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Birmingham City Council

Trading Standards - Descriptions in the sale of Motor Vehicles

Any trader who, in connection with the sale or supply of a vehicle, falsely describes it in any way, commits a criminal offence under the Act which can be punishable by imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.

IN WHAT WAYS CAN DESCRIPTIONS BE MADE?
In writing, including newspaper advertisements and notices displayed on the vehicle, verbal statements, in pursuance of a request by a customer, e.g. "I want a car in excellent condition", or vehicles can misdescribe themselves, e.g. by means of a badge indicating a larger engine size than that fitted, or incorrect mileometer reading.

WHAT ARE THE MOST USUAL PROBLEM AREAS?
a) mileometer readings, see Mileage of used vehicles
b) previous history, including date of manufacture or of first registration or use, previous ownership, including number or status of previous owners, e.g. "one lady owner" or "not a company car"
c) physical characteristics including type of model and engine capacity
d) condition of the vehicle or a particular specified part of it

WHAT STEPS CAN BE TAKEN TO AVOID MISDESCRIBING A VEHICLE?
You should ensure that what you say is completely accurate and not misleading by omission, e.g. "one owner" may be strictly true of a car that has been used for hire purposes, but it may be misleading as to the type of use it has had.
Before describing the previous history of the vehicle, always refer to the registration document. Confirm the age and date of first registration in the United Kingdom, and see if it has previously been used abroad. Check the number and status of the previous owners. The model and engine capacity should be checked in the registration document to see if they agree with the badges on the vehicle. Make sure that no major modifications have been made during the vehicle's life, e.g. a smaller capacity engine fitted.Before deciding on a description of the condition, examine the bodywork and mechanical parts and describe the vehicle accordingly. Be careful when making statements such as "excellent condition". Unless qualified (e.g. "excellent bodywork") they will be taken as referring to the whole vehicle, including the engine and gearbox. When buying in a vehicle, if the seller informs you of an improvement you want to repeat to an intending purchaser (e.g. "recently reconditioned engine"), ask for an invoice for the work done, or get him to sign a statement verifying the claim. Satisfy yourself that the description of the vehicle is consistent with its actual condition. Ensure that all sales staff and other employees who may come into contact with customers are properly instructed, and have access to all relevant information, e.g. registration documents and purchase invoices.

RELEVANT LEGISLATION
Trade Descriptions Act 1968

This information has been prepared for the guidance of traders by Birmingham Trading Standards. It is not an authoritative document on the law, and is only intended for guidance. For further help, contact Birmingham Trading Standards.