New guidance to protect car buyers

  • 65,000 complaints from used-car buyers in 2009
  • Dealers pose as private sellers to avoid legal obligations
  • Illegal clocking costs buyers £580 million a year

The Office of Fair Trading has promised to get tough with cowboy motor traders who sell dodgy, clocked cars. 

An OFT report revealed that one in five buyers experienced problems after purchasing a used car from a dealer, with 70% of issues coming to light within the first month of the sale.

However, rogue traders rarely receive serious punishment: the report revealed that the most common outcome after a complaint is an informal warning.

The OFT report said: 'It was "often" or "very often" the case that no further action was taken due to insufficient evidence. This reflects the evidential difficulties faced by Trading Standards Services in investigating certain offences, in particular, in respect of clocking and traders who pose as private sellers.'

In 2009 the government agency Consumer Direct received more than 65,000 complaints about second-hand cars bought from dealers. The OFT report said 30% of complaints still remain unresolved and has produced new guidance to crack down on dodgy dealers.

It's got a long road to hoe though. Buyers spent an average of £425 getting their car fixed, which amounts to £85 million per year for faults that are the dealer's obligation to correct.

The practice of clocking second-hand cars so they show a false mileage is also a serious problem. The OFT said consumers potentially over-pay to the tune of around £580 million a year as a result of illegal clocking.  

Some used car dealers are also breaching the law by pretending to be private sellers so they can avoid their legal obligations when offloading unsafe or clocked cars.

Heather Clayton, OFT consumer group senior director, said: 'We are issuing OFT guidance to the industry and expect all second-hand car dealers to be aware of their legal obligations. Along with our Trading Standards partners we will take action against those who continue to ignore the law.'

Although the used car market looks a minefield for consumers, cracking down on the offenders has proved difficult. Since 2008 62 dealers were prosecuted for Trading Standards offences, ten formal cautions were issued with a further 70 prosecutions still ongoing.

The OFT's Peter Lucas described the number of prosecutions as a 'tip of the iceberg' but insisted 'breaches' will be addressed.