/ Motoring

Have you regretted a used car purchase?

Used cars sign

Last year Citizens Advice had 80,000 complaints about used cars. And with it being National Consumer Week, here’s Leon Livermore of Trading Standards to explain why you should ‘check it or regret it’.

When I reflect on my time spent as a frontline trading standards officer, the complaints about second hand cars were often times the most complex to deal with.

It wasn’t just the law or the technical aspects of a car buying that made it difficult – it was how emotional we can be about cars. They are major purchases and we put the safety of our families in them. So while it might be tempting to go for that bargain, are you confident you’re not gambling your family’s safety?

Car buyers beware

Are you doing all you can to make sure you’re protected? For those of a certain age – and I’m one of them – the image of Arthur Daley’s dodgy deals still sits in my memory. While many modern car dealers are a million miles away from that image, they still exist.

Two old maxims come to mind. The first is ‘if it seems too good to be true, it probably is’. The second is ‘buyer beware’. So how can we become savvy buyers? Do two things – check out the seller and check out the car.

When picking a seller, there’s no stronger recommendation than word of mouth. Have you got a friend that has recently bought a car? Search the seller online and see what review sites and previous buyers say about the seller.

You can also look for an approved trader. There are plenty of schemes run by main dealers, local authorities, or motoring organisations that serve as another safe guard when buying a used car.

Checking your used car

Checking the car may be more difficult. While standard advice says you should get an independent check, is paying for an independent check realistic when you’re only spending £1,000 on the car? If the answer is no, you can still do an HPI check on the car’s history, check MOT mileages, or take a friend who knows about cars with you when you go to look at it. These simple checks empower you as the consumer to make an informed decision.

In this age of austerity, is it the job of the public sector to look after someone who turns up in a service station and hands a bundle of cash over to someone they’ve never met before? Is it up to the industry to protect consumers? Or is it the job of all of us to arm ourselves with the necessary tools provided by industry to make good buying decisions?

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Leon Livermore, Chief Executive of the Trading Standards Institute. All opinions expressed here are Leon’s own, not necessarily those of Which?


On the 23rd. July of this year I bought a Jaguar 3.0 Luxury XF car for £23,826.00 from a main Jaguar dealer near where I live. Prior to this I had spent a considerable amount of time visiting a local car auction near Colchester, but had decided that I would not like to take any risks with such a major purchase, and so had settled on buying from a main dealer.
Within 2 days of driving this car I noticed quite a pronounced ‘clunking’ noise when I changed gear, going from ‘R’ Reverse into ‘P’ Park. I knew that this was not right. Soon afterwards I became aware of a low ‘whine’ at low rpm, between 1,000 and 1,100 rpm. Again I knew that this was not as it should be.
On the 8th. August I took the car back to the main dealer and raised these issues. The engineer who accompanied me on a short test drive could hear these noises, but could not account for them.
Shortly after this on advice from Jaguar Engineers the dealer agreed to replace the gearbox and fuel lines. I thought that this must resolve these problems. Sadly, this was not the case!
As soon as I drove the car away from the dealer’s forecourt there was a massive ‘clunk’ as I used the paddles in ‘S’ for Sport mode on the steering wheel to change down from 3rd to 2nd gear, this occurred literally within 2 minutes of driving away. I rang later that same day but was assured that the gearbox just needed time to ‘settle in’. Again this was not correct as this problem persisted for the next 6 – 8 weeks.
I complained and took the car back to have it checked.
The dealer had the car for approximately one week, but failed to resolve these problems. Consequently, I wrote a four page letter demanding my money back, after having consulted Which Legal Service on several occasions. The main dealer agreed within three days..
I am now without a car and obliged to start the whole tedious process of finding a suitable replacement car all over again!


I sympathize over your experience but it goes some way to prove that for a used car perhaps especially complex upmarket car you may not be much better off with a main dealer. I can see how you would expect a main dealer to have specialist knowledge relative to that make and model of car and you will certainly pay top price from a main dealer but very often you’re taking the same risk as buying used from anyone. Main dealer primarily want to sell new cars and charge top prices for servicing those new cars they sell you.

Buying used with what will usually be a limited warranty (certainly compared to new) will always carry an element of risk. This is why cars only a few years old will have lost so much of their value, often as much as 60% in three years even if mileage is low. It’s a kind of compensation for that risk.

However buying used can very often offer very good value but it really depends upon who you buy from and how well you are able (or are able to get) the particular car checked out first.

My preference is a purchase from a private seller who has owned the car for a while, preferably from new. Make sure there is a good service history and if you cannot spot the obvious potential issues take someone with you who can.

A secondhand trader will be selling trade ins from mostly main dealers or lease companies and they’ll want quick turnover with as much profit built into the price you pay as possible, so you won’t be getting the best secondhand price.
The most some of these cars get is a bucket of water and hoover out before they’re sold. Unless there is something glaringly obvious possible faults will not be identified or rectified. The trader will be relying on a warranty insurance policy you’ll be paying the premium for in the price.

I think the message overall is things are often not as one might expect and people you might think you can rely on (and find you pay more to) are quite often no better than the rather down market used car lot down the road.
You need to be very careful and well informed.whoever you buy a used car from.

Scion says:
8 November 2013

“I sympathize over your experience but it goes some way to prove that for a used car perhaps especially complex upmarket car you may not be much better off with a main dealer…very often you’re taking the same risk as buying used from anyone.”

I don’t agree with this comment. The dealer replaced the gearbox and fuel lines, didn’t manage to cure the problem so Brian is getting his money back. Try getting the same level of service from a backstreet dealer.

Gerald says:
8 November 2013

Scion underlines the fact that some of the responses to Brian are entirely missing the point, which is that by buying from a main dealer he was looked after to the point where he ultimately got his money back. I’ve stayed with main dealers for 12 of my 14 cars. All but one were bought second hand. In every case the main dealer responded excellently to problems, showing a genuine desire to help. In two cases — Mercedes and Jaguar — I have bought cars from main dealers that were considerably cheaper and older than most of the vehicles on their forecourts (such cars are usually carefully selected as too good to send to auction) but never felt that I had inferior service. The two cars not from a main dealer? One was from a small trader near to my home. He lied about the age of the car — it was actually registered late the previous year to the one advertised. Trading standards supported me and recommended a sum of money in compensation. The dealer agreed but never paid up and now doesn’t exist. The other one was privately bought in good faith from a friend who didn’t realise how sick it was. It cost me enormous money to put right.
So I say go to a main dealer every time. Don’t think you have to pay big money. Tell the sales guy what you want and wait for them to find it. They will not look down on you. A good sales person regards every sale as important, whether five grand or fifty.


I always buy used cars and have never regretted this decision. My first car was six years old but my subsequent cars were under a year old with very low mileage and bought either from the main dealer or a car supermarket. I am currently looking for a Fiesta ’62 or ’13 plate but the right one has not come along yet. I don’t mind waiting as my previous Fiesta is still going well. I don’t get the colour I want, it does not exist on the Fiesta, but I do get the new car smell and feel and the remaining warranty. By buying nearly new, I’m probably saving about £4,000. Not a bad saving for waiting a few months.


I bought my current car secondhand from a car auction. It is an ex company car that had about 6 months manufacturers warranty left when bought in May 2011. I had two minor faults fixed under warranty by the main dealer. Before the warranty expired I bought a 3 year warranty wise platinum warranty (it covers everything) for £1200. (I don’t think they sell this comprehensive warranty any more). So far I have only made one claim for just over £300 including recovery cost in July of this year. I paid at auction about £2500-£3000 less than I would have paid at a dealers. This method is foolproof for me. The main disadvantage is you may need to watch the on-line listings for some time until the car you would like appears – I admit I had to compromise on trim level (S instead of SE).

Norm says:
4 November 2013

I bought my current car, a Mercedes B150 from the MB main dealer. It was less than a year old with 9k on the clock. It was a good deal and the car is brilliant but when the registration document came back the previous owner was a car hire company not one careful owner as I had been told. If I’d known it was an ex hire car I might have had second thoughts. You expect a main dealer to be honest and up front about this sort of thing.


I have bought used cars since about 2000, having previously bought new cars. Nearly all have come from the same dealer as I have found the company fair if any problems arise, good on price and good on their range of cars. I examined my early purchases very carefully and also had some vetted by the RAC, but latterly I’ve trusted the company enough to do without most of that, and been proved right. So I’ve been fortunate, and I’m hoping it continues!