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Buying a car from a dealer - what you need to know

Buying a car from a dealer can be more expensive than buying one privately, but you have more legal protection if things go wrong.

This page explains how you can find a reliable dealer and outlines your rights when you buy a car from one.

Top tip

Some dealers offer special incentives to persuade you to buy, such as a year’s insurance, road tax or extended warranties. Before you buy, think about whether the offer is really worth it. Make sure you have proof of the offer.

Finding a reliable dealer

Buying a car from a dealer is the safest way to buy, as you get the maximum legal protection. But there are dodgy dealers, so check whether your dealer follows a code of practice, stays within the law, and gives you all the information you need.

Use these tips to find a reliable dealer:

  • look for an established firm with a good reputation
  • ask for recommendations and advice from friends
  • look for a trade association sign, which means a dealer will follow a code of practice
  • check with the trade association to find out whether the dealer is genuinely a member
  • look for a dealer whose cars have been inspected by an independent engineer or motoring organisation
  • if the cars have been inspected, ask to see the report on the car you want to buy. It may not be as detailed as the one you pay for yourself, but it will provide useful information
  • be wary if you see signs such as sold as seen or no refund, which try to limit your rights.

Top tip

Before you commit to buying a car, make sure you fully understand:

  • the conditions of the sale
  • the trade-in price of your existing car, if you have one
  • any finance agreement, including deposit terms, interest charges, monthly repayments and payment protection options.

Your rights when you buy a car from a dealer

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.

Your rights are not affected by any breakdown insurance, guarantee or warranty you have. These offer you additional ways of sorting out problems but they do not take away a dealer’s responsibilities.

Satisfactory quality

There are no precise standards for what satisfactory quality means for a used car. What you'd expect from a ten-year-old Ford used as a towing vehicle would be very different from a two-year-old Ferrari with a low mileage.

Before you buy, make sure you're happy with the quality of the car taking into account:

  • its age and make
  • its past history and mileage
  • its description
  • the price you intend to pay
  • what you intend to use it for
  • any other relevant circumstances

The car shouldn't have any defects, except what the seller points out to you before you agree to buy it. Or anything obvious that you should be able to see when you inspect the car.

Dealers are not liable for:

  • fair wear and tear, for example if the car breaks down during normal use
  • if you mis-use the car
  • if you cause accidental damage.

Fit for the purpose it's being used for

The car should get you from A to B with the appropriate degree of comfort, ease of handling and reliability that a reasonable person would expect.

If you say you want the car for a particular use, for example for towing a caravan, it must be able to do it.

Matches its description

The description includes all statements made about the car. This includes in writing, in a conversation over the phone or in the showroom, in a newspaper, website, email or text, or in documentation. For example, if the advert says there's air conditioning and a CD player, the car should come with these features and they should work properly.

Some dealers use a disclaimer, such as sold as seen or no refunds, to try to limit your rights. A dealer should not routinely do this, so always ask to see what checks they have made on the car and its history.

In a roadworthy condition

The car you buy must be roadworthy. This means it must be fit and safe to drive. The Road Traffic Act makes it illegal for anyone to sell a car that is not roadworthy. This applies equally to private sellers and car dealers.

Next steps

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