Legal service can help you fight for your rights

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Each week former trading standards officer Richard Thomson answers your questions.

Q I bought a car at the end of December last year with a 30-day warranty. I spotted some problems on the test drive which the dealer agreed to sort out. Subsequently, other serious problems came to light, including a defective gearbox which the garage has refused to fix. I’ve told them to take the car back, but they’ve sent me a solicitor’s letter saying I don’t have a leg to stand on. Can you help please?

DI (Internet)

A I’ve been hit with a number of readers’ car complaints recently, but I’ve no hesitation in saying this is one of the worst I’ve come across for some time.

As I understand it, so serious were the defects with your car, the garage kept it for the first month claiming they were carrying out repairs.

When you rightly complained about that, they finally told you they weren’t going to fix the faults because the one-month warranty had run out! To add insult to injury, the finance company, who fell over themselves to lend you the money to buy it, responded with deafening silence when you asked them for help to get it sorted.

Most used car dealers want to give their clients a square deal. But you must judge for yourself whether a dealer who is happy to relieve you of more than two grand, then wheels out a lawyer as soon as you complain about being sold a heap of junk, is seriously focused on customer care.

But knowing the law, and being able to confidently stand up for your rights is another matter. When it comes to the crunch, if the dealer can summon up the services of a tame solicitor from the back of the showroom, why you can’t you hit back with your very own lawyer in the lounge?

The answer is you can.

For the exceedingly modest sum of £68 a year, I recommend you subscribe to Which? the Consumer’s Association legal service, that has enough firepower to play even the most recalcitrant car trader at his own game. Sign up at whichlegalservice.co.uk.

Q I’m about to buy a top of the range mobile phone. Friends tell me they’ve had lots of problems with new 3G phone contracts and bad service. Have you any tips please?

JD (Internet)

A Consumer watchdog, Consumer Direct, tells me it had more than 26,000 complaints about phone services last year, and the problems are getting worse.

My top tip is to take your time before signing up to a deal with a service provider, and don’t sign anything until you’ve read the contract. Once your name is on the dotted line, you’ll be locked into the deal for anything up to two years. It really is remarkably easy to make the wrong choice under pressure.

You should have already worked out what you mostly use your mobile for – texting, mailing or downloading. Then shop around for the cheapest tariff available for the phone you’re planning to buy.

Your consumer rights are the same as with any other purchase. If the phone turns out to be a dud, and you take it back to the shop quickly, you are entitled in law to a refund, no matter what wall of excuses the shop tries to put up.