Complaints to the Consumer Council about used-car purchases have jumped 63 per cent in the first eight months of the year, to 39 cases.
The consumer watchdog said yesterday that some sellers had clearly violated the Trade Descriptions Ordinance. But since the violations took place before the ordinance came into effect in July, the complaints could not be pursued under the new rules.
Professor Michael Hui King-man, chairman of the council's publicity and community relations committee, said the figures showed that more car sellers were adopting unscrupulous sales tactics.
"But it may also be because more people have become aware of their rights through the efforts of the council," he said.
In one case, a man interested in a HK$650,000 used car exchanged text messages with the seller. He signed a provisional sales agreement and paid a 10 per cent deposit, only to find that what was supposed to be a second-hand car was in fact a third-hand car.
The man also ended up having to spend HK$63,000 to repair different parts of the car.
He sought help from the council, which unsuccessfully tried to mediate between the buyer and the seller.
The buyer then took his case to the Small Claims Tribunal, where the seller was ordered to pay him back HK$50,000 - the maximum claim limit.
In another case, a car advertised as a 2004 model caught a buyer's attention at a car exhibition. He put a HK$10,000 deposit on the car that was priced at HK$125,000.
The man later discovered that the car was made in 2003. He was told by the seller that fudging the production year was common practice in the used-car industry. The council was unsuccessful in its attempts to contact the seller.
"There are no simple tips for buying a used car," Hui said. "But it helps to buy from dealers of good repute. Always take the time to read the details before signing any contract or document."
The council also suggested that any verbal agreements should be clearly written into the contract. Customers should also inspect cars thoroughly before purchasing them.
The complaints watchdog received 36 similar complaints for the whole of 2012, and 53 in 2011.