Check who you are buying from

Do you know your car dealer?

If you buy a second-hand car from a dealer you have rights under consumer law. The car should be of merchantable quality – this means that it should be of reasonable, acceptable quality given the age, cost and history of the car; it should be fit for the purpose intended and roadworthy. It should also match the description of the car given verbally or in the advertisement.

If you buy the car from a private seller, you do not have the same consumer rights if something goes wrong, because the person selling the car is not acting as a business. Make sure you get the car independently checked by a mechanic before you buy.

There are some key questions you need to ask the seller before you buy:

Ask the right questions before buying

  1. Has the car ever been crashed?
  2. Is the mileage accurate?
  3. Is there any outstanding finance on the car?
  4. Has any bodywork been done to it (by you or by others)? This could have been done to cover up serious issues such as rust or damage from a previous crash.

Before you hand over any money ask yourself: 

Have you carried out the appropriate checks on the car and are you satisfied that the car has no major faults?

Check the condition of the car

Get the car checked over before buying

You should get the car independently checked by a mechanic to avoid any nasty surprises in the future. If you don’t have a mechanic with you it can be difficult to tell if everything is in working order.

If you are buying from a garage, you should look for a warranty for the car. However, this will depend on the age and price of the car. If the car is reasonably new and the garage is not willing to give you a warranty, this should raise concerns regarding the condition of the car.

Check the history of the car 

Do you know your car's history?

There are a number of companies who can check the history of a car for you for a fee, you can search online to find a company to carry out this service.

This check may uncover details which the seller is trying to hide such as whether or not the car was ever written-off, the true mileage of it or if there is outstanding finance on it.

Check that the car you are buying is not under an existing finance agreement. If it is, the person trying to sell the car does not actually own it and does not have the right to sell it to you. If you buy a car with outstanding finance, the legal owners, in this case a bank, can repossess the car.

You should be looking to get the previous recorded odometer readings, details of any insurance claims or if the car has been used as a taxi and details of any crashes.

Check the paperwork of the car

Always check out the paperwork

Ask the seller to show you the Vehicle Registration Certificate (VRC) if the car is Irish. If the car is an import from the UK ask to see the V5C. These documents are the ownership documents for the car. The person selling the car must correspond to the name on the V5C or VRC, and you should ask for proof of identity if buying privately

  • Make sure that all other documentation, including, VRT, NCT, motor tax disc and car handbook relate to that car.
  • Make sure all documents are original - not photocopies.

What are your rights if things go wrong?

What happens when things go wrong? The CCPC can help.

If there is something wrong with the car you bought contact the seller immediately and ask what they intend to do about the problem. If the car is under warranty, check the terms and conditions of the warranty to see what is covered, for example parts and labour or only parts. If the seller is not willing to fix the problem, check if they are a member of the Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI), as the contract you signed when buying the car may require you to go through the SIMI complaints process. 

If your claim does not exceed €2,000, you have the option of making a claim against the seller through the Small Claims process. However, if you bought a car privately, you cannot go through the Small Claims process but you can still consider taking legal action. 

Visit the car checks content on the CCPC’s consumer website for more detailed information on all the checks you should do before you buy a second-hand car. 

Clodagh Coffey is Head of Consumer and Digital Communications with the  Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC). The CCPC is responsible for enforcing competition and consumer protection laws across the economy. To help consumers make informed decisions it also gives independent, unbiased information about consumer rights and personal finance products and service through its consumer helpline 1890 432 432 and consumer website