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MILS Case Study: Vehicle faultsBack

InterimService“A customer wants to reject their vehicle because their clutch has failed can they?

This is a tricky question and deals with a number of issues that need considering.

  1. Was the vehicle of satisfactory quality when sold?

This is a contractual term implied by The Sale of Goods Act 1979. What is satisfactory quality is a question of fact for a judge to decide. Goods are of satisfactory quality where

“…they meet the standard that a reasonable person would regard as satisfactory, taking account of any description of the goods, the price (if relevant) and all the other relevant circumstances.”

The court will therefore not expect the same quality from a brand new vehicle and a second hand vehicle. Neither will it expect the same quality form a £10,000 vehicle as it would from a £1,000 vehicle.

  1. Did you accurately describe the vehicle?

It is very important that vehicles are accurately described. We all want to obtain the best value for goods sold. However, over selling can itself cause complications. Where there are issues with a vehicle it is always best to be up front about it as there is no breach of contract where the fault complained of was,

  • specifically drawn to the buyer’s attention, or
  • where the buyer examination before the purchase ought to have revealed the fault.

If you can prove any issue was drawn to the customer’s attention at the time of sale, and they continued to purchase the vehicle anyway then they cannot complain later; unless the issues are more serious then expected.

  1. How long must a vehicle be of satisfactory quality?

A vehicle must be of satisfactory quality when sold. That doesn’t mean that if it worked when it was sold that there is no case. Satisfactory quality includes the requirement that the vehicle is fit for all the purposes for which goods of the kind in question are commonly supplied, and reasonably durable. You will therefore be liable for any faults that develop soon after sale where a reasonable person would not have expected those fault to have developed.

There is a particular risk for any faults that occur with the first 6 months from any purchase. There is a legal assumption that any faults that develop within 6 months from the time of sale were present when the vehicle was sold unless the trader can prove otherwise. This will make claims within the first 6 months significantly more difficult to defend

If a vehicle is in breach of contract a consumer can take the matter to court for 6 years from the date of the purchase.


Any issue that develops with a vehicle is capable of being a breach if it is proven to be a fault. Garages should think long and hard when considering their actions. However, where the issue is commensurate with the age, mileage and description of the vehicle it is arguably not a fault and then a court would be free to decide that this would not breach the contract. As each court must decide this for itself there are widely varying decisions on what faults can reasonably be expected during vehicles life.

As always this advice is general in nature and will need to be tailored to any one particular situation. As an RMI member you have access to the RMI Legal advice line, as well as a number of industry experts for your assistance. Should you find yourself in the situation above, contact us at any stage for advice and assistance as appropriate.

Paul Carroll, Solicitor, Motor Industry Legal Services

Posted by Sue Robinson on 12/06/2015