Do I have the right to reject my faulty car?

A reader's secondhand car needs major repairs shortly after purchase. She asks if she is entitled to reject it...

engine warning light

I recently ordered a new car on a personal contract purchase deal, part-exchanging my previous car and paying a £500 deposit on a credit card to start the deal off. I collected the car, and after just one week the engine malfunction light appeared. So I phoned the garage and was advised to wait and see if it happened again. 

A week later it did, so I took the car to the garage and the light came on during an extended test drive by the service team. 

I have since been told that the car requires a replacement turbocharger. I’m no expert, but this sounds like a significant fault to me, suggesting that the car is not fit for purpose. 

I am within my 30-day limit for rejecting the car under the Consumer Rights Act. The garage has had my car for eight days now while diagnosing the fault, but the finance company says I am not eligible to reject the vehicle, because their contract agreement states I had only 14 days from signing the agreement to change my mind. 

Do I really have no rights regarding a brand new car that has a serious fault? Do I just have to allow the garage to fix it rather than reject it?

Sarah Law

What Car? says…

You do have the right under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 to reject any product within 30 days and get a full refund if it’s not of satisfactory quality or fit for purpose. And this sounds like the case with your car. 

It seems like the finance company is confusing your Consumer Rights Act rights with the 14-day cooling-off period you have to change your mind after buying goods at a distance or online. 

We’d advise you to formally reject the car in writing to the finance company and dealership, hand back any paperwork and spare keys, and let them know you require a full refund within 14 days. Don’t accept any offer of repair; you don’t have to do this within the first 30 days.

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Car dashboard warning lights explained

Modern cars are brimming with electronic systems, the majority of which are fitted with sensors to monitor their condition. If the sensors detect a problem, you’ll be alerted to it by warning lights, which are typically displayed within the speedometer and rev counter dials or elsewhere on the dashboard of your car.

Given the number of different warning lights, it can be confusing to know what’s what, so here are the meanings of some of the most common ones.  


ABS warning light

ABS

This means the anti-lock braking system (ABS) isn’t functioning correctly, but it doesn’t mean the brakes aren’t working at all, as the car will probably come to a stop fine in normal conditions. However, the ABS is designed to stop your car from skidding when you hit the brakes hard or when you’re braking on slippery surfaces, so if it isn’t working, it’s best to get it checked.

Airbag warning light

Airbag

An image of a seated passenger with what looks like a beach ball in front of them points to a problem with the airbag system. Many modern cars allow you to manually deactivate airbags, which is sometimes necessary when you’re fitting a child seat, for example, so the airbag warning light may come on then. However, if you haven’t deliberately turned off the system, get the car checked out, because airbags are vital safety features.  

Battery warning light

Battery

The battery symbol is one of the more ambiguous warning lights. At its simplest, it can mean the battery is low on charge, which isn’t unusual if the car hasn’t been driven for a while. Low voltage on a car that is driven regularly can mean it’s time to replace the battery, though. The warning light can also point to other problems with the electrical and charging system, such as issues with the alternator or damaged wires or ignition cables, which can require a more involved diagnosis.   

Brake warning light

Brakes

This one’s obviously important, which is why the light itself is a red exclamation mark. It might just mean you just haven’t fully released the handbrake, so make sure it’s completely off before you get too worried. The light can point to a more serious problem with the braking system, though, and you really don’t want to take any chances, so have the car inspected as soon as possible if it comes on.  

Brake pad wear

Some cars have a brake pad wear warning light, which is usually an orange circle with six dashes around the edges. This isn’t as urgent as the red exclamation mark, but it does mean that one or more of the brake pads is reaching the end of its life. It doesn’t need instant attention, but you should book the car in for replacement brake pads as soon as possible.

DPF warning light

Diesel particulate filter

The exact appearance of this light can vary, but it usually has a series of circles arranged in a rectangle to resemble an exhaust, and some add three semicircles designed to look like a cloud. The particulate filter on diesel-engined cars can become clogged and cause problems, particularly if you’ve recently done a lot of low-speed/stop-start driving. Driving for a time at higher speeds on the motorway should be enough to unclog the filter, but if the light doesn’t go away after that, further attention is required.

Door warning light

Door, boot or bonnet

If you’ve left a door, the boot or the bonnet open, there isn’t anything wrong the car, but it isn’t safe to drive off until it’s properly closed. The symbol itself is usually an image of a car with the corresponding body panel sticking out.  

Engine temperature

A red thermometer in water means your car’s engine is getting too hot and there’s a problem with the cooling system. The coolant might be running low and simply need a top-up (check the gauge on the coolant reservoir under the bonnet first), and it’s always best to do this when the engine is cold. Don’t rule out a leak in the system, either. This warning light can also point to much bigger problems, such as a broken radiator, water pump or head gasket.

Engine warning light

Engine management

An orange light in the shape of an engine is the most vague warning light of all and means the engine control unit (ECU) has detected a problem. Exactly what that problem is can vary dramatically; it could be anything from a faulty sensor to a serious mechanical failure. So it’s a good idea to get the car checked out as soon as you can.  

Glow plug warning light

Glow plugs

Glow plugs are specific to diesel cars; they help with combustion and are vital for getting the engine started when it’s cold. The glow plug warning light usually looks like a coiled piece of wire and it will typically remain on for a few seconds after you’ve turned the ignition key as the plugs heat up, especially on cold mornings. If that’s all that happens, there’s nothing to worry about, but if the light stays on or illuminates later, there might be an issue with the plugs or the systems that control them.

Oil warning light

Oil

A red symbol that looks like a dripping watering can is arguably the most serious warning light after brakes. It can mean the engine’s oil level is too low, the temperature is too high or the oil pressure is too high or too low. All of those things are bad news for an engine and can lead to serious mechanical damage, so seek help straight away.

Power steering warning light

Power steering

If you see a steering wheel, possibly with an exclamation mark beside it, that means there’s a fault with the car’s power steering. If the system fails completely, it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to steer at all, but the steering will become much heavier, which will make it more difficult to manoeuvre the car.

Seatbelt warning light

Seatbelt

It’s an obvious one, but a red image of a strapped-in passenger suggests someone isn’t wearing their seatbelt – and you’ll probably hear a bonging noise as well. Modern car seats are fitted with pressure sensors that trigger warning lights and sounds when they detect a certain amount of weight in the seat. However, putting heavy items in the seats can also set them off unnecessarily.

Traction control warning light

Traction control

The traction control system helps to keep your car on the straight and narrow when its wheels lose grip. Sensors detect when the wheels are starting to spin and trigger a reduction in engine power and a small amount of braking to stop the car from sliding or skidding too much. When the system kicks in, a warning light that typically looks like a car with a pair of squiggles in front of it flashes. That’s perfectly normal and just means you might want to back off a bit. It's possible to switch off most traction control systems, though, which will cause the light to remain on permanently. If you haven’t done that and the light stays on, the system might not be working properly.  

Tyre pressure warning light

Tyre pressure

Tyre pressure monitoring systems have been mandatory for new cars sold in the UK since November 2014, and they were fitted to many models sold before then, so they’re a common feature. Sensors in the wheels monitor the amount of air in the tyres, and if you see a U-shaped warning light with grooves on the bottom and an exclamation mark in the centre, that means the pressures are too low. Topping the tyres up should sort it, but if the light comes back on, you might have a puncture or another problem.

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