Buying a car Should I buy a pre-registered car?

Pre-registered cars should be in almost mint condition

Pre-registered cars should be in almost mint condition

Pre-reg, or pre-registered cars, are effectively brand new cars that are heavily discounted because they have already had one registered owner. 

Usually this is a dealer, but fleet managers and even manufacturers themselves have been known to pre-register cars.

They often pre-register dozens of cars at a time, and these are then sold on for as little as 70% of the list price. For the buyer it can mean a great bargain, but what’s in it for the dealers?

Well, when dealers pre-register cars they are effectively buying them – so it looks as though they are selling far more units.

This means they can meet their sales quotas in quiet periods, and keep the manufacturers happy with a steady stream of orders.

They will then sell the ‘nearly new’ cars to customers as soon as they get the chance – usually three to six months after the initial registration. Often such cars are sold through car brokers. 

Get access to free independent money advice - sign up to Which? for just £1

Pre-registered or used?

A pre-registered car should only have delivery miles on the clock, and certainly shouldn’t show any signs of wear and tear. 

If it does, it could have been used as a test car for other buyers and you should therefore pay ex-demo prices (even lower).

Warranties on pre-registered cars

As you might expect, the warranties on new cars begin the moment they are first registered, not when you take ownership.

This means that a car you buy ‘nearly new’ could already be a year into its three-year warranty, and it may have been left exposed to the elements for some or all of that time.

Often car dealers pre-register too many cars and eventually have to sell them at a loss to stave off the effects of depreciation.

To get a rough idea of how long the dealer has kept the car for before selling it on, check the car’s build date. You can usually find this on a plate inside the driver’s door.

Should I buy a pre-registered car?

You can get excellent deals when you buy pre-registered cars and it’s a practice that, in principle at least, we recommend. But there are downsides, too – and plenty of things to watch out for.

One of the major disadvantages is that, though your pre-registered car is essentially brand new and should be in perfect condition, you will technically be its second owner. 

That could affect its value when you come to sell it. However, the proper registration documents should help you explain that it was bought as a pre-registered car.

Always check the specifics of the deal so you know exactly what you are getting and who is supplying the car. Make sure all aspects of the deal are confirmed in writing before committing to buy.

Also beware that not all pre-registered cars, particularly when offered by brokers, were originally sourced from UK dealers; sometimes they come from other countries. This may have an impact on standard equipment and warranty levels. Check all the documentation you can and ask specifically whether the car is an import.

Registration documents for pre-registered cars 

On the subject of registration documents, it’s important to make sure you get your V5C certificate (logbook) as soon as you buy the car. 

Some unscrupulous dealers want to hold onto the V5C for up to six months so they can prove to manufacturers that the car has been sold – something they can’t do if it’s in your possession.

If you agree to buy a car without a V5C, there are legal implications, including the risk that you the buyer could be committing a criminal offence when you drive the car. Don’t let dealers tell you they will post the V5C to you, either: the police and DVLA may want to see it, and insurers will need it to validate your car insurance policy or process claims.

What’s more, if the dealer you bought your car from goes bust before you get hold of your V5C, you could have a tough job proving that you are the registered keeper. 

Our advice is simple: either leave with the VC5 in hand or walk away. Make sure you get a sales receipt and invoice too, as these prove that you legally own the vehicle.

Check that pre-registered is cheapest

The Which? Car reviews let you check that you’re getting a good deal on pre-registered cars. If the prices you are offered aren’t substantially lower than the new prices listed in the review, haggle or walk away. 

As with new cars, you should always push for the biggest discount possible.

Check out our Hot Car Deals pages for the latest deals on new cars, but note that car brokers and deals featured are not vetted, endorsed or recommended by Which?

More on this...

Other sections in this guide

  1. Overview
  2. Buying a car
  3. Buying a car with dealer finance
  4. Independent car finance
  5. Where should you buy a new car?
  6. Should I buy a pre-registered car?
  7. How to haggle