Opinion: Return to sender? Address the issue first

Chief ombudsman discusses full vehicle refunds during early ownership

Opinion: Return to sender? Address the issue first
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Bill Fennell, chief ombudsman and managing director at The Motor Ombudsman, the automotive dispute resolution provider, looks at some of the factors to take into consideration when determining whether a customer can return their vehicle to the seller for a full refund in the first weeks of ownership.

In January of this year, the question “Can I return my car within 14 days of buying it?” was the most read article by consumers on our online Knowledge Base, with nearly 1,300 views recorded during the first month of 2020.

The answer to this depends on how the car was bought, so whether it was sold at a physical showroom or forecourt, or was purchased at a distance – usually online, though it can also be over the phone.

This is because the response will determine which laws and regulations apply and, as a result, the amount of time a consumer has to take the car back to the business, and the circumstances in which they are able to do this.

Many people are aware of the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which protects all individuals who purchase faulty or misdescribed goods, regardless of how they bought them.

However, customers who buy goods without seeing them beforehand benefit from extra legal protection.

In the UK, it’s the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, which say that a person has up to 14 days either to cancel their deposit, if they change their mind after making the order, or to return their car, after taking delivery, and receive a full refund.

Crucially, if the business does not inform the consumer of this right, or provide the other information required by the regulations, then this 14-day period is extended to a longer 12 months.

In fact, buyers do not have to provide a reason for why they would like to return the car, meaning the vehicle does not have to be faulty for them to be entitled to a refund.

However, if the consumer has bought the car on the business’ premises, then these regulations do not apply, and the individual will only be able to rely on the Consumer Rights Act 2015 if they want to return the vehicle.

The act says that a consumer has up to 30 days to reject a car and receive a full refund, but can only do so if they can prove that it is not of satisfactory quality, not fit for purpose or not as described.

Consumers can equally ask for other remedies, like a repair or like-for-like replacement.

Nevertheless, within the 30-day period, they do not have to accept them and can push for a full refund.

A change of heart?

Buying a car can sometimes be an emotional purchase, with lots of paperwork, different specifications to choose from and concerns over budgets.

This can lead to buyer’s remorse, where the consumer may have regrets about choosing that particular car after placing the order or taking delivery of it.

If a consumer has second thoughts at any point following the purchase, and they bought the vehicle on the business’ premises, then they do not have the automatic right to return it to the garage, as the seller has effectively done nothing wrong.

This can sometimes be confusing for consumers who purchase vehicles on finance, as the agreement has a 14-day cooling-off period, but conversely, the contract to purchase the car does not.

In this case, it would therefore be up to the buyer to try to negotiate a suitable resolution with the retailer.

For example, if a consumer has placed a deposit on a car, but subsequently wishes to cancel their order, the business might allow them to use that initial down payment to purchase a different vehicle.

However, if the consumer’s change of heart is because the vehicle is in some way defective, or it does not meet the description provided, then under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, they have the right to reject it in exchange for a full refund, so long as they raise the issue within the first 30 days of taking delivery.

The point of no return?

It would be easy to assume that once this 30-day period has lapsed, a consumer would not be able to return their car to the seller, even if they had a legitimate reason for doing so.

However, outside of those 30 days, a customer can exercise their right to reject up to six years after purchasing the vehicle, so long as it can be proven that the issue complained about was present when they took delivery of the car.

The final right to reject can only be used if the business has had their one-shot opportunity to repair or replace the vehicle, and this has failed.

In addition, if a rejection is accepted beyond the 30-day period, the business can make a reasonable deduction for any use of it.

In summary, buying an expensive item such as a car is a big commitment for many, and therefore it is important that consumers do their homework to know what their rights are.

However, it is just as essential for businesses to make it clear to their customers what the terms and conditions are when taking possession of a new vehicle and to comply with the requirements of any applicable legislation.

This specifically includes what car owners can do if there’s a problem, or they have changed their mind about the vehicle, as some will be unaware of what action they may be able to take.

For more information on The Motor Ombudsman’s training modules on distance selling in the automotive sector, and the Consumer Rights Act 2015, select ‘more details’ below.

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