Sunday 25 September 2016

Know your rights: Dermott Jewell, consumer expert

Buying a second-hand car privately; Christmas presents bought too early; and returning a snooker cue that one man didn't order. What are your rights? Our expert has the answers

Published 18/12/2015 | 02:30

It's advisable to pay a mechanic to look at a second-hand car before purchasing
It's advisable to pay a mechanic to look at a second-hand car before purchasing

Q: We are going to look for a second-hand car over the next fortnight as a present for our student daughter who struggles to manage travel between college and a part-time evening job. There are some good offers out there so I would appreciate some clarity on our rights and entitlements if buying a second-hand car privately.

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A: Understandably, this question comes up a lot. Consumer law only applies to contracts between a private individual and a business. So, if you buy from a private seller, the usual consumer rights just do not apply - and this can be both problematic and very expensive!

In a private sale the car must be owned by the seller and fit its description but, beyond that, you are on your own and must do whatever research necessary before handing over the cash. The reality is that, if you are not happy with your car, you have very little chance of getting any refund unless the seller agrees. The one exception is if the car has been sold to you with a defect that would endanger the people driving it. That is illegal.

A private seller is not obliged to volunteer any information about the car they are selling, but they must answer questions accurately and truthfully. This is why it's always necessary to pay a mechanic who knows all the right questions to ask on your behalf to give the car a thorough examination.

The one other support that you have would be in the Small Claims Court where you could bring a case. The downside there is that the limit of that court is €2,000 for a claim. I have to advise that you be very careful buying this way as, from my experience, the 'buyer beware' advice is understated when it comes to this area. Good luck with it!

Q: I have just realised that I have been too well prepared and have bought three fairly expensive Christmas presents well in advance of the 28 days specified for changing if needs be. Is it too late to do something?

AHopefully not. However, you have not said exactly when they were bought. If it's a few weeks then there is every chance of getting it sorted out quite easily. But, if its months then, let me be honest, you are going to struggle and be solely dependent of the best quality of customer service and goodwill. The fact that they are expensive items will possibly work in your favour too. You need to make contact with the shop(s) where they were bought and without any delay. Explain the situation and that you are hoping that they would consider issuing gift receipts to allow an exchange in the event of there being a need. They will likely insist that any need take place very, very quickly after the big day.

I am also assuming you have the original receipts/proof of purchase…… To be honest, if you don't then put this down to experience!

Q: I know about the 14-day cooling off period for buying online and how changing my mind means I pay the cost to return the item. My issue is that I ordered a snooker cue but have received the wrong model. It is not what I ordered. The company say I can return it but are insisting that I pay the postage. I know that is wrong but I am not sure how to argue this back.

A: From all you say I am surprised that a company, which clearly recognises your rights under EU law, is under these circumstances getting it so very wrong. Normally, where there is nothing wrong with the item then, yes, the cost of return is yours. But when they send the wrong item then it is entirely the seller's requirement to make arrangements for you to return it without delay and without any outlay on your part.

If they continue to insist then I suggest you contact the European Consumer Centre in Dublin who manage cross-border complaints through the EU-wide network. It is free and the centres are governed by the European Commission - who do not take kindly to EU law being abused. To avoid the need for that action I suggest you copy this advice and send it to the seller. That should do it.

Irish Independent

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