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News

Worried about buying a flood damaged car? Your consumer rights explained

28 January, 2016

Flood header image
Record-breaking rainfall and a series of storms this winter left residents across the UK with millions of pounds worth of damaged property. As the water drains and dries, some people will be looking to make a quick sale rather than contend with the aftermath. 

Sales begin to crop up in the affected areas across the country, so you might find your ideal car for a tempting price. However, knowingly or not, there will be occasions when sellers are shifting items that are faulty or flawed. 

While there are certainly some great deals to be found this way, it is important to keep in mind that cars that have been exposed to flooding can sometimes be dangerous and prone to long-term problems. 

Flood 1 graphic

Signs of water damage in a car


Andy Cullwick, Head of Marketing at First4lawyers, says: “Following the recent spate of flooding, consumers should look out for flood damaged cars that people may be trying to sell on. 
The Consumer Rights Act clearly sets out what rights a buyer has, but prevention is obviously cheaper than the cure, so consumers should be extra cautious when buying a second hand car at the moment.”

After it has dried out, it can be difficult to spot a car that has endured water damage. However, there are a few things to look out for when buying a second-hand car that you suspect may have been impacted by recent floods: 

- Damage to the electric system: check that all lights are working (including dashboard lights) and test power windows and accessories.

- Moisture and condensation: feel and smell your way around the car, check beneath the seats and in the boot for any indication of damp. 

- Take a peek under the bonnet for excessive rust or corrosion. 

- Check for water in the engine by looking beneath the oil filler cap to see if there is a white, creamy substance (emulsified oil). 

What if I find problems after I’ve already made a purchase?

Generally, if you find that there is an issue with your car that the seller did not disclose before the sale, you may still be entitled to compensation or a refund. 

The Consumer Rights Act defines the stipulations for purchases made after 1st October, 2015. Any purchases made before October 1st fall under the Sale of Goods Act. 

Consumer rights and second-hand dealerships

Retailers are required to ensure their cars are of satisfactory quality, meet the description outlined prior to the sale, and are generally safe for use. If any of these conditions are not met, you are entitled to either a full refund or compensation for the cost of repairs, depending on the timeline. 

- If an issue is discovered before a 30-day period, or within a ‘reasonable time’ if your purchase falls under the Sale of Goods Act, a retailer must issue a full refund.

- If a problem arises after the 30-day period but within 6 months of the original purchase, the retailer must replace or repair the car, unless they can prove the problem occurred after the date of sale.

- After 6 months, if a problem arises, it is up to you to demonstrate proof that the car was faulty at the time of purchase. If you can do so, the retailer must replace or repair the damage.

In the occasion that a repair or replacement doesn't work, you are entitled to reimbursement from the retailer, in the form of a full refund or a second attempt at repair. Keep in mind that, after 30 days, the retailer can reduce the refund to reflect any subsequent use of the vehicle.


Car Key right

Consumer rights and private sellers


If you find fault with a vehicle after buying it from a private seller, getting a refund can be difficult. Unlike a dealership, a private seller is not obliged to ensure quality satisfaction or product fitness. 

However, the vehicle must fit the description provided and the seller is not allowed to lie about the history or current condition of the car when questioned before closing the sale.   
If you find, after the purchase, that either of these commitments are violated, you may raise a claim against the seller. If they do not have internal means to deal with your claim, it may be necessary to take your case to the Small Claims Court. 

Safeguarding yourself from a dodgy purchase

If you are purchasing a car that you suspect may have had a chance at being exposed to flooding, it is important to carry out preliminary checks. If possible, purchase from a retailer as it is much easier to exercise your consumer rights if you come across a problem with a professional seller.

Andy Cullwick adds: “Spend a bit of money on a history check to see if it has been declared a write-off and get a trustworthy mechanic to give it the once over.”

If you do choose to go down the private route, be sure to obtain an authorised description of the item before buying and prepare a list of questions about any potential issues for the seller to answer. Keep a record of communications between you and the seller and make sure a witness is present, in case you need support for a future claim. 

If you suspect you have purchased a vehicle that has been damaged by flooding and you have any questions or concerns about raising a claim, please contact us for help.