Consumer Facts

Warning Signs You Should Watch For When Buying A Second Hand Car


Image via Flickr creative commons from vestman

In 2010, a special study conducted by the Office of Fair Trading followed 72,000 complaints to Consumer Direct about issues with second-hand car sales – in a year.

The purpose of the investigation was to understand exactly what causes such a high level of consumer gripes.

The report stated: “Our consumer survey findings, together with other anecdotal evidence, suggest that a significant minority of dealers appear to have a lack of interest in customer care once a sale has been agreed, with poor standards of after sales service and a disregard for their obligations under sale of goods law where cars sold are not of satisfactory quality.”

It found that the market does not often work well for those buying used cars. Instances where people feel like they’ve been ripped off are far from uncommon. It may sound like a cliché but there are a number of things you should always look out for when buying a used vehicle – beyond whether it has a few bumps and scrapes.

Check the vehicles history – many consumers rely on the dealer to provide this information. It is your right to know this and the seller’s duty to tell you. You could be left in quite a vulnerable position without it.

If the seller can’t show you accurate repair records, you should assume the car hasn’t been reliably serviced.

When looking at the log book, you need to make sure the VIN number inside matches those on the car – these can be found at the base of the windscreen, under the bonnet and stamped into the chassis under the carpet beside the driver’s seat

Clocking – the practice of deliberately interfering with the car’s odometer – is hard to check and remains a persistent and damaging consumer crime. The report by the Office of Fair Trading estimated the potential loss to consumers from the purchase of vehicles with false mileage could be up to £580 million a year. It also suggested there are over 50 businesses in the UK openly offering ‘mileage correction services’.

You can keep an eye out for this. If the state of the vehicle does not match the miles on the clock, ask to see maintenance receipts and inspection stickers then check the mileage recorded on these.

Sometimes dealers pose as a private seller to avoid their legal obligations when disposing of faulty or over-priced cars. This is illegal. The Office of Fair trading report estimates this kind of sale adds up to approximately £41.4m a year.

Some warning signs may include the same phone number appearing in several adverts; the seller bringing the car to you rather than you seeing it at their home or the seller’s name not appearing as the last owner in the logbook.

One of the most important things you can do is check the car matches its description in the advert. It is very important you ask the right questions, so think about it carefully before going to meet any dealer or private seller. Ask for important information to be put in writing before you buy.

You can also ask the seller if they mind you getting the car independently examined – if they have nothing to hide, this shouldn’t be a problem.

If you have a problem with a second-hand car, call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 08454 04 05 06.

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