Buying guide

What are my rights when buying a car?

There’s always a bit of risk involved in buying a car and laws are different between car dealers and private sellers.

There’s always a bit of risk involved in buying a car and laws are different between car dealers and private sellers. Your rights depend on who you bought the car from – when buying from a dealer, you get more legal protection but that usually comes at a higher cost.

You can do everything possible to protect yourself but, unfortunately, sometimes things still go wrong. The best way to avoid issues is by preventing them in the first place, so make sure you:

  • check the car has a current Warrant of Fitness (WoF) and rego
  • get a mechanical check
  • take it for a test drive
  • check for money owing on the car with a Vehicle Information Report.

So, what rights do you have?

You bought a lemon

Or in other words, you bought a car with some serious faults that you didn’t know about when you purchased it.

If you bought from a car dealer, you’re protected by the Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017 – which means the dealer may have to cover repairs or other costs. These same laws don’t cover private sellers and it’s likely you’re set to lose some money – which is why it’s so important to carry out a pre-inspection check. In some cases, however, the Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017 might apply to your situation regardless of who you bought from.

You were misled

Whether your purchase was with a dealer or private seller will dictate the options available to you if you’ve been misled by the seller or they made false claims about the car.

If the seller misled you about the car in some way, you could try to get a refund or compensation under the Contract and Commercial Law Act (CCLA). Or you could pursue compensation in the Disputes Tribunal (private sellers) or the Motor Vehicles Disputes Tribunal (MVDT) (car dealers).

If you’ve bought from a dealer, you have rights under the Fair Trading Act 1986 (FTA) – which includes asking them to repair the car free of charge, give you a refund, pay compensation or change/cancel the contract you have with them.

What rights do I have buying from a car dealer?

Buying from a car dealer gives you more consumer rights than buying from a private seller.

Dealers are obligated by:

  • Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) – cars must be fit for purpose and as described. This covers new and used cars.
  • Fair Trading Act 1986 (FTA) – dealers can’t mislead you about the car and must also tell you they’re a dealer.
  • They must give you accurate information in the Consumer Information Notice (CIN) and be registered to trade.

You have the legal right to get a refund or replacement if the dealer doesn’t comply with their obligations.

What rights do I have buying from a private seller?

If you buy from a private seller, you don’t have much legal protection. There are still some things you can do in situations where you’ve been given misleading info – make sure you keep any documents so you have proof if a seller has been dishonest.

Don’t rely on a WoF and rego for the mechanical reliability of the car – make sure you get a proper inspection service.

Making the effort to protect yourself when buying a car will minimise the chance of anything going wrong after you buy it. Read our safe buying tips to hopefully avoid issues in the first place. If you still find yourself having problems, don’t panic! With the help of these tips, we’ve got you covered.