Since the introduction in March 2003 of the EU Sale of Goods Directive 1999/44/EC the burden of proof has been shifted from the consumer to the dealer in the first six months of ownership of a vehicle.
However, researchers found most people had no knowledge of the change. The new regulations mean the dealer must prove beyond doubt that the vehicle was of ‘satisfactory quality’ and not bearing an ‘inherent fault’ at the time of sale.
"Unfortunately, there is no exact definition of the term ‘satisfactory quality’, but the law provides the consumer with a significant level of protection," says Duncan McClure Fisher, of Warranty Direct. "However, too few realise how strong a position they are in if things do go wrong with the vehicle."
Although under no obligation to inform the customer of their rights, the survey also found that only 1 in 10 car dealers explained the new level of protection automatically afforded to them.
"Despite the revisions to the Act last year, the onus is still very much on the car buyer to know where they stand," says McClure Fisher.
Analysis of a sample of vehicles aged 3-5 years by Warranty Direct shows that 17.1% will report a failure in the first six months on average. Yet McClure Fisher warns that people must be careful on how they define 'satisfactory quality'.
"Consumers need to consider a variety of factors: whether you are buying a low or high mileage car, whether it has been regularly serviced or not, and if the price being asked by the dealer reflects the condition of the vehicle. In other words, the brakes will become worn in time, but you would not expect the engine to blow in the first couple of months."
From Warranty Direct analysis, one in five of the vehicles that required remedial work within the first three months of ownership experienced axle and suspension problems. In the first month, electrical and coolant problems accounted for 13 and 1% of failures, respectively.