/ Motoring

Brief cases: used car warranty woes

When a member’s car became faulty after only a month since buying it used from a dealer, they turned to Which? Legal for help. Have you ever had issues with a used car’s warranty?

Which? Legal member Paul bought a used BMW for £8,350 in summer 2018. After only a month, the car began losing coolant, and the dealer identified that the issue was caused by a seal or O-ring leak.

However, during the time Paul was trying to arrange a repair with the dealer, the car overheated and needed to be towed to a different garage. Paul had to have his car fixed immediately to get back on the road, at a cost of £841.

Unfortunately this repair by a third party was not covered under the terms and conditions of his warranty, and he was stuck with the bill. He contacted us for advice.

Third-party repairs

The team advised Paul to contact the dealer and ask it for a contribution towards the repair that was carried out by the third-party garage. Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, it’s the dealer’s responsibility to ensure that the cars it sells are of satisfactory quality.

Read our guide to second-hand car rights

Arguably, the car was not up to standard, as it suffered a coolant leak so soon after purchase. The dealer should have carried out the necessary repairs within a reasonable time, and without charge.

Paul was in a difficult position legally because the dealer had initially offered a repair, but this was carried out by a third party without its authorisation.

Considering the circumstances, the dealer offered Paul £504 towards the cost of repairing his car. Paul was willing to accept this amount in order to resolve the matter swiftly.

‘Satisfactory quality’

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 states that if anything you’ve bought is not of satisfactory quality, then you’re entitled to have it repaired or replaced.

It’s advisable to give the supplier the opportunity to do this first, before taking the matter further.

By accepting the dealer’s offer towards the cost of his repair, Paul avoided the time and expense of going to court.

It can prejudice a claim if a repair is done without the trader’s knowledge, so accepting the offer also avoided the risk of litigation.

Have you ever had issues with a used car? If so, did the dealer deal with the problems in a satisfactory way? Let us know your experiences.


I purchased a second hand Subaru Outback. This was bought from a dealer some 160 miles from where I live. At the time of actually sealing the deal the garage stated that they would cover any necessary repairs for 3 months. At this stage I stated that as I lived so far away I would seek the expertise of an official Subaru agent in the event of any problems. A short time later I did have a problem so took the Subaru to a Subaru agent who stated that the replacement front wheel bearing would be around £1200. I telephoned the seller garage. They were surprised but I told them that this was what had been agreed. They spoke to the Subaru reception and authorised the necessary repair. All good, that is until the other front wheel bearing also went the same way as the other front. I telephoned the seller garage, this was within the guarantee period, but they refused to pay. I was left with the bill. Maybe I should have spoken to the Which Legal team?

As so often happens with ‘Brief cases’ we don’t have enough information to understand the case. If the dealer had identified a cooling leak, perhaps they should have advised the owner not to drive the car until the seal or O-ring had been replaced because overheating due to loss of coolant can cause severe engine damage.

Hi wavechange. We can be limited on what we’re able to publish when it comes to the dispute, the full advice the advisors gave and the full legal position. The amount of space the section occupies in the magazine can also be another reason we have to present a more ‘brief’ summary of the case.

Although we do not know the details of the conversations between Paul and the dealer, I agree that it would have been advisable to avoid driving the car until it was repaired. Continuing using the car could have contributed to it overheating, resulting in the need for the immediate repair.

This action could have further complicated a potential legal claim, which is another reason why settling for £504 was advisable.

Thanks for replying, Thomas. We do not know whether the dealer said it was OK for Paul to use the car until it could be repaired, offered no advice or advised him not to use the car, or whether the possibility of a loan car was considered. The offer of £504 towards the repair seems very generous.

Questions left hanging are why the car was not left with the dealer originally for repair or taken back to the original dealer when towed, and why it was driven whilst losing coolant. I wonder if the dealer was contacted to say the car was at a different garage for repair and to discuss the costs.

Hi Malcolm. In this situation, Paul chose to continue using the car out of necessity. Due to this personal necessity Paul also chose to get the repair done as soon as possible, instead of taking it back to the dealer. He contacted the dealer about this repair after the fact.

I agree that in an ideal world it would have been better to choose one of the following:

1 – leave the car with the dealer until it is repaired in the first instead, or
2 – transport the car back to the dealer when it overheated, or
3 – contact the dealer and ask for them to authorise a repair by a third-party with the promise that they will cover the cost

Often, we do find that the legal disputes we deal with rarely fall into an ideal situation. This may be because a person only has access to one car and needs it to get to work or care for family, or perhaps a variety of other possible reasons. Every case we deal with is different, which will always impact on the advice we’re able to give and how successfully we can deal with a case. I hope this helps.

Thomas, thanks for responding.
I agree with your comments about the real world. Nevertheless if the owner contributed to the problem by not getting a timely fix and exacerbating the problem then I think they share part of the responsibility. I don’t know how much it would have cost the original dealer to fix the problem but, under the circumstances, I think the settlement seems more than fair.

Thomas, the value of “Brief Cases” should be in informing us of the exact relevant circumstances of the case so that we can learn from them. Somewhere Which? say that lack of space prevents them from giving full information. I do not see this as a good reason – it is surely possible to give a concise list of the relevant facts. In this case it seems to me among the pertinent facts that are missing are:
1. Did the dealer advise against driving the car until it was fixed.
2. Did the dealer offer a repair in a reasonable time (given the availability of spare parts for example).
Without such information I’d suggest the article is not particularly helpful, although it does promote Which? Legal.