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Spares or repairs – and other dodgy trader tricks

The Car Expert shines a spotlight on some of the unethical and illegal tricks that shady dealers will try to pull on unsuspecting car buyers

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There are various tricks employed by dodgy car dealers to try and get around the various laws that apply when selling cars. This is almost always done to try and avoid their legal obligations, which can be an expensive part of their business.

As a customer, you need to be on your guard for anything which doesn’t sound quite right when buying a used car – especially if you are only looking to spend less than a couple of thousand pounds. Although you do have some powerful consumer rights to fall back on, it’s far better to avoid getting into that situation in the first place.

You may see a car advertised with “spares or repairs” or “no warranty given or implied” somewhere near the end of the vehicle description. Used car traders have also often been known to add these phrases to the bottom of a sales contract. But what exactly do they mean and how do they affect your consumer rights?

Using phrases like “spares or repairs only”, “trade only” or “no warranty given or implied”, or something similar, is often an attempt by dodgy traders to avoid their obligations under the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Customers who sign contracts with this wording may be denying themselves valuable rights, or face a long and difficult battle with the dealer if you have problems later on.

Some dealers will also pose as private individuals selling their own cars, rather than as traders, again to try and deny you your legal rights.

Spares or repair – don’t be fooled

As a buyer, you are also covered by Section 75 of the Road Traffic Act, under which it is an offence to sell or supply an unroadworthy vehicle. This means you have the right to expect that any car you purchase from a trader or car dealer is roadworthy and can be safely driven home without endangering you or anyone else.

This is a very basic standard, and certainly doesn’t mean the car has to be perfect. But things like steering, brakes, tyres, exhaust system, seat belts, suspension and structural bodywork must be in good order.

If a sales contract has the words “spares or repair” written on it, the dealer is saying that the car is unroadworthy and is not to be driven on a public road. It literally means that the car is only suitable for being broken up for spare parts, or requires repair to be roadworthy.

Do not sign any contract which has this written on it – unless you have no intention of driving the car home and are planning to load it onto a truck or trailer for repairs/restoration/dismantling.

If a trader tries to convince you that “spares or repair only” means something different or is related to warranty, they are lying and you should walk away immediately (feel free to call Trading Standards on the way out).

We have had many questions over the years from readers who have bought cars marked “spares or repair” and did not realise what it meant (or didn’t notice until afterwards). If this has happened to you, you do have some recourse against the trader but it will probably require some professional legal assistance.

According to Section 75 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, a used car dealer is required to prove that “there was reasonable cause to believe that the vehicle would not be used on the road or would not be used until it had been put into roadworthy condition”.

If taken to court, the trader would have to show that they took all reasonable action to ensure that you knew the car was unroadworthy and that you were not going to drive the car. The car would have to be clearly advertised that the car was unroadworthy (and a small comment that says “spares or repairs only” in the fine print is not adequate), a test drive request would have to be declined and the dealer would have to make sure that you did not attempt to drive the car away after purchase.

If the trader fails to take these actions, you can reasonably argue that you were not made clearly aware that the car was unroadworthy.

Trade sale only

Like “spares or repair”, this is a term that sometimes appears in the fine print of an ad or contract. If a trader is selling a car to another trader, normal consumer protection laws like the Consumer Rights Act 2015 do not apply.

If a dealer has written “trade sale” or something similar on the contract, it is an attempt to deny you your consumer rights. if you knowingly sign a contract marked “trade sale”, you are effectively stating that you are a car dealer.

You are within your rights to strike out phrases like “trade sale” or “spares or repair” from a contract and still buy the car (assuming the dealer signs it without those phrases included, of course), but generally these are signs of a dodgy trader and you should take your money elsewhere. If the car dealer is being shady on the paperwork, there’s every chance that they’re equally dodgy when it comes to the condition of the car.

If you have any problems, you can almost guarantee that you will have a fight on your hands to protect your legal rights.

No warranty given or implied

We have discussed this in detail previously, but in summary there is no legal requirement for a trader to provide a warranty on a used car. And if you’re buying a car for a few hundred pounds, it’s common enough for a dealer to refuse to put a warranty on it. This should be explained up front, rather than slipped onto a sales contract when you’ve already agreed to buy the car.

However, just because you don’t have a warranty doesn’t mean you don’t have any rights if you have a problem.

Any used car bought by a private buyer from a trader, whether it costs £500 or £500,000, is covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Within certain constraints, this allows you to reject the vehicle if it is faulty.

Is this a trader or a private seller?

If a car is being advertised on a dealer’s website, or on their premises, it is a dealer sale and you can expect the full protection of the Consumer Rights Act and the Road Traffic Act.

If you buy a car from a private individual, on the other hand, you do not have any of the consumer protections described above; you’re basically on your own. Inevitably, this has led to small-time dealers posing as private individuals in an attempt to circumvent their legal obligations.

If a dealer tries to spin you a story that this particular car might be advertised on their website but it’s actually his wife’s/mother’s/daughter’s private car and he’s just using the site to advertise it on their behalf, he’s lying. Leave immediately.

If a dealer tells you that he’s a car dealer but he keeps some of the nice part-exchange cars for himself to sell as a ‘hobby’ or some other such story, he’s lying. Leave immediately.

If you pull up to a private seller’s house and they have several cars parked up on the property, be very suspicious. If you sell more than four cars in the space of a year, you are considered a used car dealer. Trading from home and pretending that the car is their own personal vehicle is a common trick for dodgy dealers.

If you are buying a car from a trader, make sure they have a proper sales contract form that shows the correct company name and details. If the name on the contract is a different company than the one advertising the car, ask to see the paperwork which shows the connection between the two (eg – one company may be owned by the other company, which is fine).

Selling on consignment

When it comes to rare or expensive luxury cars, dealers will often sell a car on consignment for a customer. That’s not a problem, as long as the dealer acknowledges that they are still selling the car and therefore will be liable in the event of any consumer rights claims. It’s no different to the dealer selling a car they own themselves.

If the dealer tells you that normal conditions of sale don’t apply because they are selling the car on consignment, either walk away or insist that you deal directly with the actual owner as a private sale.

Summary

The main message to take away from all this is that – despite all the tricks available to them – a trader can only take advantage of you if you let them. This is so important that it’s one of The Car Expert’s Ten Golden Rules of buying a car.

There are plenty of dodgy car dealers out there (as well as plenty of honest ones, obviously), but as a buyer it’s up to you to make sure you take responsibility for your own money – because you’re the only one who really cares about your money.

If you have any reason at all to doubt what you see or hear, it’s up to you to ask questions and decide whether you’re happy with the answer.

Car dealership with balloons
“Look, balloons! This must be a reputable dealership…”

This article was originally published in April 2017. Last updated August 2022.

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Stuart Masson
Stuart Massonhttps://www.thecarexpert.co.uk/
Stuart is the Editorial Director of our suite of sites: The Car Expert, The Van Expert and The Truck Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the automotive industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.