Your consumer rights at markets and car boot sales
The sale of secondhand goods is one sector of the economy that's doing well. A survey by Abbey credit cards showed that more than 50% of Brits are buying secondhand now. Such purchases are up 5% from July 2008 to July 2009. Books, CDs and clothes are the most popular used items bought, and more of us are buying big things like appliances secondhand too.
You do not give up your rights as a consumer when you buy secondhand, but you will almost certainly have a harder time exercising them if something turns out not to live up to your reasonable expectations. The 1979 Sale of Goods Act applies to secondhand goods just as it does new goods. But the level of protection will depend on who you buy from.
It will be easier to get repair, replacement, or a refund from an official trader. With items bought at car boot sales and the like, it's much more of a "buyer beware" situation. Under the Sale of Goods Act, only the title and description of the item must be accurate, not the quality. In other words, goods have to correspond with the description. If you buy a hair dryer at a car boot sale that is described as a "one year old hair dryer," you don't have a legal leg to stand on unless you can somehow prove that it is two years old instead of one, even if it does not work. Plus you'd have to try and track down the seller - not an easy proposition when dealing with car boot sales.
If you do have a legitimate issue with a private seller, it is up to you to take issue directly with them. If they do not offer you a refund or replacement, then your only option is small claims court, which may or may not be worth your time and effort.
One problem with car boot sales is traders passing themselves off as individuals so that they don't have to comply to the requirements for traders and high street businesses on things like VAT. In some communities, Trading Standards have tried to crack down on these activities, with varying success. In these cases, if you've inadvertently bought something that was represented as a working appliance and it doesn't work, you have every right to refund or replacement. But with used goods, if you simply change your mind, then private traders are under no obligation to offer you a refund or replacement.
Other traps to watch out for are electrical goods. They must meet Electrical Equipment Safety Regulations of 1994. Soft furnishings must have a safety label, and pushchairs and prams have to meet British Standard 7409:1996. For this reason, it is usually best to avoid buying secondhand child safety equipment unless you have first hand knowledge that it meets requirements.
In summary, your rights when buying secondhand goods theoretically hold up whether you buy from a legitimate secondhand dealer or from a private individual. In reality, getting a refund or replacement may be extremely difficult because of the low probability you'll be able to track down a person you saw at a car boot sale or flea market.
Perhaps the best cure here is prevention: ask yourself if you're prepared to lose the amount of money you're spending on a secondhand product that may not work. Sometimes gambling on a bargain is no big deal. You'll have to work out for yourself how much you're willing to risk to snag a great bargain.