Buying and then maintaining a car is one of the biggest expenses consumers face. It is a complicated business with potential for problems. Every year, the car sales and maintenance sectors generate tens of thousands of consumer complaints.
So, it makes sense to know your rights, the pitfalls and what to do if things go wrong.
First, decide what you want and how much you can afford. Include the cost of insurance, MOT, road tax, petrol, repairs and servicing. If you are taking out a loan, add up the repayments.
Look at car magazines and price guides to see what is available for the price you want to pay, and to check the value of any car you may want to trade in.
Then start shopping around by visiting dealers to find out what they've got in your price range.
Ask the advice of friends who may have had experience with a dealership. Look for a trade association sign. This should mean the dealer follows a code of practice such as the Code of Practice for the motor industry. Theor the Association can give you a list of dealers that are trade association members and follow a code of practice.
Take advantage of free test drives (some dealers let you test drive a car over 48 hours). Key points to look out for include:
Don't be afraid to haggle. Discounts are often available, particularly on the less popular models, but it is up to you to get the price down as much as you can. You may be able to get a bigger discount if you pay by cash, but you may also be able to negotiate a discount if you arrange credit through the dealer. If you are willing to buy 'off the shelf', without optional extras which might include electric windows or metallic paint, you are more likely to get a better discount. None of your legal rights are affected if you buy at a discount. Also, make sure you are being quoted the on-the-road price which includes VAT, number plates, delivery charges and road tax.
If you are trading in your old car, make sure you know exactly what it is worth.
You need to make sure you know what items are offered as optional extras and what are included as standard on the car. Some dealers offer special incentives to persuade you to buy, such as a year's insurance or extended warranties. Some are also willing to replace, or offer refunds on, new cars provided they are returned within a certain time or mileage limit. You will need to consider how much these offers are worth to you.
Before you commit to buying the car, make sure you understand fully the conditions of sale, the trade-in price on your existing car and any finance agreement, including deposit terms and interest charge.
If you are not clear about any part of the deal, ask for an explanation. Get it in writing if you are still not happy. Once everything has been discussed, do not be afraid to say you want time to think about it or to walk away if the deal is not right for you.
You will now need to contact the dealer straight away; report the problem and set out what you want done. It is the car dealer's responsibility to repair or refund any fault in a new car that he or she has sold. Do not let the dealer pass the responsibility on to the manufacturer. The dealer has a responsibility by law to sell goods that are of a satisfactory quality.