a mobile phone contract.”

Citizens Advice has put together top tips for buying a used car to help consumers avoid a motoring minefield. And there is also an online step by step guide on how to buy a used car which includes a checklist for viewing a second hand car, the different ways you can buy a second hand car and your rights as well as how to do independent checks on the car.

Anyone looking for advice on a consumer issue can call 08454 04 05 06, get help online at or visit their local Citizens Advice Bureaux.

Top tips for buying a used car

1. Know what you want - whether it is a fuel efficient family car or a little run around that’s kinder to the environment, by knowing what you want you’re less likely to end up with something that is not suitable for your needs.

2. Get a feel for how much it should cost - you can research the market by looking at second hand car advertisements in your local press or online. You could also use an online guide to used car values. That way you’ll know a good deal when you see one and can spot a rip-off a mile away.

3. Find a reliable dealer - look for an established firm with a good reputation and ask friends for recommendations. If the dealer displays a trade association sign it means the dealer is likely to follow a code of practice. You can check with the trade association to find out if the dealer is genuinely a member. And look for a dealer whose cars have been inspected by an independent engineer or motoring organisation.

4. Look over the car’s condition - check every aspect of the car, from the paintwork to headlights, tyres to seatbelts (if the seatbelts don’t work properly this is a significant safety issue and your car wouldn’t pass an MOT).

5. Check the mileage - is it about right for the car’s age? Average mileage is around 10,000 per year. If the mileage is much higher than this, the car could be more likely to develop problems. If it is much lower, this might indicate it has been tampered with. If the odometer numbers are out of line this could mean the mileage has been tampered with. The mileage should be on the MOT and on DVLA details for change of ownership

6. Investigate history of the car - this will help reduce your chances of buying a car that is being sold illegally. You can make several different checks through the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), a private history check and an MOT check.

7. Take it for a test drive - check the brakes by doing an emergency stop on an empty road and try the handbrake out on a hill. Listen for any unusual banging or rattling and if the engine sounds different when the car is not moving and the clutch is pressed. Look out for whether the steering wheel shakes/vibrates, the car pulls to one side, if it is difficult to change gear or there is a strong smell of petrol or oil as these can all indicate potential problems.

8. Be wary of specific buying terms - if you see signs such as ‘sold as seen’ or ‘no refund’ as these are illegally trying to limit your rights.

9. Make sure you fully understand the conditions of the sale - before you commit to buying a car. That includes the trade-in price of your existing car (if you have one) and any finance agreement, including deposit terms, interest charges, monthly repayments, how much you’ll pay altogether and payment protection options.

10. Use your consumer rights - when you buy a car from a dealer, the car must be of satisfactory quality; be fit for the purpose it's being used for, and match its description. If it doesn’t then you have a right to a repair, replacement or refund.

Notes to editors:

  1. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local bureaux, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
  2. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  3. To find your local bureau in England and Wales, visit You can also get advice online at
  4. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers
  5. Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.3 million clients on 5.4 million problems from October 2013 to September 2014. For full 2013/2014  service statistics see our quarterly publication Advice trends
  6. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 3,000 service outlets across England and Wales.