Cars – your rights if things go wrong

If you buy a used car from a dealer, you have some protection under consumer law. However, if you buy privately, you do not have the same consumer rights because the person selling the car is not selling it as part of their business.

Your rights when you buy from a dealer

When you buy from a dealer, the car should be:

  • Of merchantable quality – it should be of reasonable, acceptable quality given the age, cost and history of the car
  • Fit for the purpose intended and roadworthy
  • As described – it should match the description given verbally, in an advert or on a website.

It is an offence for a dealer to provide misleading information about the car, including its history, specification and any repair work needed. A dealer must not give you misleading information about themselves either. For example, about any authorisation they claim to have, their after sales service or any code of practice in place. It is also an offence under consumer law for a dealer to withhold information when selling a car.  There are a number of things to watch out for when buying a used car. Our car buyer’s checklist will also help you to ask the right questions.

Your rights when you buy privately

You do not have the same consumer rights if you buy a car from a private seller. Generally, private sales do not come with a warranty so you should ask a mechanic to check the car before you buy it. You should always get the seller’s address or telephone number so that you can contact them if you have problems later on. Always know what to look out for when buying privately. Use our handy downloadable car buyer’s checklist to help you keep track and make sure you get all the answers you need.

If you buy a car from a private seller and discover a problem, there may be little you can do beyond taking a civil case through the courts. Because of this you should be very careful when buying from a private seller; you really need to be aware of what you’re buying. Remember, a private seller may not have all the answers, so it is important for you to have the car checked by a mechanic.

Clocked cars

Your car displays the total mileage it has driven on a meter called the odometer on the dashboard – this is essentially a ‘clock’ which tells you how many miles or kilometres your car has driven. ’Clocking’ means changing the genuine odometer reading of the car in order to make the car look like it has been driven less than it actually has. If you think you have bought a clocked car, report this to us as soon as possible. You should act quickly as we cannot investigate a suspected clocked car if you have had it for more than three years.

Are you buying a car that is still under a finance agreement?

Check the registration documents of a second-hand car to make sure that it is not already owned by a finance company. If this is the case, the person trying to sell you the car does not actually own it and may not have the right to sell it to you – even though they may have the log book and registration documents. If you buy a car under an existing car finance agreement, you run the risk of the car being repossessed by the owner (the finance company). There is a much higher risk of this happening if you buy from a private seller so be sure to carry out the right checks. There are various companies that will check a car’s history for you for a small fee.

What to do if something goes wrong

If you feel you have been misled about any aspect of the car or if something goes wrong after buying the car, you should:

  • Contact the seller immediately and ask what they intend to do about the problem. If the car is under warranty, check the terms and conditions to see what it says about the seller’s obligations. Your normal consumer rights may still apply.
  • If the seller is a member of the Society of Irish Motor Industry (SIMI), the contract you signed when buying the car may require you to go through the SIMI complaints process. The investigation and complaints service of SIMI deals with complaints relating to:
    – buying used vehicles from SIMI member companies and
    – service or repairs of vehicles by SIMI member companies except those subject to a manufacturer’s warranty claim. For more information, check the website
  • If your contract does not require you to go through the SIMI complaints process, or if you’ve gone through the process and you disagree with the outcome, you can take legal action to try to get a resolution to the problem. If your claim does not exceed €2,000, you have the option of making a claim against the seller through the Small Claims procedure.
  • If you bought the car privately, you cannot go through the Small Claims procedure because you cannot take a case against another consumer. However, you can still consider legal action by consulting with a solicitor.
  • The Small Claims procedure does not deal with cases relating to finance agreements, including hire purchase agreements, as you do not own the car until you make the last payment.
  • You may want to get an independent mechanic to check the car out on your behalf and write a report on the details of the fault. If the report states that the fault should not be occurring in a car of its age and condition then you may be able to use this report to make a claim against the garage.

If you think the car has been clocked, you should contact us as soon as you can, with as much information as possible. You can read our car crime consumer guide for more information on what to expect if you make a complaint about car crime to us.

Last updated on 31 May 2022