Choosing to buy a car online is a big decision and commitment. After all, cars are an expensive purchase. You want to make sure that you buy a vehicle that’s safe, reliable and suited to your lifestyle, and that the seller you buy from can ultimately be trusted.

Thankfully, you have some legal rights and protections when you buy a car online. They differ depending on whether you choose to buy from a car dealership or a private seller. Here, we’ll cover your main rights when you buy a used car online in the UK.

What are your legal rights when buying a used car online?

When you buy a car online from a car dealership, you have the same rights as you would if you purchased the vehicle face to face. These rights protect you should the vehicle be faulty or damaged.

Unfortunately, your consumer protections aren’t as good if you buy the car from a private seller. As a result, buying privately is a riskier way to buy a car online. However, you are still protected by a few legislations. We’ll explain these in further detail later in this article.

Is buying a car online safe?

Yes. If you do your research and buy from a respected car dealership, you should not encounter any issues. And if you do, there are legislations in place that give you the rights to request repairs or a refund.

Your rights are slightly different if you buy the car privately as there are fewer legislations in place should something go wrong. This is why you should always do your homework. Our How to check vehicles when you’re viewing a car online guide has lots more information on how to protect yourself when you buy a car online from a private seller.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 law protects you in almost every purchase you make including goods, services and digital content, as well as servicing, maintenance and repairs. This applies to new and used cars bought from an online car dealership.

Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, any car you buy must meet the following standards:

  • It must be fit for purpose
  • It must be as described, matching the online description at the time of purchase
  • It must be of satisfactory quality, taking into account the car’s age and mileage

If the car is faulty or damaged upon delivery, you have the right to ‘reject’ it within 30 days of purchase. This entitles you to full repairs or a complete refund.

After 30 days, you lose your short-term right to reject the goods. If you notice the fault after 30 days but before 6 months, you may be entitled to a repair, replacement or partial refund. If you want to pursue a claim after six months, you must be able to prove that the car was faulty at the time of delivery.

Legally, you’re allowed to return the car up to six years after you bought it (or five years if you live in Scotland). However, the longer you wait to report any faults, the more difficult it will be to prove that the issue was there prior to you buying the vehicle.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 does not apply to private car sales, unfortunately.

What happens if you buy a car that’s faulty?

If you buy a car online from a car dealership and encounter problems, you should:

  • Contact the car dealership straight away
  • If they offer to fix the problem, make sure they explain any costs. Keep a record of all of your exchanges and make sure all verbal agreements are put in writing
  • If they don’t offer to fix the problem, you can ‘reject’ the car providing you’re still in the 30-day window. You must provide details for rejecting the car in writing

If the car dealership refuses to accept your rejection, you can contact the car manufacturer’s customer relations department, who may be able to help. Alternatively, offers a free online consumer advice service and makes the process of complaining easier.

Should you encounter any issues with a private car sale, you should contact the seller to seek some sort of compensation. Usually, this takes the form of repairs, rather than a refund. If the seller refuses to pay for repairs, you can send a formal complaint letter to the seller, informing them that you’re planning to escalate the complaint.

After that, you can choose an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme. In this instance, a third party will mediate between both sides of the complaint. It’s a lot less expensive and time-consuming than taking your complaint to the small claims court.

What to do if your car is delayed?

Delays with your car arriving can be stressful – particularly if it leaves you without transport for a few days, weeks or months. There are many reasons why car delays occur including late shipments with car parts, demand outweighing supply and order mistakes made by the car dealership.

When buying your car from an online dealership, always make sure to get your delivery date in writing. You can also ask the dealer to agree to provide a loan vehicle in the event that your car is not delivered on time. Again, any promises should be put down in writing.

If you find out that your car will be delayed, ask for an updated delivery date. You should then speak to the dealer’s customer services department and ask for more information. They may be able to offer a goodwill gesture. You should remain in close contact with your car dealership until you eventually receive your car.

What protections do you have if you buy a car online with a credit card?

If you buy a car from an online car dealership using your credit card, you are protected by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. This states that the card company and the dealership are jointly responsible for any compensation. This applies whether you paid all or part of the cost of your car by credit card.

If you pay via debit card, you won’t be covered by Section 75 but you might be able to claim a refund from your card provider through ‘chargeback’. Depending on the card provider, you’ll likely need to do this within 20 days of spotting any issues. Chargeback claims can take a little longer to process since the card company needs to receive the refund before they can then return the money to you.

What happens if the dealership goes bankrupt before you get your car?

In the unlikely (but not impossible) event of your car dealership going bankrupt before you receive your car, your options are limited. After all, there will be many people in the same position as you and some creditors will be ahead of you in the queue to get their money back.

The only legislation that does offer some protection in this circumstance is Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. If you paid between £100 and £30,000 on a credit card, then you have another layer of protection as the credit card company is just as responsible for providing you with the car you paid for.

Money-back guarantee

When you buy a car online from a car dealership, The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 states that you have the right to cancel your purchase from the moment you place an order up until 14 days after you receive the goods.

Once you decide to cancel within the 14-day window, you have 14 days to return the car. Once the dealer has received it back, you should then receive the refund within 14 days under the money-back guarantee.

If you bought the car from a private seller, you do not have money-back guarantee protection, unfortunately. Your best bet is to go back to the owner and kindly ask for a full refund – although the chances of them agreeing to this are slim. That’s why it’s important to always do your research when buying a car online.

Consumer Contracts and Regulations

What are the Consumer Contracts Regulations?

The Consumer Contracts Regulations came into force on 13 June 2014. They protect you when you’re online shopping – so if anything goes wrong, you’re covered by legislations in place.

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs) makes it a criminal offence for traders to mislead buyers in respect of goods and services. This covers a range of unlawful business practices including:

  • Giving false or insufficient information about the car
  • Failing to include ‘delivery’, administration’ or other non-optional charges in the advertised price for a car
  • Acting aggressively to sell the vehicle

For more information about your rights when buying a used car online from a car dealership, we recommend reading The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. Our ‘What are your legal rights when buying a used car? guide can also help.

What consumer protections do I have if I buy a car online?

You have the same rights when you buy a car online from a car dealership as you would if you physically went into the store. The Consumer Rights Act 2015, as detailed above, allows you to request repairs or a full refund in the event of your vehicle being damaged or faulty.

You can further protect yourself if things go wrong by buying your car through a hire purchase agreement (HP). An HP is a car finance plan, in which you pay a low deposit and hire the car with the option to buy it at the end of your contract. If the vehicle is not of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose or as described, the HP agreement states that the finance provider (rather than the dealer) is legally responsible for any issues with the car.

Unfortunately, your consumer protections aren’t as good if you’re buying from a private seller. You are however still covered by the Sale of Goods Act 1979. Under this legislation, the legal terms that cover a private sale contract are as follows:

  • The seller must have the legal right to sell the car
  • The car must be roadworthy, of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose
  • The vehicle must match the seller’s description

If the car is not fit for purpose or as described, then you can contact the seller to ask for compensation.

Now that we’ve covered the protections in place, you’ll hopefully feel more confident about buying a car online. We hope you don’t encounter any issues with your vehicle – but if you do, at least you know your rights.