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Rejecting a car – your consumer rights

The Car Expert's guide to what to do if your car is faulty or not fit for purpose

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Of all the issues we discuss here at The Car Expert, the topic that generates the largest number of questions is rejecting a car that is faulty or is not as advertised.

Based on the hundreds of questions we’ve received, we have written this comprehensive article to provide direct answers to your questions and explain the processes as clearly as possible.

In this article, we cover the following areas for rejecting a car:

The Consumer Rights Act

Since October 2015, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 has been the legislation that covers consumer retail sales in the UK. It replaced the old Sale of Goods Act that dates back to the 1970s.

The Act does cover new and used cars bought from a trader for consumer (private) use. A trader can be either a franchised dealer or an independent garage.

The Act does not cover vehicles bought by private sale, vehicles bought at an auction or vehicles bought for business use.

There are clearly-defined rights for rejcting a car under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

Can you reject your car for any fault you find?

The Consumer Rights Act provides both buyers and sellers with clearer guidance about a customer’s rights than the old Sale of Goods Act. In particular, it covers how a customer can reject a car that is faulty or not fit for purpose.

However, it’s important to remember that motor cars are complicated machines. They have hundreds of thousands of components working under a variety of hostile conditions. Not every fault in a vehicle is going to mean you can simply give the car back and expect a full refund. This particularly applies to used cars, which have already been used and abused by someone else before you.

In short, a car with a fault is not necessarily a faulty car.

Understandably, a dealer will want to inspect your car for themselves before agreeing to refund your money, rather than simply taking your word for it.

A customer rejecting a car can be very expensive for a car dealer. They have to buy the car back from you at the original price and fix whatever the problem is, before selling it on again for probably less money. As a result, the dealer is likely to dispute your rejection unless you can make a clear and confident case.

If the dealership refuses to accept your rejection, you will need to take legal action to reject the vehicle. This means engaging a solicitor and potentially taking the dealer to court. It will be expensive, and there is no guarantee you will win.

If you do have valid grounds to reject your vehicle, then your specific rights will depend on how long you have owned the car.

The Consumer Rights Act allows for three options:

  • Your short-term right to reject, which lasts for 30 days after taking delivery of your car
  • Your final right to reject, which covers you for six months from purchase
  • Your final right to reject after the first six months

Short-term right to reject – the first 30 days

If your new or used car has a significant fault that was present when you bought it (as opposed to developing afterwards), you can reject the car within the first 30 days and get a full refund.

You do not have to accept a repair or replacement vehicle (although you can if you want to).

If you have part-exchanged your previous car on the new one, you will not get it back. Instead, you will be entitled to the full invoice price of the car (including road tax, VAT, etc).

You are entitled to a full refund by the same method in which you paid for the car.  The dealer cannot charge for usage, wear and tear, collection of the vehicle or anything else.

It is the dealer’s obligation to collect the vehicle, unless your sales contract includes a clause obliging you to return the car. You only have to make sure the car is available to collect.

Be reasonable about this and work with the dealer if you want to get your money back with minimal fuss. Make their lives difficult and you can be sure they will return the favour…

Final right to reject – the first six months

If you have had the car for more than 30 days but less than six months, you have to give the selling dealer one attempt to fix the fault before moving to reject the vehicle. If the repair has not fixed the fault, you can reject the vehicle.

If you part-exchanged your old car on the new one, you will not get it back. Instead, you will get a cash value for the new car. However, unlike the short-term right to reject, it may not be the full value.

In this instance, the dealer is able to claim a reduction in the value of the vehicle. This is based on the mileage covered and time elapsed. There is no guidance on how much they can charge you, so be prepared to negotiate this with the dealer. If it goes to court, the judge will decide.

As above, it is the dealer’s obligation to collect the vehicle under the Act. You cannot be charged for return costs or be forced to return the vehicle yourself.

Rejecting a car after six months

You are legally entitled to pursue a rejection after the first six months, but the law swings from being in your favour to being in the dealer’s favour.

The onus on you is now to prove that the fault was present when you bought the car, and that is difficult when you have had the car for a reasonable length of time and probably covered thousands of miles in that period.

In practice, this is difficult unless you have some solid proof that the fault was there at time of purchase – which is not easy. Trying to prove that a fault was present at time of purchase rather than occurring the day afterwards is very difficult when you’re several months down the line.

Rejecting a car should not be your first move

If you discover a fault with a car you’ve just bought, don’t automatically move to reject it. The fault may be relatively easy to fix. You’ll save a lot of time and hassle compared to trying to reject the vehicle.

Despite the Act providing a clear right to reject a faulty car, it isn’t as simple as going back to the dealer and walking out with a nice fat cheque. The dealer will want to conduct their own assessment of the vehicle. They may well not agree with your contention that the vehicle should be rejected.

If they refuse to accept your rejection, you will need to take some form of action to pursue the matter. Some dealers are signed up to a voluntary Ombudsman’s code, which allows for independent mediation. But usually you will need to take legal action against the dealer. You will probably also need to get written reports from another garage to back up your claim.

When you are rejecting a car, the dealer has to buy it back from you for the same price you paid for it. You have to sign the registration forms back over. If you have finance on the vehicle, that has to be cancelled as well.

A car purchase can be complicated to unwind, and you might not get your money back for several weeks.

The dealer may offer to repair the fault and potentially even offer you some form of compensation as well. This may be a better result than pursuing a rejection. It may save you a lot of hassle as well, since you won’t have to go through the process of buying another car.

Next page: What are the grounds for rejecting a car?