New consumer and driving laws come into force next week

More protection for car buyers and children


DRIVERS WHO buy a car that smokes like a furnace and turns out to be a dud will enjoy better consumer rights from next week. At the same time, motorists who like to smoke in their car face legislation that outlaws lighting up while a child is in it.

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Since it was introduced in 1979, the Sale of Goods Act has protected consumers of anything from sofas to cars. From 1 October it will be superseded by the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

Perhaps the most notable feature of the new act is that it entitles consumers to a full refund if they buy something that turns out to be faulty within 30 days of purchase – and that includes both new and used cars.

While the new legislation is aimed at consumers in general, car buyers will be among the greatest beneficiaries. The Citizens Advice service deals with more complaints about used cars than any other category of goods; in 2013-14 it helped more than 84,000 unhappy consumers.

In one two-week period the service processed 2,519 complaints about used cars and found that 53% had developed a fault within the first month, 80% of those required immediate repairs and 139 cars were in such poor condition that they had to be scrapped.

Mark Reeve is a motoring consumer lawyer working with the RTS Group, which is training car dealers on the minutiae of the new rules. “Although customer expectations should be lower for a used car than a new one,” Reeve says, “the new law doesn’t distinguish between the two.

“So a consumer’s rights are the same whether they’re buying a new car or one that’s several years old with thousands of miles on the clock. However, in the event of a trader being taken to court, the price paid for the car and its age will be taken into account. So will the nature of any fault: something that’s safety-related will be viewed very differently from a minor issue such as a bulb failing”.

Under the provisions of the Consumer Rights Act 2015, anyone buying a car that is found to be faulty within 30 days of delivery can demand a full refund. Known as the “early right to reject”, this replaces rules that said a vendor could merely replace or repair a faulty item or part.

Any defect found after 30 days but within six months entitles the customer to a repair or replacement – and dealers will have only one chance at repair or replacement. If they fail, the customer is, again, entitled to a full or partial refund. That’s why traders are going to have to check all cars they sell very closely before releasing them to customers. If they overlook faults and the customer decides they want a refund, dealers could be facing forecourts full of rejected cars.

“The Consumer Rights Act is the most important piece of legislation in this area for 40 years, and will prove a huge shock to the franchised dealers,” Reeve concludes. “I think it means that motor dealers will have to be much more focused on ensuring that vehicles are free of faults at delivery; greater emphasis on pre-delivery inspections, vehicle health checks, approved-used car checks and service schedules.”

On the day the Consumer Rights Act comes into force, so does a law that prohibits smoking in any vehicle in which under-18s are present. However, a 17-year-old driver on his own is allowed to have a puff.

Anyone caught having a sly drag with a minor on board will be liable to a £50 fine – but the offence does not carry penalty points.

The anti-smoking law applies to any privately owned vehicle with a fixed roof, even if the windows and/or sunroof are open. The only way round the rules is to buy a convertible and keep the roof down. Then, of course, your children will only catch hypothermia.

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