Navigating the car-buying process


A local expert from Citizen’s Advice provides timely tips on consumer issues.

Q: ‘I need a new car for work. I’ve been looking at second-hand options, but I’ve heard horror stories about people buying cars that turn out to be faulty. How can I make sure I don’t buy a dud?’

A: A car is a major purchase , and the buying process can seem daunting. But the Citizens Advice website has lots of information on what you should do when buying a car – and also on what you can do afterwards if something does go wrong.
If you’re buying from a trader, choose one with an established name and a good reputation. Ideally, they will be part of a trade association or follow the industry’s code of practice. It’s much riskier to buy via an auction as you’ll have fewer legal protections – be sure to read the terms and conditions very carefully before you bid.

Do your checks
If you buy from a private seller, try to inspect the car at the owner’s home address. Make sure the car’s details are correct by using the DVLA’s free online vehicle information checker. You’ll need the registration number, MOT test number, mileage and make/model of the car. Also, check the car’s MOT history on Keep a copy of these results as well as the original advert or description of the car. You might also consider getting a private history check to see if the car’s been reported stolen, still has money owing on it or has been in a serious crash. This will cost about £20.

The car
Check if the car meets emissions standards to avoid paying extra charges when driving through clean air zones. Always inspect the car before buying, preferably during the day when it’s not raining and, if you have the appropriate insurance, take it for a test drive for at least 15 minutes. Once you’ve decided on a car, don’t be afraid to negotiate on the price.
If you take out a loan or finance, make sure you can afford the repayments over the lifetime of the contract. Note that if you pay with cash, you have fewer protections.

If, despite doing all these checks, you find something wrong with the car after you’ve bought it, you may have a legal right to a repair, the cost of a repair or some money back – but it’s on a case-by-case basis.
For more information, check out the Citizens Advice website or call its consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133.

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