Importing a Car into the UK

While browsing for a new car, you may have noticed that imports can tend to offer better specifications at a lower price than their UK counterparts. Importing a car also makes rarer models not normally for sale in the UK available to you. So why isn’t everyone doing it? The short answer is that there can be a lot of work involved importing a car, as well as a lot of risk to those unsure about what they are doing.

The work involved in importing a car depends a few factors, mainly where the car is being imported from. There are currently two classifications when it comes to imported cars: parallel imports and grey imports. Parallel imports are those vehicles brought into the UK from another European state where the specifications are the same as the UK model. Grey imports originate in a non-EU country, normally Japan, and do not comply with UK standards.

Parallel imports tend to involve less work on the part of the buyer, due to laws introduced in the 1990s, which mean that all cars sold within the EU must meet the same minimum standards for crash protection, emissions, lighting, brakes, steering and all other factors. Extras and what is included in the standard model may vary between countries, however, so buyers should check exactly what they are getting for their money prior to importing a car.  The warranty on  parallel imports should also be honoured by the manufacturer’s UK dealers due to all new cars manufactured within the EU having a warranty which is valid across all of Europe. Again, buyers should be aware of differences in the warranty’s terms and should check them closely before purchasing a car abroad via the parallel imports scheme.

When it comes to grey imports, buyers need to be a lot more careful. As these cars have not been manufactured for the UK market and do not comply with EU standards, the car may need a lot of work and modifications to be done before it can legally be driven here. All cars imported from non-EU states, or grey imports, must undergo modification and testing under the Single Vehicle Approval scheme to make sure they are compliant before being driven on UK roads. This scheme is run by the Vehicle and Operator Standards Agency and full information can be found on their website.

Due to the number of issues which can arise with grey imports, it is advisable to only buy from a reputable dealer. These dealers will be members of the British Independent Motor Trade Association, who can offer a certificate confirming the vehicle’s authenticity. This Certificate of Authenticity confirms details such as the mileage of the car, that there is no outstanding finance on it and that it has not been stolen. Of course, this doesn’t rule out any of the other issues which may arise, the most common of which are;

  • Problems with obtaining finance to buy the car
  • Safety equipment may not be up to as high a standard as found in UK vehicles
  • Difficulty in obtaining insurance
  • Documents such as the service history and handbook are likely to be in a language other than English
  • Mileage cannot be guaranteed as being accurate
  • Suspension, brake balance and gear box ratios may be significantly different to UK standard
  • Diagnostics and servicing may be difficult due to UK dealers not having compatible equipment. Parts may also be difficult or near impossible to find
  • No manufacturer’s warranty
  • The value will depreciate quickly once imported and it may be difficult to sell the car on

All imported cars must be registered and taxed with the DVLA upon arrival in the UK. This must be done as soon as possible to make the car legal for use here. The procedure to be followed depends on the age of the car being imported.

New vehicle

A new vehicle can be registered and driven within the UK as “new” provided that a few criteria are met:

  • Imported cars must be registered within two weeks of collection. This is extended to one month in peak periods
  • The car only has reasonable delivery mileage on the clock. The DVLA definition of reasonable is being driven from the point of collection to the owner’s home by the most direct route available
  • The car must not have been previously registered
  • The car must have been stored prior to registration and must be a current model or one on which production was ceased within the past two years
  • A certificate of conformity as proof of type approval must be held. This can be obtained from the manufacturer or supplier
  • If the vehicle is left-hand drive and originated within the European Community, a VCA certificate confirming that the necessary modifications have been made must be produced
  • Any vehicles which have not been subject to European type approval must undergo the relevant testing – Individual Vehicle Approval for a car, Single Vehicle Approval for a small goods vehicle under 3,000kg and motorcycle SVA for a motorcycle or quadricycle

An import information pack can be requested online from the DVLA.

Used Vehicle

If the imported vehicle has previously been used, it must be under ten years old and the DVLA will need to ascertain that it meets the required standards. The standards which must be complied to are European Type Approval Standards, UK Construction and Use and Road Vehicle Lighting Legislation.

Cars, motorcycles and light goods vehicles manufactured outside the EU will be subject to the IVA, SVA or motorcycle SVA as appropriate. Those registered within the EU must hold a VCA certificate under the Mutual Recognition Scheme.

For both new and used vehicles, cars moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain are no longer considered to have been imported. Original number plates and tax disc can be retained or the new owner can request a change to GB registration if required.

General Information:

Registration and Tax

Registration and taxing of imported cars can be done at your local DVLA office. The process will take around seven days to complete.

When attending the DVLA office, the following documents must be produced:

  • Application form V55/4 for new vehicles or V55/5 if previously owned
  • £55 registration fee plus applicable vehicle tax charge. This must be paid by cheque or postal order payable to DVLA Swansea. Tax is payable from the vehicle’s UK registration date
  • Current British certificate of insurance
  • Foreign registration document and any other available documentation
  • Evidence of date of collection such as the invoice from the supplier
  • Evidence of type approval
  • Current British MOT certificate if applicable
  • Appropriate HMRC form
  • Identification documents proving your name and address. Acceptable documents are listed here
  • “Declaration that vehicle is new” form if applicable. V267 is available online or from the local DVLA office

Insurance

A British certificate of insurance is required before imported cars can be registered and taxed. The British Insurance Brokers’ Association will be able to provide more information and details on brokers who can help with this. BIBA can be contacted on 0870 950 1790 or at enquiries@biba.org.uk. Your Vehicle Identification Number will be required.

Useful Contacts

Enquiries about licensing and registration:  DVLA  0870 2400 010 or vehicles.dvla@gtnet.gov.uk

Mutual Recognition of Type Approval in the EU:  VCA  0117 952 4191 or enquiries@vca.gov.uk

Enquiries about SVA scheme:  VOSA  0870 6060 440 or enquiries@vosa.gov.uk

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