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Guest opinion: rejecting a car just got a lot easier thanks to the Consumer Rights Act

Philip Harmer

Back in the day, if a dealer misdescribed a car, whether it was wrongly badged, advertised with the wrong spec or the service history overstated, the buyer had their work cut out to get their money back.

Running a claim of sale by description under section 13 of the Sale of Goods Act 1979 poses some not insignificant difficulties to make out.

Even if successful, this would only entitle the buyer to damages. 

Pursuing a claim in misrepresentation would provide the desired outcome.

This unwinding of the deal, known as rescission, places the buyer back in their pre-contractual position.

Proving that the seller knew or should’ve known the representations were false, they weren’t just a matter of opinion and that the buyer relied on them, is a different matter.

Furthermore, in certain circumstances, namely though the passage of time, affirming the contract or the impossibility of returning the parties to their original position, backing the car is not an option. 

Enter the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

Rejecting a car got a whole lot easier.

Under the new law, pre-sale misrepresentations or the things said and done before the deal’s done, including the description crystallise into contractual conditions at the point of transaction. 

As a result, claims for breach of contract are available, including a short term right to reject the vehicle in the first 30 days- rescission by another name.

However, breach of a condition provides for the purchaser to be placed in the position they would have been had the representations been true and that could prove to be a lot more expensive. 

In practical terms, describing a Mercedes or BMW as having sat nav and finding out it’s not working could cost you £2,500 -  add dodgy service history or no history into the mix, and you could double it.

Suddenly the right to reject looks like a cheap option, at least the dealer gets the chance to resell the car and recoup what are relatively minor losses if any, and without adding another owner to the log book. 

The bad news is, it’s the customer who gets to choose, not you.

Author: Philip Harmer (pictured) is a partner at Stormcatcher Motor Industry Lawyers. He is a practising lawyer, author and speaker on all aspects of employment, commercial and motor trade law.

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