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Used car warranty – the law and your rights

A used car warranty can ensure you're covered when something goes wrong, but make sure you know exactly what you're buying

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If you are looking at buying a second-hand car, there can be considerable confusion as to what to expect in terms of a used car warranty and what your rights are when something goes wrong.

At one end of the spectrum, you will have near-new used cars that are still covered by their new car warranty, while at the other end you will see cars being advertised and sold with no warranty given at all. In between is a bewildering variety of used car warranty offers which have different meanings and consequences for car buyers.

One of the big considerations facing used car buyers is whether to purchase a warranty to cover them if they’re suddenly faced with a big garage bill.

And it’s quite a consideration: on one hand, there’s great peace of mind knowing that you would have some financial support if your car needed some costly repairs. But on the other hand, you have to weigh up whether the warranty’s annual premiums will be less than any repair charge you might encounter. Decisions, decisions…

So what used car warranties are available, what do they cover and what are your rights? In this article, we will look at the different types of warranty and what protection you can expect – even if the car is sold without any used car warranty at all.

Used car warranty – tow truck

Warranties available on a used car

A warranty is a form of insurance cover against certain faults the car may develop, over and above your statutory rights. It does not override or replace your rights under the Consumer Rights Act, but it covers a wider range of faults which would not be acceptable reasons for rejecting the car altogether.

There are several different types of warranty that may apply to the used car you are buying, and it is important to know which applies to you.

New car warranty

A fairly new used car (less than three years old) will almost certainly still be covered by whatever is left of the manufacturer’s new car warranty. This is the best kind of cover you can have, as it is usually more straightforward to make a claim via a franchised main dealer.

The car has to be regularly serviced for the manufacturer’s warranty to stay valid and, although the car companies prefer you to have any work carried out by a franchised dealer, they can’t force you to. However, if you have it serviced by a non-official workshop, make sure it’s done to the manufacturer’s schedule and using approved parts.

Most manufacturers offer a three-year warranty on their new cars, but some offer more. Many also offer extended warranties at extra cost, but be aware that these may not offer the same terms and benefits as the original warranty.

Approved used car warranty

Main dealers of big brands will also usually have an “approved used car warranty” of some sort, usually for 12 months. These are usually branded as a manufacturer warranty, but are mostly managed and underwritten by a third party insurer.

Often this type of warranty has an attached requirement that the car has to be serviced by either the selling dealer or another franchised dealer for the warranty to be valid. This is enforceable because, unlike the new car warranty, the cover is not actually provided by the manufacturer.

Approved used car warranty - Toyota
Aftermarket used car warranty

The majority of traders will offer some form of warranty on their used cars, but the value of these warranties vary massively.

The term offered may be as little as a week or maybe a few months – anything more than three months is fairly unusual – and there will be very specific areas that are excluded from the warranty cover (usually the most expensive components to repair).

Older, cheaper, higher-mileage cars tend to be offered with warranties that cover significantly less than those offered on newer and more expensive cars, so check what level of cover you’re getting.

Usually, the dealer will hope to sell you a longer-term used car warranty over and above what’s included in the purchase price. Bear in mind that, like most things, a dealership is about the most expensive place around to buy extras like warranties and insurance.

If you’re interested in protecting your investment over and above what’s included when you buy the car, shop around online to compare what’s available with what the dealer is peddling. You’ll almost certainly find an alternative that’s cheaper and/or more comprehensive than the dealer’s offer.

Here at The Car Expert, we have some fantastic warranty offers for our readers provided by our commercial partners. If you’re interested in a used car warranty, you should check these out:

No warranty at all?

A warranty is not a legal requirement for a used car, and it’s fairly common on very cheap used cars (less than a couple of thousand pounds or so) to be sold without any warranty at all.

Unlike your statutory rights, a dealer can also offer you a discount in return for waiving the warranty. However, you should be very wary of any dealer who makes this offer, as it is making you financially responsible for any fault that is not significant enough to reject the car.

A dealer may tell you that if you bought the same car privately you wouldn’t get a warranty, and it makes it impossible for a dealer to trade profitably if they have to provide an expensive warranty on a cheap car. By not offering a warranty, they can pass on the savings to you. That may be true, but it does leave you exposed so consider your position carefully.

Your statutory rights on any used car

Many buyers confuse warranties with their legal rights, but they are two different things. Warranty or not, you are still covered by your statutory rights if the car you’ve bought is faulty or not roadworthy.

Any used car purchase by a private individual from a trader is covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which means you can reject the car if it is not as described or is faulty. You are also covered by the Road Traffic Act 1988, under which it is an offence for a trader to sell an unroadworthy vehicle (unless the buyer knows that the vehicle is unroadworthy and has no intention of driving it on the road in its present state).

You should also read: Rejecting a faulty car – what are your rights?

It does not matter whether a used car is priced at £500, £50,000 or £500,000; if you are private individual buying a car from a trader then you are covered by the Consumer Rights Act. These rights also cannot be waived in return for a discount or any other offer.

Although there is no specific legal description, a faulty used car is generally considered to be a car that is not roadworthy and/or is not safe. Secondary or more minor issues, like a broken stereo or paintwork problems, are generally not acceptable reasons to reject a car under the Consumer Rights Act. However, the legislation wording is not very clear, so ultimately it can come down to who makes a better case in court, should it get that far.

If you end up taking your case to court, the judge will take things like age and mileage into account when considering whether a fault is considered significant enough to reject the vehicle. So if your car is ten years old car with 100,000 miles on the clock, it will probably be given considerably more leeway than a two-year-old car that has done 10,000 miles.

The key thing to remember if you are considering rejecting a used car is that:

“A car with a fault is not necessarily a faulty car”

The Car Expert

Ask questions about the warranty being offered

When buying any car from a trader, it is important to ask about the used car warranty being offered and exactly what it covers. Don’t accept half-answers or being told that you’ll be given a booklet when you pick up the car. Get proper answers and ask for a copy of that booklet before you agree to buy the car.

Beware of a trader who writes “no warranty” on a sales contract without any prior explanation. If a warranty is not offered, you need to know that before reading it on the contract. Although it’s not illegal, it’s usually a sign that the dealer hasn’t been completely up-front with you about the vehicle’s condition.

It is very important to read the fine print on any warranty, but especially so on an aftermarket product as the terms and conditions can vary significantly. It’s much better to know how it works and what is covered before you have a repair to pay for.

There may be a specific process for claiming on the warranty; some will require you to get authorisation from the warranty company before proceeding, while others may require you to pay for any work up-front and then reimburse you afterwards if your claim is approved. There will also be a cap on how much money the warranty will contribute towards a repair: bear in mind that this might not cover the total cost of the fix.

You should also read: “Spares or repairs” and other dodgy dealer tricks

When buying a used car, it is your responsibility to make sure you question anything you’re told, and don’t simply take the salesman’s word for it. Once you sign a contract, you are legally committed and it doesn’t matter what you’ve been told verbally. So make sure you understand exactly what you are paying for on a used car warranty so you can rely on it to cover you when you need it.

Here at The Car Expert, we have some fantastic warranty offers for our readers provided by our commercial partners. If you’re interested in a used car warranty, you should check these out:

This article was originally written in April 2017, and was most recently updated in January 2021. Additional reporting by Tom Johnston.

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.