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Buying from a dealer means you are given legal protection. Dealers are legally obliged to sell cars of 'satisfactory quality', which basically means that apart from usual wear and tear, a used vehicle must be free from defects - except ones pointed out to you and those which should have been uncovered by an inspection (but only if one has been done) - and it must be in a roadworthy condition. The dealer must have legal title to the vehicle they are selling. And finally the dealer must describe the car accurately, e.g. a car cannot be advertised as having had one careful owner if it has actually had three. When buying privately, as long as the car is accurately described, you have no legal comeback if there are faults with the car. Reputable dealers should be members of a trade association, such as the Retail Motor Industry Federation or the Scottish Motor Trade Association, and be bound by its code of conduct. Franchised outlets will usually have the pick of the best cars, and offer the most comprehensive warranties. Manufacturers' used approved schemes can take even more risk out of buying a used car. Apart from good sales service and car reliability, you can expect a full car history check, and quite often a free warranty. You can also usually part exchange your old car. If you are you are unhappy with the vehicle you have purchased, return it to the dealer and, if he refuses to take action, you can contact one of the following organisations for advice:
Independent car supermarkets have mushroomed in the last decade, offering high numbers of nearly-new and low-mileage used cars on massive sites. Prices tend to be attractive, but there is usually less room for haggling. Options are limited and the stock usually consists of basic models, so if you're looking for a rare car you're unlikely to find it at a supermarket. They also rarely offer the after-sales support and warranty you'll get from a dealer.
This is usually the cheapest option, but it really is 'buyer beware' with a private sale. The seller's only legal obligation is to describe the car accurately. You need to watch out for unscrupulous sellers who may try to pretend to be a private seller to off-load sub-standard or stolen cars. But don't let this put you off. If you're sensible, and do all the right checks, a fantastic deal could be waiting for you.