What are my legal rights when buying a used car?

Buying a car is one of the biggest purchases most of us make. Read our guide for key tips you need to stay protected.

The Law

The Sale of Goods Act states that any car you buy from a trader must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and be as described, which means it must be in reasonable condition for its age, mileage, value and description.

When buying a car, it should be fault-free and the supplying dealer is responsible for any faults with the vehicle when it was sold, even if these problems only come to light later on.

The dealer/seller is not liable for reasonable wear and tear through use, such as worn tyres. Nor is the dealer responsible if they made you aware of a fault with the car before selling it to you.

Legal obligation

Ensuring the car is fit for purpose is down to the dealer. If you explain you want to use a car for a specific purpose and a problem arises due to this, then the dealer may be liable as they should have sold you a car suitable for the purpose you explained. If you didn't tell the dealer then they cannot be held accountable if the car is not suitable.

Fair practice

Car dealers are also bound by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (2008). This prevents dealers from partaking in unfair business dealings covering five main areas: giving false information, giving insufficient information, acting aggressively, failing to act in accordance with reasonable expectations of what’s acceptable, and banning outright many specific practices.

Online protection

With more people buying cars over the internet, online sales law applies for dealers. Distance Selling Regulations apply that give the buyer an extra seven days to cancel an order and receive a full refund within 30 days, even if you use a ‘buy it now’ deal online. This law also states the dealer must give an accurate description of the car and disclose any additional charges for delivery or registration.


If you buy a car from a dealer and it develops problems, you have the right to reject it and demand a full refund. However, the law says the dealer is entitled to fix the car before it can be rejected. You must also reject a car at the earliest possible opportunity, so there’s no point trying this when you’ve driven it thousands of miles.

Private deals

With private car sales, the law provides much less protection. A private seller must own the car and it should not be subject to any outstanding finance. They also have to describe it properly and it has to be roadworthy unless otherwise stated.

It’s up to the buyer to carry out a vehicle history check, inspect the car thoroughly and make sure all of the documents match the car. Be very wary of anyone selling a car who does not want to meet at the registered keeper’s address or if the seller’s name is not the same as the one on the V5C registration document.

Extra Easy Buyers' Checklist.

Why not download and print our Extra Easy Buyers' Checklist (PDF, 42KB) to help you know what to look for and to get the best deal.


Buying a car is an exciting time and should be an enjoyable process. To make sure it’s as pleasurable as possible, it’s worth carrying out some simple and easy checks before you pay.

About pre-purchase checks