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New data from Citizens Advice reveals last year the charity’s Consumer Service received a complaint about a used car every three minutes. 

The charity, which helped with almost 43,000 complaints relating to used cars in 2023 alone, found the majority of these (66%) complaints were about defective goods, while 13% concerned safety issues.

This comes as research from Citizens Advice reveals more than one in four people (28%) who bought a used car in the last decade experienced an issue. The most common issue was the car turning out to be defective (30%), while 27% said the car had damage they were not told about, and 19% said the car had a higher mileage than they were told.

Cost of living pressures mean more people are looking to save money on big ticket items. Analysis of Citizens Advice research shows 3.5 million people (15%) are currently looking to buy a used car. 

Citizens Advice is giving advice to motorists to mark the start of its Consumer Awareness campaign (Monday 20th May - Sunday 2 June). The annual campaign is run by Citizens Advice in collaboration with the Consumer Protection Partnership (CPP), which includes Trading Standards and the Department for Business and Trade.

Jane Parsons, Consumer Expert at Citizens Advice offers advice to help put a stop to unexpected issues motorists might face when buying a used car:

Check the trader

If you’re buying from a trader (a business that sells cars) you should:

  • Look for an established firm with a good reputation. Look for a garage that is a member of the Consumer Codes Approval Scheme, this means you can act through the Code Sponsor if something goes wrong

If you’re buying from an individual seller:

  • You’re entitled to expect that the vehicle is roadworthy, unless you and the seller clearly agree it is bought for scrap or for spares and repair

Check the car’s history

You’ll need the seller’s permission to have the vehicle inspected. Make sure to keep a copy of all inspections or checks, either by taking a screenshot or downloading the information.

  • Check the car’s details with the DVLA using their free online vehicle checker and check the MOT history on GOV.UK
  • Get a private history check. This might cost up to £20, but will give you valuable information about serious problems the car might have. If you’re still not sure - get an independent report. This will give you detailed information about the car’s condition and will cost around £120 to £250 
  • Inspect the car and take a test drive. You should arrange to view the car in daylight, preferably when it’s dry - it’s harder to spot damage to the car if it’s wet

3. Paying for a used car

Ask questions if you’re unsure about anything in the small print. Remember you can stop the deal if you feel like you’re being pressured into paying too much or buying additional features. And make sure you get the original (not a photocopy) of the log book (the V5C registration certificate) and the valid MOT test document. Never buy a car without the log book.

The way you pay will affect what rights you might have if something goes wrong:

  • If you pay by cash, there are no extra fees or interest but if something goes wrong with the car you won’t have the protection that you have if you buy using a card or on finance.  
  • If you use a debit card you might have protection from problems from your provider’s chargeback scheme. And if you use a credit card, you’re protected as long as you paid more than £100 and no more than £30,000, even if you only paid for a small part of the cost on a credit card (this is called ‘section 75’ protection).
  • If you pay using finance arranged by a trader, you might have extra protection if there’s a problem later, because you can take action against the finance company as well as the trader (or instead of the trader).

You can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service if you have an unresolved complaint and have paid by debit card, credit card or using finance. 

Contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133 if you need more help - a trained adviser can give you advice over the phone. 

Dame Clare Moriarty, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Year after year problems with used cars top the charts of consumer issues our expert advisers help with.

“Unexpected car problems can cost more than just money, they can leave people missing  work or unable to drop their kids off at school.

“Many of us are feeling the pinch right now so it’s vital to make sure you’re getting exactly what you paid for. Before making a big purchase like a used car, don’t forget to brake and make all the right checks before you buy.”

Colin Briggs, Used Car Lead, National Trading Standards, said: 

“Buying a car is one of the biggest financial commitments most people will ever make. Many rely on used cars to get to work or visit family and save hard for the car they need, trusting they will get a fair deal. 

"Unfortunately, while the vast majority of used car dealers are honest traders, those looking to buy a used car should be alert to unscrupulous sellers. Some sell dangerous vehicles unfit for the road and don't care that those who buy and rely on used cars are often not in a position to fork out for repairs.

"We urge people thinking about buying a used car to do their research into the seller and check the car's history before handing over any money."

John Herriman, Chief Executive at the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), said: 

“The data presented as part of this national campaign really highlights that consumers are often left out of pocket when purchasing a used car. The complex and ever-changing used car landscape means consumers are left confused and without the knowledge and information needed to make a well-informed purchasing decision. 

“Consumers are rightfully wary of the ‘Del Boy’ type car traders, but in reality, there is just as much harm and bad practice lurking behind used car adverts on online platforms, such as Facebook. Car clocking is still an ongoing issue, and cars are being sold with the mileage being adjusted and not declared at the time of sale – this is an offence and Trading Standards will take action when necessary. 

“For peace of mind we would encourage consumers to purchase a used car from a garage that is a member of the Consumer Codes Approval Scheme (CCAS). These garages adhere to a robust code of practice that sets them above and beyond other car traders. In the event that a problem does arise, all garages in the CCAS family offer free Alternative Dispute Resolution to help resolve the issue quickly and effectively.”


For more information contact:

Tel: 0300 0231080

Out-of-hours contact number: 0845 099 0107

We give people the knowledge and confidence they need to find their way forward - whoever they are, and whatever their problem.

Notes to editors:

  1. Citizens Advice Consumer Service figures relate to Used Cars complaints analysed from 01/01/2023 to 31/12/2023.
  2. Polling methodology: Citizens Advice commissioned Savanta, an independent market research agency, to conduct consumer research using the Savanta Consumer Omnibus survey. The omnibus was conducted over the weekend from the 19th April 2024 to 22nd April 2024. Savanta’s Omnibus was conducted amongst 2291 consumers from across the UK aged 18+. The data has been weighted to ensure results are nationally representative of those age 18+ across the UK and so that accurate data analysis can occur.
  3. Population methodology calculated by multiplying total-level statistics by the ONS mid-2021 estimate of 51,718,632 adults in Great Britain
  4. Citizens Advice is made up of the national charity Citizens Advice; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.
  5. Our network of charities offers impartial advice online, over the phone, and in person, for free. 
  6. Citizens Advice helped 2.66 million people face to face, over the phone, by email and webchat in 2022-23. And we had 60.6 million visits to our website. For full service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.
  7. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 16,000 trained volunteers, You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133 or 0808 223 1144 for Welsh language speakers.

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