What to look out for when buying a second hand car

Brake. Check. Buy. Do the proper checks when buying a second hand carIf you’re one of the millions of people across the country currently looking to buy a used car, we’ve put together our top tips to arm you with the knowledge you need to purchase a car safely, from trustworthy sellers and traders.
 

Brake. Check. Buy.

In 2023 our Consumer Service helpline saw almost 30,000 used car complaints from consumers. All too often we hear from motorists who’ve had used cars mis-sold to them and have had to shell out hard-earned cash to fix surprise issues. 
 
Many of us are feeling the pinch right now, so it’s vital to make sure you’re steering clear of surprise problems and are getting exactly what you paid for when buying a used car. Before making a big purchase like a used car, don’t forget to brake, and make all the right checks before you buy.
 
 

 

Do the proper checks when buying a second hand car

Doing the proper checks when buying a used car can help save you distress and money down the line.
 
Make sure a trader is trustworthy
If you’re buying from a trader (a business that sells cars) you should:
  • look for an established firm with a good reputation 
  • look for a trade association sign (for example, the Retail Motor Industry Federation or the Scottish Motor Trade Association) or look for the Consumer Codes Approval Scheme logo - this means you can act through a trade association if something goes wrong 
  • look for a trader whose cars have been inspected by an independent engineer or motoring organisation.
Stay alert if buying from an individual seller
  • You’re entitled to expect that the vehicle is roadworthy, unless you and the seller clearly agree it is bought for scrap or for spares and repair 
  • Be extra vigilant if you’re buying from an online marketplace such as Facebook Marketplace. If you’re buying a car from an online marketplace seller you can do a reverse image search on google to see whether the picture has been used before
No matter who you’re buying from, keep a copy of the advert you see for the vehicle so you can prove what it said/how the vehicle was described in case there’s a problem later.
 
Check the car’s history
It’s really important that you check out the car’s history. It doesn’t take long or cost much and you should consider doing this no matter who you buy from, but you’ll need the seller’s permission to have the vehicle inspected.
 
Make sure to keep a copy of all inspections or checks, either by taking a screenshot or downloading the information.
  1. Check the car’s details with the DVLA using their free online vehicle checker
  2. Check the MOT history on GOV.UK. This will include checking if the car has a safety recall 
  3. Get a private history check. This might cost up to £20, but will give you valuable information about serious problems the car might have
  4. Inspect the car and take a test drive. You should arrange to view the car in daylight, preferably when it’s dry - it’s harder to spot damage to the car if it’s wet
  5. If you’re still not sure - get an independent report. This will give you detailed information about the car’s condition and will cost around £120 to £250
  6. Do the numbers on the odometer match up with the vehicle’s paperwork? Check the mileage on the vehicle against the service history booklet and MOT records.
Paying for a used car
Stay calm and ask questions if you’re unsure about anything in the small print. Remember you can stop the deal if you feel like you’re being pressured into paying too much or buying additional features.
 
Never buy a car without the log book (the V5C registration certificate). Make sure you get the original (not a photocopy) and the valid MOT test document.
 
If you pay by cash, there are no extra fees or interest but if something goes wrong with the car you won’t have the protection you have if you buy using a card or on finance.
 
If you use a debit card, you might have protection from problems from your provider’s chargeback scheme.
 
If you use a credit card, you’re protected as long as you paid more than £100 and no more than £30,000, even if you only paid for a small part of the cost on a credit card (this is called ‘section 75’ protection).
 
If you pay using finance arranged by a trader, this can help you get a car if you don’t have all the money up front. You might also have extra protection if there’s a problem later, because you can take action against the finance company as well as the trader (or instead of the trader).
 
You can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service if you have an unresolved complaint and have paid by debit card, credit card or using finance.
 
Problem with a used car?
If there’s something wrong with your used car, you might have a legal right to a repair, the cost of a repair, or some or all of your money back. This includes if it’s damaged, doesn’t work, or doesn’t match the advert or description you were given.
 
If you bought from a trader, you won’t be entitled to anything if:
  • you were told about the fault when you bought the car and someone fully explained what the problem meant
  • you inspected the car and should’ve spotted the problem - for example a dent 
  • you caused the fault
  • the fault is normal for how much the car has been used (known as ‘fair wear and tear’) - for example if the brake pads need replacing after being used for a long time
If you bought from a private seller, you only have rights if the car isn’t as it was described. The car should be true to the advert and what you were told by the person you bought it from. You won’t be entitled to anything just because the car is faulty or because the seller failed to mention something in the advert. 
 
If it’s not ‘as described’, you’ll be entitled to either:
  • the difference in value between what you paid and what the car is really worth
  • the cost of making changes to the car so it matches the description - for example if the seller said it had a refurbished engine

 

Where to get more information and help

For more advice, visit
 
If you’ve had a problem you can also contact the Citizens Advice consumer service on
0808 223 1133
(Mon-Fri 9am to 5pm)
 
If you think someone might be trying to scam you, get advice.
Contact the Citizens Advice consumer service for help with what to do next, and report scams or suspected scams to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or going to actionfraud.police.uk
 
Vehicle factsheets
We’ve also a number of factsheets about buying cars and resolving problems. You can download these vehicle factsheets below
Other useful links 

First published 14 May 2024.


 

 

Citizens Advice Wiltshire

Latest service update - Spring 2024

We’re a local charity that gives advice over the phone, by email and on web chat, while reserving our face to face support for when it's most needed.

However, we are not running a drop-in service, so please call us, or email us first. This way we can work out how best to help.

Here’s how to get in touch...

Signage web

How can we help?

whatever the problem, we're here Get advice online

Get advice by phone

Call freephone 0808 278 7995
Lines are open 9am to 4pm Monday to Friday
Or email us

More from us

Campaigns

We use our clients' experience to campaign for positive change, locally and nationally. See our latest campaigns, read our research and find out about the impact of our advice.

Campaigns

Opening times and where to find us

Latest update on face to face services

Chippenham

Devizes

Salisbury

Trowbridge

Subscribe to our newsletter

For our latest news, events and services sign up to our email newsletter.

Volunteer with us

Our highly trained volunteers come from a range of backgrounds and help with everything we do. 

Could you join them? 

Volunteer opportunities

Have we helped?

When we promote our work to the people who need us and the people who fund us, we rely on being able to tell real-life success stories about the difference we’ve made to people’s lives.

Your stories

Contact us
Please use this form to contact us, or to get advice by email.

We aim to respond to your enquiry within 5 working days, however during busy times it may take a little longer. If you don’t get a reply in your inbox, please check your spam or junk folder.

To contact us for advice by phone, call: 0808 278 7995
(Monday to Friday 9am to 4pm. Closed on public holidays).

Or for more ways to get advice click here.

Fields marked with ( * ) are required.
1000 characters left
Your personal information

When you provide us with personal information, for example, when using this form to contact us, we take steps to ensure that your information is treated securely.

We need to record information about you to help with your enquiry. We have a legitimate interest to do this.

We keep what you tell us safe and confidential and you always decide what you share with us. You can read more about how we handle and store your data in our privacy policy (this will open in a new window, so that any information you have already added to this form will be kept in this window)

We need your explicit consent to keep some information, including your ethnicity, religion, health conditions, sexual orientation, and trade union membership.

If you agree, we’ll use this information, which is known as ‘special category personal data’ to:
● give you advice
● help us gather data to improve our service
● support our research in a way that you can’t be identified

For example, if you need advice about claiming certain benefits, you may want to tell us about health problems you have which may be relevant to your enquiry.

By ticking the boxes below you consent to Citizens Advice recording the special category personal data you choose to provide Citizens Advice.

We’ll make sure all your information is kept safe and secure.

Yes, I consent to you holding information on my (please tick all of those you agree to):
Can we contact you for feedback?

We want to make sure our service meets your needs. To help us understand how we’re doing and to improve our service, we may want to contact you at a later date to ask for your feedback. Sometimes we need a trusted research organisation to help us do that.

We’ll decide who we contact for feedback based on the services you used and the advice area. We may also use your special category data so that we hear from different groups.

If you agree to us getting in touch for feedback please let us know how you’d prefer to be contacted by ticking the boxes below.

I agree to Citizens Advice selecting me for feedback using my information and I give permission to be contacted for feedback by (please tick all that apply):