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How do you complain if there's a problem when buying a car?

Taking the right steps at the right time can help to ensure you get what you want

Words by: First published: 22nd July 2015
If you want to make a complaint, the most important things to note are that you have to be reasonable and there must be a fault – you can’t just change your mind. Likewise, you can’t ask to change the car if:
  • The fault you’re complaining about was demonstrated to you before you took delivery
  • You damaged the car yourself, or
  • The problem is a result of normal wear and tear
It’s also very important that you complain as soon as possible. In the first six months, the onus is on the retailer to prove car was ‘satisfactory’ when they sold it; but, beyond that, it’s up to the buyer to show that the problem was there at the beginning – and you may need a report from an expert to prove that.

In fact, according to the letter of the law, you can return a car up to six (or five in Scotland) years after you bought it. However, as time goes by, it becomes more difficult to prove that a fault and not wear and tear is the cause of any problem.

When you complain, you’re obliged to give the dealer the chance to rectify the situation. This can include volunteering to fix any problem with the car, offering a full or partial refund or replacing the car.

Throughout the process, keep a record of any communications; and, when you reach agreement, make you sure you get it in writing.

If you decide that what is being offered to you is not enough, you can reject the car, but you must do so within six months of taking delivery; and, you have to give full details of what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it, in writing.

If the dealer won’t accept this, then it may be best to go to the next rung up the ladder. If the dealer is a member of an industry body, such as the Retail Motor Industry Federation or Motor Codes, they may be able to help; and, if not, try talking to the customer relations in the UK head office of the car manufacturer.

If all else fails, you could try taking the relevant person to court, but generally the small claims track (aka the Small Claims Court) only deals with sums of less than £10,000. What’s more, you will have to pay various fees and, of course, there’s no guarantee that you will win the case. For that reason, going to court is really best viewed as a last resort.