How to Buy a Car in the United Kingdom

For the 2010 Mongol Rally, we’ll be buying our car in the UK and then licensing and registering it to leave the country almost immediately. We’ll also have to accumulate a bunch of documentation to appease the sundry border guards along the 12 border crossings, and import documentation for bringing the car into Mongolia. For an American, these tasks are not without their challenges. Since we’ve done a bit of research and have a clear idea of what the steps to accomplish this are, we’ve decided to outline it here in the hopes of saving someone else a massive, British-accented headache.

Buying the Car. There are several locally recommended car dealerships in the UK that seem pretty legitimate, trusted and versatile. Check out Gumtree, and  Autotrader to get you started. London’s Craigslist is another interesting option, as is the London eBay.

Registering the Car. The first step is to make sure your seller fills out and gives you the V5 form. You then give this form to the DVLA (the British DMV). Like the American DMV, this one promises long lines, frequent delays, and excessive and seemingly redundant amounts of paperwork. Then the car is in your name. Yay!

You’ll also need something called a MOT certificate (Ministry of Transport) that shows your car meets the minimum standards for safety and environmental protection. The seller should ensure the car already has this, and it is passed on to you. Better to buy a car that already has it then deal with the hassle of getting your car tested yourself.

Insuring the Car. Apparently every country on the planet has different rules about what needs to be in your car, what shape your car needs to be, and how to insure it. For example, cars in France have to have high-viz gear and an emergency triangle in the car. One way to deal with this is to get a carnet for the car, but that costs money. Or, you can find out each country’s laws individually and attempt to meet them all. Regardless, you’ll be buying random crap to stuff in your trunk to appease border guards.

You’ll also have to have the car insured. Coverage for the EU rarely extends into Russia and the ‘sSans. Rumor has it that you have to buy insurance at the border for these countries anyway, whether insured by a UK or EU provider. Our plan is to get insurance that covers us in Europe, and buy insurance at the borders everywhere else. If anyone has a brighter plan, we’d literally love to hear it!

Exporting the Car. As a foreigner buying a used car in the UK intending to export it, you’ll need to fill out a form (big surprise) called the VAT410, which gives you tax exemption. You might need to check with HM Revenue and Custom’s to ensure you have the right form for what you want to do.

Importing the Car. Luckily for us and other Mongol Rally teams, the rally admin are dealing with this. If you are going solo, keep in mind that it takes about a month to get the required paperwork for importing a car into most countries. If you have any info on how to do this, let us know so we can share with the whole class!

Finally, the car is yours and you are legally covered to ride. Only problem is that your car now has the driver’s seat and wheel on the right-hand side.

6 thoughts on “How to Buy a Car in the United Kingdom

  1. Sherry Ott

    Lauren – I have a quick question for you regarding the v5 process. did you actually get the V5 and go to the DVLA in person to get this all changed over into your name? We were told the seller had to fill it out and send it in – and then we’d get something back in the mail that would then have it registered in our name. However – bad news – our seller didn’t do this and now they are telling us the process takes 6 weeks. Just wondering how you went about getting the V5 in your name.

  2. AbandontheCube Post author

    Sherry, the seller did this and mailed to to the DVLA, who mailed it to our ‘home’ address in London. It did take a while, but I’m sure they have a way (for a fee) to expedite it. So sorry to hear your seller didn’t do it! What a shame. Did it turn out okay? Sorry for the late response it’s been crazy in China recently.

  3. ae used cars

    I currently own a 3rd generation honda accord with a manuel transmission and I’m saving up for something that would be more suited for a new driver. Although I really dont like automatic transmissions.

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