Buying A Car - Paperwork, handover & how to complain

13 August 2012
Lexus came out top of 2007's JD Power Customer Satisfaction Survey

Waiting for delivery…
Unless it's through a private transaction, buying a car will inevitably involve some degree of waiting.

For a new car that's being built to your specification, six weeks' delivery is not unusual. The waiting list for cars in high demand can be a up to a year.

Even if you're buying a new, used or pre-registered car from dealer stock, it's unlikely that you'll be able to drive it away on the day. The dealer will want time to prepare the car, either for servicing if it's used, or for general preparation and the fitment of optional extras if it's new. That shouldn't take more than two weeks at the absolute outside. A week is reasonable.

Agree a collection time that suits you both, and keep in contact with the dealer in the interim. There are few experiences more deflating than turning up on the appointed day only to find the car's not ready.

A dealer will also want time to prepare the paperwork – and you'll want to make sure you get this part of the transaction right, too.

There's a lot of documentation associated with new or used car purchases. Check it all carefully before you commit, not after, and keep it somewhere safe, or you'll be on shaky ground if things go wrong.

Things to check:
•V5C registration document: check the registration date, number of owners, the colour (if it's a used car), and the chassis number – it should match the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) that's usually on display near the bottom of the windscreen.
•When you complete the sale, ensure that the new owner's section of the V5C is filled out correctly, and that you take the relevant section that acts as proof of your ownership until the new V5C is sent to you by the DVLA. It's in the seller's interest to forward the rest of the V5C to the DVLA, but if you want to make sure this happens quickly you can always offer to post it yourself.
•Look at the service history and query any gaps or any use of Tippex. Services vary in size and expense, depending on the schedule. If a service is due within 1000 miles, there's no harm in asking for it to be carried out by the vendor.
•If the car is old enough to need a MoT certificate, check the existing MoT document's expiry date. You'll need a valid certificate in order get a tax disc for the car.
•Make sure you get a dated sales contract (or, if buying privately, a dated invoice) showing that you've completed the deal and paid the right money. Make sure that all relevant information is shown: your name and address, plus the full details of the car, the agreed purchase price, and any deposits or payments made.
•If you're opting for a finance package from a dealer, make sure you understand all the details and implications before you sign. That goes double if you're buying a warranty from a dealer. What Car?'s Helpdesk receives plenty of correspondence from disgruntled buyers who thought they were covered by a dealer warranty, only to find critical limitations in the small print.

To secure a car in advance of collection and remove it from public sale, you'll most probably have to pay a deposit. Small dealers or private sellers may ask for £100 or so: prestige dealers ordering from the factory might want £1000.

The best way to pay the deposit, if it's practical to do so, is by credit card. You'll be covered by the Consumer Credit Act, and you'll have more rights if things go wrong. If you cancel the deal because you've changed your mind, or have found another car, the seller is entitled to keep your deposit.

You shouldn't pay the balance before you pick up the car. Money laundering regulations introduced in 2003 mean that you're not allowed to pay (and garages aren't allowed to accept) more than £10,000 in cash for any item. Personal cheques need time to clear, but bankers' drafts take just 10 minutes to verify.
Online payment is even quicker, but check that the website uses encryption technology to protect your data. A company's payment page should be secure: the URL (the site's 'address' in the internet browser's top menu bar) should always start with https: and not the standard http: prefix.

Credit cards can be the safest way to pay, but a dealership might charge a handling fee on larger amounts. Debit cards don't usually trigger these payments, but they don't offer the same level of protection, either.

Buying a used car from an internet business gives you automatic protection under the Distance Selling Regulations (DSR), most crucially a seven-day cooling-off period after you've taken delivery. You're also covered by DSR if you place a deposit online and conclude the deal face to face. These regulations don't cover private transactions, though.

Complaints and rejection
Even if you do everything right, your car might not be what you expected. So, what can you do to save the situation?

By far the best thing to do is not to buy the car in the first place. If you've already paid, but have concerns about the car not being what you expected, or not matching up to the advertisement, you should let the seller know before you take ownership.

If you want to reject it, speed is essential. Ideally, avoid taking delivery of the car. Start the complaint process by writing to the dealer as quickly as possible, informing them of your intention. You have a much higher chance of success and a full refund if you initiate proceedings within two weeks of purchase – especially if the case goes to court.

A garage might try to negotiate a settlement in the form of an extra discount or other incentives. Only you can decide if they're fair compensation.

Private sales aren't covered by the Sale of Goods Act, but you can still pursue the seller if they have falsely described the car.

Online forums are becoming increasingly important tools when dealing with manufacturers. Pre-internet, a car owner with a problem was a lonely voice who could be easily fobbed off with the 'we've never heard of this before' defence. Now, owners with the same problem can band together online and use consumer power to leverage manufacturers.

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