Second-hand cars top gripe list, says consumer watchdog

Broken down car
Image caption The AA says people spend more time choosing a holiday than a car

Complaints about second-hand cars rose by 18% in the first six months of the year compared with the same period in 2009, the Office of Fair Trading says.

It said the advice service, Consumer Direct, took 38,138 complaints about used vehicles bought from dealers.

An earlier OFT study found that many car buyers found faults in vehicles only once they had driven them away.

The OFT is warning buyers to check their rights before settling a deal and to take time over buying.

The motoring organisation, the AA, called the findings "alarming".


Some 3.6 million used cars are bought each year in the UK, costing a total of £24bn.

The study found that many motorists ended up fixing problems with their new purchase themselves, at an estimated average cost of £425, when in fact they were the dealer's obligation to correct.

Consumer Direct operations manager, Michele Shambrook, said: "Dealers have a responsibility to sell cars that are of satisfactory quality.

"This will vary depending on issues including the vehicle's age and mileage, but as the vast majority of all second-hand car faults come to light in the first three months, they will often be the dealer's responsibility to fix."

AA president Edmund King said: "With two-thirds of used-car buyers spending less than a fortnight to choose a car, while many will spend months planning a holiday, rip-off merchants are handed easy pickings on a plate."

Consumer Direct receives more calls about motor vehicles than anything else.

Other figures from the helpline showed that, for the first half of the year, issues with mobile phones were the second biggest consumer gripe with 22,612 complaints.

This was ahead of televisions (22,138), with mobiles and TVs having switched rankings on the list of shame from the previous six months.

Laptops, notebooks and tablet computers were fourth on the list with 17,501 complaints, followed by car repairs and servicing from independent garages (11,830).


The AA's Mr King said that although car buying was typically the second-biggest purchase most people made in their lives, it happened relatively infrequently, so buyers forgot the pitfalls and often let their heart rule their head.

The OFT and Consumer Direct have compiled a checklist for potential buyers, including questions about the car's mechanical history and mileage checks, the number of former owners, documentation about the full service history and any modifications.

They also urged buyers to get the answers in writing rather than relying on verbal claims or promises by the seller.

Paul Williams, chairman of the RMI, which represents dealers, said: "It is really important that people are well informed when purchasing a used car, and we fully support the OFT's campaign to raise awareness of consumers rights, which will lead to elevated levels of consumer confidence."

"If a consumer has purchased a car from an RMI member garage, and is not entirely satisfied, then we can assist with the conciliation process. Should conciliation not resolve the issue, then we can intervene and provide an arbitration service, which is free of charge to the consumer, should the garage be found to be at fault."

He added that the RMI was working with manufacturers, franchised dealers, independent garages, the police and local authorities to raise the standard of used car sales practices in the UK.

In March, the OFT published a damning report about the state of the secondhand car market.

However, following the nine-month study of the market, it decided existing laws were sufficient to clean up the sector.

BBC News website readers have been sharing their experiences of second-hand cars. You can send your comment using the form below.

Buying second-hand cars has been a feature of my life but what I bought were good quality and each served me well for years. We purchased a 10-year-old automatic, sports, five series BMW on eBay and while it is thirsty on petrol it is otherwise an excellent vehicle. It had 80,000 miles on the clock and cost £4,500, 12 months ago. Probably a tad high but I am happy with it; it does not drive, it glides along. Sometimes I wonder why others seek to pay so much for new vehicles but then it would be nice if I could afford one; being an OAP that dream is as far away as the moon. Robert Park, Kirriemuir, Scotland

I bought a car that had a faulty clutch, which turned out to be due to a known manufacturing fault. It was too late to notify the dealer as it was outside the warranty and a wear and tear item. The manufacturer refused to put it right or make a contribution to the cost which was estimated at £1,098. Steve Carr, Shrewsbury, Shropshire

I bought a second-hand Renault Clio 2006 model about 15 months ago. Within the first four months I have had various faults with it - side skirts coming away from the bodywork, steering problems, brakes wearing away, ball joints gone. So far I have spent over £1,000 on repairs. I took it to Renault to find out why. I received a call from Renault UK stating the body kit was not factory-fitted and they thought the car had been in an accident therefore they would not be repairing it. So now I am stuck with a car that still needs repairs. Ryan Pickett, Halling, Kent

I bought a car and from the very first day the brakes were not good. When I had enough to spend, I went to a garage and found out that the pads and disks had been consumed. So I had to replace brake shoes and disks. To date, I am not sure if the dealer was responsible for the brakes or not. Tasawar Khan, London

I bought a 2007 Saab six months ago. Within two weeks, I had faults with the clutch and steering. The clutch issue was repaired by Saab, but I had to pay £225 for the actual clutch even though it was under warranty. The steering issue can be adjusted, but an independent garage has said that it's the steering column. Where do I stand? The steering sometimes becomes so heavy it's as though there is no power steering and it's quite dangerous. Looks like my wallet will be paying once again. Malcolm Pugh, Llwydcoed, Wales

I purchased a second-hand Land Rover last November. It had many faults from day one. I've been to trading standards. My finance company are no help. They are taking me to court. I'm at my wits end. I owe around £8,000 for a car I feel was a rip-off. I have a baby on the way. My partner wants me to leave it as this has caused a lot of stress and tension for us and we've been back and forth to hospital as this has not been good for my partner's pregnancy. Robert Young, Hull

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