Study reveals hidden problems in car sales 

The study examined more than 1,000 cases from the FCCA’s consumer advisory services on second-hand car sales in Finland. The reason for these contacts is often that the actual condition of the cars does not match the information given by the sellers to the buyers.  

The FCCA’s consumer advisory services are contacted more about problems with vehicles than any other product group. More than half of these contacts concern the sale of second-hand cars. The FCCA study highlights the most common problems in second-hand car sales.

The qualitative study examined more than 1,000 case reports received by consumer advisory services on second-hand car defects in January and February 2023. It is considered a defect if, for example, the car does not work properly, breaks down sooner than expected, does not match the provided description or is otherwise inadequate.

Sellers exaggerate the condition of cars and omit essential information

In the case reports of the FCCA’s consumer advisory services, the seller often tells the buyer before the transaction that the car is in good condition, describing it as, for example, well-serviced, condition-inspected or officially inspected. Despite the seller’s assurances and superlatives, the car breaks down shortly after the sale.

The seller may also omit essential information about the history of the car. Such information includes, for example, the fact that the car has been involved in an accident or that it is an imported car. In such cases too, the actual condition and history of the car is only revealed to the consumer when the car breaks down shortly after the sale. The seller is obliged to provide the buyer with all the information they know that is relevant to the evaluation of the vehicle and the purchase decision.

It is not always easy to verify whether a car is faulty or whether the fault is due to normal wear and tear or to the consumer’s own actions. It may also come as a surprise to the consumer that the warranty or additional security does not always cover a specific defect, and that the warranty and additional security may have limitations. Things may have been agreed verbally and not all the key information can be verified.

Sellers even fail to respond to contacts

According to the survey, buyers of second-hand cars often encounter problems when trying to complain to the seller about a fault in the vehicle. The seller does not always respond to enquiries or refuses to discuss the matter. Consumers may receive contradictory instructions from the seller or be bounced around in all directions.

"Our study shows that there are many aspects of second-hand car sales that are worrying from the point of view of the legal protection of the consumer. In many cases, the consumer is faced with a situation where, for one reason or another, they reach an impasse without any possibility of mediation or discussion with the seller."

Senior Specialist Katja Järvelä

Inexperienced young people, for example, may be at a disadvantage in car sales

Groups particularly vulnerable to problems in second-hand car sales include young consumers who may have little experience of major purchases and making contracts. Furthermore, low-income consumers are often forced to buy cheap and old cars, which are more likely to have faults.

More information 

Katja Järvelä

Senior Adviser

Mika Saastamoinen

Senior Adviser