Paperwork, handover and how to complain

Everything you need to know about all the paperwork involved in buying a car, and what to do if you need to complain...

Car showroom

Buying a new car is an exciting process, but there are some formalities you have to put up with. You might need to be patient and wait for it to turn up if it's a factory order, and even if you're choosing a pre-registered car that's in stock, there will be forms to fill in.

As long as you're prepared, you should still be able to enjoy the excitement of your new purchase. Here's what to look out for.

Delivery times

A six-week delivery time is not unusual for a new car that's being built to your specification, and you might have to wait for a year or even longer for a model that's in high demand. There are long waiting times for certain models at present, so check out our guide to dealing with new car delays if you encounter any problems. 

Whether you're buying a new, used or pre-registered car from dealer stock, it's unlikely that you'll be able to drive the car away on the day. The dealer will want time to prepare it, either by servicing it if it's used or giving it a general check over or fitting optional extras if it's new. That shouldn't take more than a week, though.

With that in mind, it's worth agreeing on a collection day and time that suits you, and staying in contact with the dealer in the interim to check that the preparation work is going smoothly.

Paperwork and handover

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

New car buying

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

If you're buying a new car, the dealership should have its own checklist when you turn up to collect it. However, you should make sure the car is exactly how you ordered it with all the options you wanted.

Things to check

1. Study the V5C registration document carefully. Check the registration date, number of owners, the colour (if it's a used car) and the chassis number. The chassis number should match the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which is usually displayed near the bottom of the windscreen.

2. When you complete the sale, make sure the new owner's section of the V5C is filled in correctly, and that you take the relevant section, which acts as proof of your ownership until the new V5C is sent to you by the DVLA. The seller is responsible for sending the rest of the V5C to the DVLA.

3. 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 correct money. Make sure the contract includes all relevant information, including your name and address, the full details of the car, the agreed purchase price and any deposits or other payments made.

4. If you're taking out a finance package from a dealer, make sure you understand all the details and implications before you sign it. 

Best ways to pay

You're likely to have to pay a deposit to secure a car and remove it from public sale. Small dealers or private sellers may ask for £100 or so while prestige dealers ordering from a factory might want £1000.

The best way to pay the deposit is by credit card. That gives you the protection of the Consumer Credit Act if something goes 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.

The best way to pay the balance is either by banker's draft or using an online payment because the seller can check then that the money has gone through quickly.

If you buy a car remotely from a trader rather than in person, you also get the protection of the Distance Selling Regulations. They give you a seven-day cooling-off period after you've taken delivery of the car to change your mind. You're also covered by these regulations if you place a deposit online and conclude the deal in person. The regulations don't cover private sales, though.

Complaints and rejecting a car

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 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.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 gives you certain legal rights if something goes wrong with your car. They include the automatic right to a full refund if you reject a car within the first 30 days for any of the following reasons: it's not as described, it's not of satisfactory quality or it's not fit for purpose. After 30 days, the dealer can deduct an amount for your use of the vehicle.

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 offering fair compensation.

Private sales are not covered by the Consumer Rights Act, but you can still pursue the seller through the courts if they have described the car falsely.

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