Used car gearbox rattle

The consumer’s issue:

“I purchased a ‘61-plate SUV from a dealership in January 2015, and it had approximately 9,073 miles on the clock when I bought it. Less than three years later, in December 2018, a rattle developed with the car and it was struggling to get up hills, so I took it to the selling dealership for a diagnostic check. They told me the rattle was coming from the transmission and a new gearbox was required at a cost of £5,000.

I didn’t agree with this price, and had the car repaired at a local garage for half the cost. However, I don’t believe that the gearbox should have failed on a car of this age and mileage, and had only covered around 44,000 from new. I think that the gearbox was suffering from a manufacturing fault, so the dealership and the manufacturer should reimburse me for the costs I incurred to replace it i.e. I should receive £2,500 in compensation.”

The accredited business’ response:

  • We first saw the car in January 2018 for a software update, three years after being sold to the customer.
  • The car was brought in again in January 2019 for an MOT, and we were also asked to investigate an engine rattle.
  • We tracked down the noise to the gearbox and advised the customer that the gearbox needed to be replaced, but they declined the repairs and took away the car.
  • The vehicle was eight years old at the point the gearbox failed, and the consumer had driven it for four years.
  • As a result, we believe the car was fit for purpose and of satisfactory quality when sold, meaning that we should not be made liable for the customer’s repair costs.

The adjudication outcome:

  • The Motor Ombudsman adjudicator reviewed the evidence and noted that both the consumer and dealership accepted that there was an issue with the gearbox.
  • However, the adjudicator said there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the transmission had failed due to a manufacturing defect that had been present or was developing at the time of sale.
  • Because of this, the adjudicator was unable to recommend that the dealership covered the cost of the repairs and didn’t uphold the case in the consumer’s favour.
  • The customer disagreed with the adjudicator’s findings and requested a final decision from the ombudsman.

The ombudsman’s final decision:

  • The ombudsman emphasised that the car was eight years old at the point of the gearbox developing the rattle, and the manufacturer’s warranty had ended at the time the customer purchased the car, so they had no valid claim against the manufacturer.
  • The ombudsman also explained that a complaint about the quality of the car could only be pursued against the selling dealership (and finance provider where relevant).
  • She said that where a fault arises after the first six months of purchase, the consumer must prove that the fault had been present and developing at the time of sale.
  • She explained that the consumer had use of the car for four years, fault-free, and had covered 35,000 miles prior to the rattle developing.
  • The ombudsman also noted that, while the selling dealership had recommended that the gearbox was replaced, the transmission had not been dismantled, and there was no diagnosis on what had caused the rattle beyond that it was in the gearbox area.
  • She said the car had been taken elsewhere for repair and, according to the consumer, the clutch had been replaced, but they had not supplied any evidence of the repair, nor any documentation to show exactly what had caused the fault.
  • The ombudsman went on to conclude that it wasn’t possible to place a definitive life expectancy on a component and, while the mileage was low for an eight-year-old car, there was no evidence to suggest that the underlying cause of the rattle had been present or developing at the point of sale.
  • As such, the ombudsman couldn’t find the business to be in breach of the Code of Practice for Vehicle Sales, and no award was made to the consumer.


  • The consumer, although disappointed, accepted the ombudsman’s final decision, and the case was closed.