New European consumer protection legislation coming into force from March 2003 will encourage a significant proportion of the UK's car retailers to turn their back on the sale of older vehicles, Glass's Information Services claims.

EU Directive 1999/44/EC requires car retailers to be able to prove that any faults appearing on a vehicle in the first six months after it was sold were not present at the time of purchase. Dealers will be responsible for certifying the condition of the vehicle prior to sale and buyers will have the right to have defective goods repaired or replaced, or to have a price reduction.

Glass's believes retailers who do not add some manner of mechanical inspection to their pre-sale process could be left very exposed, should problems subsequently come to light. "For sole traders and independent dealers handling older cars on a regular basis, a few expensive unwarranted claims could break their business," comments John Glynn, editor of Glass's Older Car Guide.

Instead, dealers are likely to focus their sales effort on younger models where the potential for mechanical faults is less significant. Many customers looking for a cheaper, older car will be left to visit auctions, or to buy from those dealers willing to organise and charge for a comprehensive inspection and warranty.

"There may still be an upsurge in dealers willing to offer full engineer inspections and warranties on now affordable four- to seven-year-old cars, with prices increased to cover the additional costs. Car values have fallen dramatically in the last few years but the requirement to incorporate warranty cover in forecourt prices may see some values hit even harder in 2003."

Doubts still remain about how the condition of a vehicle would be accurately verified to comply with the directive.

"Will any mechanic be able to inspect the vehicle to establish its true condition, or will dealers have to get AA men or similar in to do the job?" queries Glynn.

"Clarification of the new measures will be required before dealers can make an informed decision about their future sales strategy."