Better protection for used car buyers?

Posted on December 2nd, 2014 by Rob Marshall

collectionWhile the UK is full of honest professionals, who earn a living from retailing motor vehicles, even I admit that the used car salesman does not enjoy the greatest of reputes. This is hardly surprising, given that his predecessor was the horse trader, which would stop at nothing (even to disguise the ailment of a lame animal), until the sale was completed. Even so, I think that the reputation remains unfair.

Yet, complaints about used cars remain one of the most popular issues, reported to Citizens’ Advice, with almost 70,000 enquiries flooding into the service about second-hand motors, between April 2013 and March 2014. Almost 80% of them related to independent used car dealers. Clearly, something needs to be done to stem the flow.

In response, our government has directed its latest quango, the Used Car Commission, with establishing standards for used car codes and trader approval schemes. One of the reasons stated is to foster “closer cooperation between police and Trading Standards, to target organised criminals”.

Despite the Consumer Affairs Minister, Jo Swinson, giving herself a congratulatory back-slap, by stating that the recommendations are: “…an excellent starting point and it is good to see the sector working together to get the best possible outcomes for consumers…”, I query the effectiveness of such schemes, especially if they are voluntary. I doubt that the criminal fraternity, which exports, clones, or breaks-up stolen vehicles is hardly quaking in its boots at the announcement. At this stage, all I can see is yet more codes and recommendations being created that are likely to promote further confusion in the market.

Therefore, what can be done? The simple answer is to enforce the current laws and statutory rights more vigorously. The Sale of Goods Act 1979 is a good place to start. Plus, if the police, Trading Standards and the courts are provided with more resources, instead of the effort being ploughed into creating sound-bites, then we might see more satisfactory conclusions.

It might also be useful to encourage dialogue, between both seller and buyer, to make both parties aware of their rights and responsibilities. Motorcars have become so complicated that it is very easy for an honest vendor to retail a car that might develop a fault, shortly after being sold. After all, this even happens with new vehicles!

I have tried to reassure people in this situation that engaging with the used car dealer reasonably, before calling for legal help, will often remedy the issue, providing that the seller is given adequate opportunities to resolve it. In the majority of cases, an amicable solution has been secured.

Clearly, consumer dissatisfaction is at a high level with used car purchases but I cannot see such voluntary codes of conduct protecting us all from the real criminals.