Ask the expert: ‘Can I force a dealer to refund me for a dodgy car?’

Alex Robbins is contributing editor at Telegraph Cars where, as well as responding to readers’ queries, he also contributes reviews of new and used cars, together with articles on buying and selling. 

His knowledge of the used car market informs his many buying guides relating to the best buys in particular sectors, with an emphasis on value for money.  Every week he will answer your questions on buying and selling, as well as solving your car problems, whether consumer or mechanical.

Do you have a motoring dilemma you’d like our expert to solve?  For consumer and used car advice, or car faults, email CarsAdvice@telegraph.co.uk and include your subscriber number. This week’s question… 


Dear Alex,

Five days ago I paid £7,250 to a dealer for a used Mercedes. During a test drive I noticed a noise from the front, which the dealer told me was a perished gaiter; a £150 repair, he said. The following day I took the car to my local garage and was told that it in fact requires about £3,000 of work. I have also learned that while the odometer displays 103,000 miles, the service history recorded by Mercedes UK suggests it has done 250,000. I told the dealer I would reject the car in return for a full refund, citing my right to do so under the Consumer Rights Act. The dealer says that there was no warranty implied, the vehicle was sold as seen and that it was a private sale. But he currently has four vehicles advertised, is accepting payments into a business bank account, and his company is registered with Companies House. Where do I stand? Should I involve Trading Standards?

– LB

Dear LB, 

You’re clearly well informed about your rights – and you’re fully within them. Within 30 days of having purchased a defective car from a dealer, which this clearly is, you are entitled to reject it and ask for a refund, irrespective of whether there’s a warranty. The dealer is then expected to collect the car from you without charge and issue that refund, without any deductions for wear and tear. 

If he refuses, I’m afraid you’ll have to take him to court in order to get your money back. Happily, I should think the court will find in your favour – it will be very hard for him to claim that he isn’t a dealer when he has a registered company and a business bank account. Given the potential “clocking” (falsifying the mileage) element to this case, informing Trading Standards is a good idea, too.

Before launching any court action, take professional legal advice. Obtain a written report on the condition of the car from your local garage to back up your case, too. If they’re not able to provide one, you could get the car inspected independently by a respected organisation such as the AA. 

It’s a salutary lesson for the rest of us that, despite there now being far more protections for car buyers in the UK than ever before, this sort of dealer still exists, and they’re still out there trying to con people. 

Never take a dealer at their word about any sort of repair – if it’s claimed to be an easy fix, why has the dealer not carried it out? And always get a data check before buying. Even though they aren’t a cast-iron guarantee, they can often show up dodgy cars before you’ve shelled out for them.

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