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Buying a car - Case studies

Driving instructor Mark Burgess paid more than £15,000 for a new VW Polo in April 2010 from Dane Wirral garage.

After eight months, the car developed a water leak so Mark took it to another VW garage, which replaced the coolant cap. Yet the car continued to leak water, even after a subsequent visit that saw part of the car’s emission control system replaced.

Mark then took the car back to Dane Wirral for repair. After two days, it discovered a leaking water pump and replaced it.

But after driving it for another 500 miles, Mark noticed the car was again losing coolant. He returned the car to Dane Wirral – this time for two week while a replacement cylinder head was fitted. And that wasn’t the end of it. The turbo charger, starter motor and injectors all failed over the next 18 months. As a result, Mark contacted Which? Legal Service for advice.

Which? Legal advice

Mark told us he had informed Dane Wirrall when buying the car that it was for business use. Because of this, he could claim losses reasonably foreseeable as a result of the car being in a garage for repair. He’d had to go without it for two weeks and had to hire a dual control car, although VW did pay toward this.

As Mark had financed some of the car through VW Financial Services under a hire purchase agreement, we told him to contact the hire firm.

Mark wrote to the hire firm to say the car wasn’t fit for purpose and he wouldn’t accept further repairs. VW Financial Services refused the claim. We advised him to take the case to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

His case was assessed by an adjudicator who asked Mark to have the car inspected. As a result more faults were found, including an engine leak. VW repaired these faults, but Mark had to pay to correct a further problem with wheel tracking. The adjudicator refused the complaint. As Mark didn’t agree with an adjudicator’s findings, he asked for the claim to be referred to the Ombudsman.


The Ombudsman found in his favour and awarded £1,705 for travel, distress, inconvenience and loss of revenue.

Legal points

You can recover damages for losses reasonably foreseeable as a result of a breach of contract. Both parties must reasonably have been able to anticipate these when the contract was entered into.

Which? Legal helps couple get repairs sorted and have compensation paid

When Arthur and Sylvi Leitch spent more than £34,000 on a brand-new car, they never thought it would need repairs carried out as soon as they bought it.

But that is what the couple found when they went to pick up the new Kia Sorento from Snows Motor Group in Basingstoke in October 2013. At the dealership, they noticed the top of one of the rear seats hadn’t been fitted with enough padding and the seatbelt support bracket hadn’t been installed properly. They were assured that if they took the car that day, the problems would be fixed as soon as possible.

But when Arthur returned to collect it after the repairs were done, he found the seat in worse condition than before, with additional damage to the back of the driver’s seat. This was again reported to the dealership, which then dealt with other minor issues, but failed to solve the problem with the seat.

At this point the situation had been going on for nearly a year and the couple were soon due to leave for a driving holiday to France, so Arthur contacted Which? Legal for our advice on how to get the situation resolved.

Our advice

Our lawyers helped the couple with the wording of a letter to send to the dealership, to state their legal rights and have the issue with the car seat put right once and for all. The couple returned from their holiday to find messages from the dealership offering to carry out the required work by replacing the defective seat. This was done to the couple’s satisfaction in early October. The dealership also agreed to pay £200 compensation for the inconvenience that had been caused because of the ongoing problems and the couple accepted this offer.

What the law says

The Sale of Goods Act 1979 (as amended) says that goods, including cars, must be of satisfactory quality. This means that they must be free from defects (even minor ones). If the goods are defective, the seller could be in breach of contract and, if it is, the buyer has the right in certain circumstances to reject the goods, or to have them repaired or replaced by the seller. If the goods are to be repaired or replaced, the seller will have the choice of which of these options to choose. The decision may come down to what is the most practical and cost-effective option.

Which? Legal member Robin Dadson came to us for help after important parts of his new car started to fail.

Robin paid around £21,000 for the Skoda Yeti Crossover in March 2013. By January 2016, when he had only driven it for 13,000 miles, he noticed the rear brake discs were corroded.

The original dealer was no longer trading, so he took the car back to its successor. Both the new dealer and Skoda said the problem was fair wear and tear. Skoda said the replacement wouldn’t be covered by warranty because of the time that had elapsed and it refused to take further action.

Ten months later, when Robin took the car in again for a check-up, the condition of the brakes was such that the dealer suggested Robin replace them. It also highlighted a problem with the Haldex pump in the four-wheel drive. The costs of repairing the brake discs and pump was around £300 each. At this stage, Robin came to our lawyers for advice.

Our advice

We told him that if you pay £21,000 for a car, you could reasonably expect it not to have major parts failing after three and a half years. So although the original dealer had stopped trading, he could still complain to Skoda.

Robin got in touch with Skoda again, which rejected his claim. However, he persisted and, armed with our advice, took his complaint to a higher level. He was then offered a ‘goodwill gesture’ of £300 in relation to the pump. Robin accepted this and reluctantly paid for the brake disc repairs himself, reaching a solution that compensated him for repairing one of the faulty parts and also took into account his having more than three years’ use of the car.

As Robin bought the car before 1 October 2015, his rights are under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (for contracts after that date it’s the Consumer Rights Act 2015) which says that goods must be of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose. If they’re not, the customer can ask for them to be repaired or replaced within a reasonable time.

It can be tricky to exercise these rights when there is a dispute between the customer and seller over whether the items failed due to wear and tear or due to a breach of contract. So it’s often necessary to get expert opinions.

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