Important Steps to take after being sold a damaged car

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What should you do if you are sold a damaged car?


Buying from a dealer - Full Consumer Rights 

When you buy a car from a car dealership or trader, your consumer rights are protected under law. There is ample recourse under law, and it is advisable to 

Buying from an Auction - Limited Consumer Rights

If you have bought a car at an auction, you are bound by the rules of that auction which you should make yourself very familiar with. When buying a vehicle at an auction, you are usually buying it, “sold as seen”. In this instance, you do not have the same consumer rights as buying from a car dealer. 

Buying from a Private Seller - Virtually no Consumer Rights

Buying a car from a private individual affords you very little consumer rights under the law. The reason for this is because consumer law applies to contracts between a Trader and a Consumer and does not cover Consumer to Consumer transactions.


Situations not covered by law with no legal recourse

You will not be entitled to any refund on a previously damaged or written off vehicle if:

  • You were clearly informed by the seller when you bought the car that it had previous damage or that it was a categorised write off.

  • You, or a mechanic inspected the vehicle and did not spot and identify any damage or faults such as dents, dings, rust or any other kind of damage

  • You caused the damage through your own negligence


First and foremost, any vehicle you buy: 

  1. Must be as described

  2. Must be of satisfactory quality

  3. Must be fit for purpose

If you are sold a car and none of the criteria above is met, you may be entitled to either have your car repaired without cost to you or be entitled to some, if not all your money back



Repairs, replacements and refunds are known in consumer law as remedies. You do not have any legal right to claim a refund for simply changing your mind.

If the used car you have bought subsequently develops a fault during a warranty period, for example, you have the right to ask the garage or car dealer to fix the problem without any further cost to you. 


Your Rights

You have very strong consumer rights if you buy a vehicle that turns out to be:

  • Broken, damaged and not in reasonable or satisfactory condition

  • If the vehicle is unusable and not fit for purpose

  • If the vehicle was not as advertised or not as the trader has described

You have the right to:

  1. Ask the dealer to repair any faulty part(s) within a reasonable timeframe and without any significant inconvenience to you

  2. Provide a replacement part or a car of similar quality or value to the car you have left in to be repaired

  3. Give you a refund, which could be for the full price minus a fair reduction for the use and normal wear and tear you may have put on the vehicle. (this is known as rescission, or the act of rescinding; the mutual cancellation of a contact and the return of all parties to a position they would have had, if the contract had not been made )

If you identify a problem or a fault with the vehicle within 6 months of purchase, it is assumed, under consumer law, that the fault was there from the date of purchase or delivery. In this instance, the burden of proof is presumed to be upon the car dealer, who must prove otherwise. In essence, you as a car buyer, should not have to prove anything.

If the fault or damage is identified and reported by you after the first 6 months, the burden of proof then lies with you, the buyer. It is important, therefore, that as a car buyer, you identify any issues in the first 6 months to have the best chance for remedy.

If the vehicle is covered under warranty, you have a guarantee that anything covered by this warranty will be fixed, replaced or refunded. Consumer law does not actually outline how many times something can be repaired before a refund but if after a number of repairs, the issue is not resolved, you can request a replacement or a refund.


Steps to take when you have been sold a damaged car

If you bought a car from a dealer or small trader and you then find that there was previous damage that was not disclosed, you should.

1. First, make an informal complaint to the person who sold you the car and give them the chance to make things right

    1. No matter how angry or frustrated you are, stay calm
    2. Contact the dealer by phone at the earliest opportunity outlining the complaint
    3. Ask to speak to the decision maker, a supervisor, manager, dealer principal  who has the authority to sort out the problem for you by repairing or replacing or refunding your money
    4. The seller may ask you to lodge an informal complaint, for example, through a customer care email, an online contact form, or web chat. 
    5. If you utilise web chat, take screenshots of chat for your records in case the company does not record the conversation 
    6. Keep a record in the form of notes of what happened and what was said by both parties, including dates and times of conversations, the name of the person you spoke to, and what was agreed 
    7. Keep previous correspondence (for example, email, web chat, and online contact form) safe as you may need this if you want to take your complaint further.
    8. Do not attempt to repair the problem yourself

2. Make a formal complaint in the event the issue is not solved informally

    1. If the problem is still not resolved in accordance with your consumer rights,put your complaint in writing by letter or email, clearly stating all the facts of your grievance. You should include copies of any relevant documents that support your complaint. You should include the following in your complaint:
    2. Make, model and registration number, Invoice number etc.
    3. State the date you bought the car 
    4. Outline the steps you may have taken informally to seek resolution
    5. If you can, refer to the law or a description of your rights and how you want the issue to be resolved expediently

3. If an informal and also formal complaint has been lodged without satisfactory resolvement 

    1. Disputes with an Irish-based car trader, you should seek consumer advice, if you have not already done so, reporting it to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC)
    2. Disputes with a car trader in another EU country, you can contact the European Consumer Centre (ECC) Ireland
    3. Disputes with a car trader in the UK, you can take your case to the Independent Consumer Ombudsman or if it relates to Finance, to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
    4. Seek legal advice and take any legal steps available to you


Vehicle faults 

Modern cars are highly complex machines and therefore are subject to faults. It is entirely likely that something will go wrong with a vehicle at some point and car repairs can become a nuisance and costly. 

One big difficulty with faults is that they can sometimes be notoriously difficult to show how they were caused and sometimes an owner may refuse to accept that the car dealer may not have been at fault and they themselves may have caused the problem. 

This is prevalent with used cars as sometimes a fault may have gone completely unnoticed or undetected by a previous owner, who may refuse to accept that the issue was present under their ownership. Tracing these issues can be expensive and also time-consuming and you may not be ultimately happy with the outcome.

It is important, then, to be patient, flexible and reasonable when it comes to identifying faults on a vehicle. If you rant and rave and are unreasonable with a dealer, they are very unlikely to cooperate with you. 


Vehicle Under Warranty

A warranty does not replace your statutory rights when goods are faulty and so even if you have a used-car warranty for, say, three months, you can still have faults and damage repaired or even get a refund under the rights as outlined above. The car dealer will still have a legal duty to provide you with a repair, replacement or refund if the car turns out not to be as described, of satisfactory quality or fit for the stated purpose.

New car manufacturer’s warranties will afford you extra protections if something goes wrong within the warranty period. It is always wise to check the terms and conditions of the warranty to see if it is still in date and also, what faults are covered and what the dealer's obligations are.

Used car warranties are a contract between you and the dealer at the time of negotiating the sale. Unlike manufacturer warranties which are connected to the vehicle for a set period of time, used-car warranties are usually non-transferable. This means that you will have to go back to the garage where you bought the vehicle in order to get any repairs done under that warranty.

When a car is purchased under a finance agreement such as Hire Purchase (HP) or a Personal Contract Plan (PCP), the car remains the property of the finance company and so you are not the owner until the final installment is paid and finance has been settled. 

If you have a fault in a car which is on HP or PCP, both the seller and the owner (finance company) are responsible and you cannot claim against the manufacturer. If the seller agrees to provide a refund, this will be provided to the finance company who will usually:

  • End the finance agreement

  • Pay you back your deposit plus any payments you have already made

  • Deduct a certain amount for use of the vehicle


Q & A

What are the main vehicle write-off categories?

After a vehicle has been written-off by an Insurance Company, they will make a record of this categorisation and then notify the Department of Transport. There are 4 main categories of insurance write-offs. A vehicle will be declared written-off when an insurer declines to repair a vehicle following an accident or other damage because the cost of the repairs outweigh a percentage value of the car. Vehicle write-offs are categorised as A,B,C,D. Any vehicle which has been allocated a category will have a lower value than if it did not regardless as to the quality of repair.

What is a Category A write-off?

These cars are deemed “End of Life” vehicles and should be scrapped or crushed. These vehicles contain very few (if any) salvageable parts. The only value in these category vehicles are the raw materials that are less damaged. These vehicles must never go back on the road again.

What is a Category B write-off?

These vehicles are only suitable for spare parts and after salvage of economically salvageable parts the shell should be crushed. These vehicles are also deemed “End of Life” and should never appear on the road again. Salvage yards are not allowed to sell Category B vehicles for repair. 

What is a Category C write-off?

These vehicles are less damaged than Cat A or B, but still, the repair costs exceed the vehicle’s pre-accident value. These are determined by insurers as “Beyond Economical Repair”. These cars can be repaired and legally allowed back on the road. Most insurance companies will insist on an Engineer’s report, prior to insuring the vehicle. 

What is a Category D write-off?

Category D are similar to  CAT C vehicles as the insurer has determined that it is beyond economical repair. These vehicles can range from major to relatively minor repair work and can go back on the road again. The majority of Insurance Companies will insist that you have an engineer’s report before they insure the vehicle. 

How can you protect yourself against purchasing a Categorised vehicle?

To know if a vehicle has had previous damage and to check if it is a categorised vehicle, it is advisable to purchase a Full Car History Check with Irish history Check will inform you if a vehicle has ever been recorded as been damaged and the date that this happened. Check a Vehicle Now

Why should I purchase a Full Car History Check?

A Full Car History Check will disclose the digitized history of the vehicle and it will identify if a vehicle has been categorised in Ireland as A or B (Category C and D is not disclosed by The Department of Transport) and in the case of a UK vehicle, it will disclose if it is A,B,S & N.

  • 1 in every 10 UK vehicles imported has been written-off

  • 4 in every 10 written-off Irish vehicles back on the road

  • 1 in every 6 Irish vehicles have outstanding finance

  • 1 in every 5 Irish vehicles is clocked

  • 1 in every 20 UK vehicle have a mileage discrepancy

  • 30 UK Vehicles are stolen every day

  • Increase in Irish vehicles being stolen & cloned

What is a pre-purchase car inspection?

A pre-purchase car inspection should be carried out by a qualified vehicle assessor who can report on any vehicle and determine if it is in a good mechanical condition, safe and roadworthy. They also ensure that the vehicle has been repaired to a safe and industry standard. The vehicle inspection consists of a highly qualified Vehicle Assessor physically inspecting the vehicle for any sign of previous damage.


Justin Kavanagh
Justin Kavanagh is a recognised leader in automotive intelligence and vehicle data supply to the entire motor industry. He has almost 20 years experience in building systems from the ground up. As the Managing Director of Vehicle Management System, he understands the need and importance of trustworthy and reliable vehicle history and advice to both the trade and the public.
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