How to reject a car as not fit for purpose
Rejecting a car because it does not meet your requirements is tricky, especially if the car is performing as the manufacturer intended.
It may be that you have bought the wrong car for your needs. You feel that you have been mis-sold by the dealer so you are entitled to a refund. This problem is very difficult to prove.
As an example, we get a lot of people complaining that they specifically told a dealer that they only drive their car for short trips and have a low annual mileage. They bought a diesel car on the advice of the dealer and are now having problems with the diesel particulate filter. Can they claim a refund for this?
Unfortunately, unless you have evidence that you outlined your usage and were subsequently mis-sold then you have no real case. By ‘evidence’, I mean written proof. Verbal assurances or promises are almost always worthless.
Looking at the above example, a dealership finance agreement could be useful evidence. If you have a PCP or contract hire agreement with a low annual mileage allowance, it could help prove that you discussed your requirements with the dealer.
A finance agreement will also show your home and work addresses, so it could help make a case for mis-selling. However, it’s not likely to be enough on its own.
Do you have any questions about whether a vehicle suits your needs? Put your questions to the dealer in writing (email is fine) before purchasing. That way you’ll have the assurance of a written response to your questions, as well as useful proof if that advice turns out to be wrong after you take delivery.
If the dealer phones you “because I thought it might be easier to talk about your concerns and answer any questions”, thank them kindly then insist that they put their assurances in writing anyway. Make it clear that it’s important to you.
How to reject a car as faulty
Rejecting a car due to a fault is a much more common scenario than the ‘fit for purpose’ question.
The Consumer Rights Act provides both buyers and traders with clear guidance than the old Sale of Goods Act. It makes clear that there are obligations on both sides.
The Act covers both your short-term right to reject (which lasts for 30 days after you purchase a new or used car from a dealer) and your final right to reject (which extends for the first six months of ownership).
What constitutes a fault under the Consumer Rights Act?
A fault does not have to be a problem that renders the car undriveable, but it has to be significant. According to the Act, the ‘goods’ (i.e. – the car) must be “of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and free from any defect”.
These terms can be debated in legal circles for eternity, but we are more interested in the simple practical terms. To reject your car under the Consumer Rights Act, the fault generally has to be preventing the car from doing its job properly.
Cosmetic issues or minor faults that can be easily repaired are not enough to trigger your right to reject the vehicle. These sorts of issues should be dealt with under warranty, if you have one.
On a new car, this is relatively straightforward as a new car should not have any significant faults. On a used car, the age and mileage must be taken into consideration. Where cases have gone to Court, judges have tended to make substantial allowances, especially on older or higher-mileage vehicles.
Clearly, this is a contentious area. What a buyer considers to be a ‘significant fault’ on a used car may be very different to what the seller thinks.
As I’ve already mentioned, cars are complicated machines. A used car will have already suffered wear and tear before you bought it, which is why it’s cheaper than a brand new car.
Is your fault really a warranty issue?
If a fault is not preventing your car from doing its job, it’s difficult to reject the car under the Consumer Rights Act. So minor issues are better resolved by other means.
If you have a new car, or an ‘approved’ used car from a franchised dealer, you should be able to resolve minor problems via your new or used car warranty.
Assuming that the fault can be fixed relatively easily, it’s much less hassle to work with the dealer on resolving the issue through your car’s warranty than pursue a rejection.
The Consumer Rights Act specifies that the fault has to have been present when you purchased the vehicle, rather than developing afterwards. This can be a difficult argument for both buyer and seller.
Mechanical faults are rarely sudden failures and may have been present for some time before becoming evident. But it is difficult to pinpoint whether a fault was present at purchase if you only noticed it weeks or months later.
If your problem happened (or is likely to have happened) as a result of damage or wear during your ownership, you won’t be able to reject it under the Consumer Rights Act. Again, it may be that you can have the problem fixed under warranty if applicable.
You can’t reject the car because you’ve changed your mind
The aim of the Consumer Rights Act is to protect consumers from mis-selling and from buying faulty vehicles. Unfortunately, there will always be people who try to exploit consumer protections. They try to reject cars they shouldn’t have bought in the first place.
Such attempts usually end in failure. Dealers are not stupid, and are wise to customers who change their mind after purchase. If you try and take a dealer to court in a spurious attempt to return the car and get your money back, you’re likely to lose. What’s more, you’ll have to pay the dealer’s legal fees as well as your own.
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Rejecting a car when it is under finance
You will need to work with the finance company as the vehicle belongs to them. You and the finance company are jointly rejecting the car back to the dealer, which means the finance company has to be in agreement with you throughout the process. You will still have to arrange for the vehicle to go back to the dealer for assessment or repair. The finance company should be able to assist you in working through the process.
Assuming your rejection is successful, the dealer will refund the finance company rather than you, and the finance company will terminate your agreement.
If you are entitled to a full refund (ie – first 30 days), the finance company will return your deposit and any payments already made. If any deductions are made for usage (ie – first six months), they will come out of whatever the finance company owes you. This all inevitably takes a bit longer to sort through, so make sure you are aware of the processes. Your finance company should be able to update you on how your refund is progressing.
Next page: Tips for car buyers when rejecting a car