Car prices have jumped to record highs this year, prompting many people to buy second-hand, but how many of us know our rights when buying a car that’s been previously owned?

A shortage of parts for new cars has meant that demand for second-hand cars has soared in recent months – along with prices. Compared to the same time last year, the average like-for-like price of a used car in April was over 32% higher, with some cars, such as the Renault Scenic, increasing by more than 60% in price, according to AutoTrader. 

While experts anticipate that as supply issues are resolved, the prices of second-hand cars will ease, this could take some time. So, if you’re in the market for a second-hand car, here we outline your rights and a few things to watch out for.

Know your rights when buying a car second-hand

Buying a car second-hand can feel tricky and fraught with risk, but the good news is there are legal safeguards in place that might help provide you with some protection. Generally, people will buy a used car either through a dealership (or garage) or from a private seller.

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Your rights when buying second-hand from a dealership

If you’re buying a second-hand car from a dealership, your purchase is protected by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. The detail of this act is wordy, but it essentially means that when you buy a second-hand car, it should be:

  • Of satisfactory quality – the car should function as you would expect it to and the condition and performance of the car should be in line with its age, price and mileage.
  • Fit for purpose – The car should be able to function as it was designed to, and be fit for purpose. For example, if you’re buying a 4×4, it should be able to go on all terrain and have four-wheel drive.
  • As described – Whatever the advert or dealership says the car can do, it should be able to, and this isn’t just about performance, but the added features and appearance of the car.

If it turns out that the car doesn’t match its description once you’ve bought it, you might have a couple of options, depending on when the issue arises.

If something goes wrong with your car within the first 30 days of you buying it, for example,  it suffers a mechanical fault or it turns out it doesn’t have one or more of the features advertised, you can raise this with the dealership and ask for a full refund. 

If something goes wrong after 30 days but within six months, you can ask the dealership to either repair or replace your car – they will choose which is the most appropriate option. Of course, this doesn’t cover fair wear and tear of the car, and you might need to prove that the issue is due to something that was wrong with the car when you actually bought it rather than a problem that has arisen subsequently. 

The dealership only has one chance to fix the problem, unless you agreed otherwise when you bought the car. If the dealership can’t repair or replace your car, you are entitled to a price reduction or a refund. Bear in mind though that the dealership is only required to give you a refund minus a deduction for any usage (your usage is usually worked out from the mileage you’ve done).

If something goes wrong more than six months after you purchased the car, you still might be able to make a claim with your dealership, but you’ll need to prove that the car was faulty when you got it, which can be tricky.

Your rights when buying from a private seller

Unfortunately, when buying from a private seller, you won’t get the same level of protection as when buying from a dealership. Your only real protection is the Misrepresentation Act, which you can make a claim against if the car you’ve bought doesn’t match the description that the seller gave in the advert.

This means that it’s up to you to ask the right questions and run the right checks prior to handing over any money so make sure the car you’re buying is as described. We explore these checks below.

What checks should you carry out when buying a second-hand car?

Before you buy a second-hand car, there are a few things you should check. If you’re buying your car from a dealership, they will often carry out these checks for you, but if you’re buying privately, you’ll probably have to do them yourself. These checks include:

Checking the car’s details with the DVLA

This essentially makes sure that the car has been taxed and has a current MOT. The best way to do this is to ask the seller to provide you with the car’s:

  • Registration number
  • MOT test number
  • Mileage
  • Make and model

You might already have most of this information if you are buying from an online used car platform like AutoTrader, but if you aren’t sure about any of the points, it’s completely reasonable to ask the seller.

You can then put this information into the DVLA’s vehicle information checker. If anything doesn’t match the information the seller has given you, it might be worth reconsidering your purchase.

Look at the MOT history

You’ll want to know that the car you are looking at buying has had regular MOTs throughout its lifespan. You can do this for free through gov.uk’s MOT history checker. Any gaps in these records should raise a red flag and you should ask the seller about them. In some scenarios, they can be easy to explain, for example, if the car wasn’t being used and was registered under a statutory off-road notification (SORN) then there might be a gap for the period of time. If this is the case, the seller should have evidence of this, which you can ask to see.

If, however, you aren’t happy with their response, then it’s probably a good idea to walk away.

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Pay for an enhanced check

For further peace of mind, it can be a good idea to pay for further checks to be run on the car you’re thinking of buying. An enhanced check will usually tell you:

  • If the car has been stolen or scrapped.
  • Whether the seller still owes money on the car – if the seller took out car finance to buy the car and still has some payments left, in some cases this can transfer to the new owner, so it’s important to understand what you are signing up for.
  • If the car was ever in a serious accident.
  • Whether the mileage is correct.
  • If the car has ever been written off and then repaired for use.

Some might also include whether there are any upcoming repairs or services due on the car.

This kind of check can cost you anywhere from a few pounds up to around £20 but could save you a lot of money in the long run. There are a number of websites that offer this service, including RAC and AA, although a quick Google search will give you hundreds more options too.

Take it for a test drive

If everything seems to add up on paper, make sure you give the car a thorough once over yourself and take it for a test drive.

Arrange a viewing of the car in the daylight, when it’s not raining to give yourself the best chance of spotting if anything’s wrong with it. If you’re buying from a private seller, it’s a good idea to ask to meet and view the car at their house. This way, if anything goes wrong, you have a note of their home address.

Of course, if you aren’t a car expert, which most of us aren’t, it’s worth thinking about getting a mechanic to do an inspection for you. These aren’t the cheapest and can range from around £50 to over £200, but could prove invaluable if the car has a major fault. Again, both the RAC and AA offer these inspections, but you should also be able to find a garage in your local area that does them by searching on Google.

While you’re there, ask to see the seller’s V5C certificate, also known as the logbook, which should show they are the registered keeper of the vehicle. It’s a legal requirement that all car owners have this. Compare the information on the certificate with the car itself, and if any information doesn’t match, for example, the number plate is different, it could be a sign that it’s stolen. If you think this is the case, you should try to leave as soon as possible and contact the police to report it. Another way to check that the car being sold is legitimate is by checking the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the logbook with the one on the car. You can usually find this at the base of the windscreen, inside the driver’s door, or under the bonnet. 

If you’re satisfied with the paperwork and have checked the mechanics, taking the car for a test drive is a really useful way of figuring out if it’s in good shape or not, but before you do, you’ll need to make sure you are insured to drive it. Your insurance might cover you, but you’ll need to check that it does before you get behind the wheel. You might also be covered by the seller or dealership’s insurance, but whatever you do, don’t test drive the car without cover, you could end up paying for any damage and may even get points on your licence.

What documents do you need to get when buying a second-hand car?

If you’re happy to go ahead with your car purchase, then it’s time to start negotiating. The good news is that if you’ve carried out all the checks we’ve listed above, you should be in a stronger position to haggle over the car’s price. For more tips on this, have a look at our article 12 tips for buying or selling a car.

Once you’ve agreed on the price, there are a few things that you need to make sure you get from the seller:

The ‘new keeper’ slip from the car’s log book (V5C registration certificate)

This is the document that proves who is the registered keeper of the car. Confusingly it doesn’t actually prove you own the car (we’ll cover how you prove this below) but rather that you are the one responsible for registering and taxing it. 

When you buy the car, the person selling it is responsible for transferring the ownership to you with the DVLA, which they can do online. They’ll then fill out the  V5C/2 slip also known as the green ‘new keeper’ slip and give this to you. They’ll then destroy their version of the V5C certificate, and a new log book should be sent to you with your name and address on it within five days.

It’s absolutely vital that you get this slip, and you shouldn’t buy a car that doesn’t have this.

MOT certificates

You’ll want to get both the current MOT certificate and any historic MOT certificates from the seller when you buy the car so you can demonstrate its MOT history.

Receipt of your purchase

This is a really important step that is often overlooked, but when you buy a car from someone, it’s important to get a receipt of your purchase so that you can prove you actually own the car. While many people think the V5C certificate shows ownership, it actually only shows who is responsible for the vehicle as its registered keeper. Often, the keeper and the owner are the same person, but not always.

If you’re buying from a private seller it may feel a little odd to ask them for a receipt, but it’s common practice. The AA has a template you can use to create a receipt, giving you the official ownership of the car.

Once you’ve got all of this, you’ll be well on your way to getting your car sorted, but don’t forget to tax and insure the car, but if you’ve followed the above points, you should have everything you need to do this.

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Finally…

Buying a car can be one of the most expensive purchases you make, even if you’re buying second-hand, so if at any point you feel unsure about the car you’re looking at, remember you can walk away at any point.