Buying and Selling a New or Used Car in the UK

Information on the paperwork and process involved, whether buying a car from a dealership or a secondhand car through a classified advertisement. The documents required and where they must be sent.

Buying a New Car

There are several ways of buying a new car in the UK and there are no restrictions for foreigners. There are various options:

  1. Buying through a car dealer
  2. Buying through a car supermarket
  3. Buying online

When buying a new car, it is generally the dealer who registers the vehicle for the new owner.

Buying through a car dealer

Car dealers are the first place to go for information and price guides on new cars. These dealers are appointed by the manufacturer, and provide a one-stop shop for buying, servicing and repairing vehicles.

Here motorists will be able to test drive cars that they might be interested in buying. For a list of all local car dealers, see Auto Trader, Car Pages, or Exchange & Mart

One of the benefits of going through a reputable car dealer is that buyers will be protected by the Sale of Goods Act 1979, explained in detail on the What Consumer website. All car dealers should also be members of the Retail Motor Industry Federation, which means that they must all adhere to the same guidelines. Buyers will also be able to benefit from offers and promotions on new cars, as well as talk to advisers about finance and insurance.

Buying through a car supermarket

Car supermarkets in Great Britain and Northern Ireland are very popular; both new and used cars can often be bought at lower prices than elsewhere.

The advantage of going to a car supermarket for a vehicle is that there is greater choice, usually with more than 200 on-site cars to choose from. The high volume of vehicles means that supermarkets can afford to sell cars with tighter profit margins, making savings for customers. As they are not tied to a specific manufacturer, like most dealers, car supermarkets can give more impartial advice on the choices available.

Buying online

Purchasing cars online is also popular in the UK. There are a number of websites which allow buyers to compare prices and get the best deals. One site even promises to negotiate with car dealers to ensure that the buyer gets the very best price. Through Auto eBid, a buyer can choose the new car they want to buy, and are told the price of that particular model. Auto eBid then contacts the relevant dealers across the UK, who will then bid against each other for the deal, bringing down the cost of the car.

Other websites available to help buyers purchase cars online are:

Another useful resource with information on buying new cars is Where Can I Buy a Car Online. The DVLA Guide also has information on how to buy a new car

Documents required to buy a new car

A car dealer ship will usually register a new vehicle with the DVLA. The only documents customers need is a valid driving licence for the test drive and the necessary documents for payment. If the purchase is being done through a finance arrangement, or loan, then bank details will be necessary.

Once the car has been bought, insurance must be arranged before the car is driven. The car's registration number is needed for insurance. The car dealer will then provide the necessary tax certificate for the car, which is again imperative, before the vehicle is driven.

Documents provided with a new car

Customers should always make sure that they are provided with a V5C Vehicle Registration document, sometimes referred to as the log book, which is proof of ownership. Most new cars will also come with a tax disc for the first year.

Buying a Used or Second-hand Car

Before buying a second-hand or used car, make sure the seller provides all the necessary paperwork. It is important also to check that the vehicle has not been stolen.

As with new cars, there are a number of places where customers can find good used cars:

  1. A car dealer
  2. Online, through sites such as Buy Your Car or Used Car Mart
  3. Through classified adverts in local papers
  4. Car industry magazines such as Auto Trader

Guidelines for buying a used car, whether it is through a website, newspaper or garage are the same. Buying a used car from a garage is usually more straightforward.

First, check if the price is right, through AutoTrader and other websites which offer guidelines. The buyer should ask the seller the following questions:

  • How long have they owned the car?
  • Has the car had a recent MOT test (if over three years old)?
  • Does it have a vehicle tax disc?
  • What condition is the car in?
  • Why are they selling it?
  • Has the car been involved in an accident?

The buyer should also carry out the following:

  • A vehicle check, to verify that the vehicle is not stolen
  • Verify that there are no finance agreement problems
  • Check that the car has not been written off by an insurance company, or has recorded accident damages

This can be done through a number of companies such as Auto Check Now, My Car Check, the AA and the RAC. All services cost. The DVLA has a free online database to check the following regarding the vehicles identity:

  • year of manufacture

  • date of first registration

  • engine capacity

  • colour

  • current tax disc expiry date

  • tax rate (vehicle excise duty rate).

The DVLA also has a customer service number. Calls are charged at a premium rate.

  • Tel: 0906 185 8585, Monday to Friday, 08:00-20:30, Saturday 08:00-17:30

If the database does not match the car or its registration certificate (V5C), the seller should be reported to the police.

GOV.UK also has a tool to check a vehicle’s:

Once the necessary checks have been carried out, visit and test drive the car. The buyer should also ensure that the registration number and vehicle identification number (VIN) are correct. The VIN is a specific code given to every car and is located in several places on the car. The VIN should match the number on the V5C registration document. Some websites, for example Check My Car propose a VIN check online.

Documents provided with a used car

Before buying a used car, the customer must see the following documents:

  • The V5C registration document, (log book)
  • Car's service history
  • Proof of identity of the seller

Once a price has been agreed on and the car has been paid for, the buyer must get a receipt. The car must be insured and tax paid before it can be driven.

Selling a Car

Cars can be sold through the same channels as buying a used car, for example through a car dealer, privately through adverts in trade press and local newspapers, and online.

If the owner chooses to sell through a car dealer, he must be sure of what price he hopes to achieve before going to a dealer. In order to do this, go to websites such as Auto Trader which offers a facility for checking prices.

Selling through the local newspapers and trade press may well prove more lucrative, as there is no middle man taking a cut. The seller sends in a description of the car to the paper, often with a series of colour photographs as well.

In the UK there are also a number of websites that offer to do all the work for the seller, for free, for example or or Wewantanycar. The car owner simply has to put in the registration number of his car, which tells the company how much it is worth, and then fill in online a few details about the car's history. If the price the company gives to the seller is agreed upon, then the seller is asked to go to the nearest buyer's garage where the car - and the V5C log book and service history - will be checked and the keys handed over. Money is then transferred into the seller's bank account within days.

Documents to provide when selling a car

Sellers need to provide the vehicle's V5C log book, as well as a recent copy of the MOT, if the vehicle is more than three years old. After being paid, it is important to give a signed receipt, along with the signature of the buyer. The seller should provide proof of identity as well.

Registering a Used Vehicle

In general it is up to the seller to notify the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency (DVLA) that the vehicle has been sold. The seller does this by sending the appropriate section (new keeper/new address details section) of the vehicle registration document to the DVLA, at the following address:

  • DVLA
    SA99 1BA

The seller must also provide the buyer with the V5C/2 section of the registration document. The seller with receive an acknowledgment letter from the DVLA within four weeks. It is also possible for the buyer to notify the DVLA that they have purchased a vehicle.

Related Information

Vehicle tax

A vehicle needs to be taxed before it can be used on the road. Since the paper road tax disc system was abolished in October 1st 2014, buyers of used cars must now pay car tax from the day they buy the vehicle rather than when the seller's disc expires. The seller is able to claim a refund of any full calendar months remaining on the tax disc. Road tax can be paid online, over the phone or at the Post Office. The DVLA will issue a reminder when the road tax is up for renewal.