A guide for Irish residents on buying a car in the UK

I’ve tried to go through every step in as much detail as possible but don’t be daunted by the word count, it’s very straightforward really. I was shocked by the Irish dealer markup and refused to pay the premium.
In the end I saved €6000 or around 25% vs the Irish dealer price for the same model.

Only getting to publishing this now but I actually completed this purchase 20/12/2019. The automotive and tax rules have not since changed but certainly Covid 19 has made a lot of this near impossible whilst travel restrictions are inplace and the dealers are closed.

Where

  • Auto Trader - Great filtering, especially by location. Even though you can fly anywhere it’s good to choose a few in the same area.
  • Manufacturer Approved Used - All manufacturers will have their own used car search, you’ll find the link on their .co.uk page. ‘Approved Used’ is worth considering as it generally means a manufacturer warranty but given you are out of the country, check with them to see if it covers Ireland.

Consider VRT

Check out the official VRT calculator. In general it’s 14% of what the ncts deems the car to be worth in euros. Mileage is accounted for but overall condition is not considered, so if you get a car in fantastic condition with mostly motorway miles then you are getting the most value here. Electric cars have next to no VRT after the discounts and plug in hybrids get a discount of around €1500 if their emissions are lower than 60g/km. The market is far more mature in the UK so second hand hybrids are far easier to come by.

What to look for

  • Full service history, ideally at main dealers (dealers owned or franchised by the manufacturer). This cannot be over emphasised. I would even go as far as to say don’t buy if it doesn’t have one. If a car isn’t serviced every year then the issues that develop over time can be expensive.
  • Years vs Miles - debatable but, if and only if serviced regularly, cars are built to go for 100s of 000s of miles so in my opinion a younger car with miles beats an older one with low mileage. Average yearly travel in Ireland CSO is around 12000 miles. The other big consideration is that the more modern the car, the better the addons, gps, phone connectivity etc. And almost certainly, the lower the emissions.
  • Owners. By far the majority of cars are bought on finance for 3 years, and once that’s up most are handed back to the dealer to be sold on. This is a boon for buyers because there’s a glut of cars 3 years old with one owner. They’re also likely to be serviced as often that’s bundled in with the finance!

Questions to ask before you visit

Call the dealer and quiz them first, you don’t want a wasted journey! Also, feel free to ask for more pictures if there isnt much to go on.

  • How many owners?
  • Full service history?
  • Date of last service?
  • Any known issues?
  • Condition? Any dents or scratches? Is the roof interior marked?
  • Does it have the expected extras? Chip for satnav, spare keys, charging cables. You can generally look up what is expected for that model on the official manufacturer website.
  • Mot Mot history is available free from the official DVLA government website. Check the vehicles past. Whilst buying a car that was on finance is a plus, you do not want one with outstanding finance. Get an official check If you really like a car then don’t be afraid to haggle and buy over the phone, and commit with a ~£100 deposit, stating to the dealer that this is on the condition that the car is as described. You can’t really lose with this, you’ve asked if it’s in good condition and so if it isn’t you have the right to get your money back. If you have one, you should use a UK credit card as the credit card guarantee also applies to car purchases, and covers the entire purchase price of the car.

Checking it out

Have a few in mind and call up the dealers to look at a few over a weekend. Ultimately this is the biggest pain with buying abroad; booking flights and a hotel. But by having a few viewings booked in the same area, and combining it with a nice enough hotel, it’s also a minibreak. Book flexible flights if possible so that if you end up being able to drive away then, you can buy a ferry ticket and cancel the return flight. More likely is that you’ll end up making a second visit, in which case book a single flight, expecting to come back on the ferry.

In person checks:

  • No white smoke out of exhaust
  • No warning lights on the dash.
  • Starts ok. (Start it from cold when you are there).
  • Check the stamps in the service book match what the dealer told you over the phone.
  • Check the tyre depth
  • Does it have the extras you asked about?
  • Think about getting a Bluetooth OBD2 checker, it’s the same diagnostic check a garage would do. Some of the stuff that comes up is minor but some may be major. I got this one.
  • For hybrids: With the obd2 checker, check the battery condition. The battery will have degraded over time but you should consider if it’s worth it. The car I bought was 3 years old and the battery had degraded to ~90% of where it was new. It’s thousands to replace batteries so you should factor in cost of replacement into your budget.
  • Is it well kept inside? A well kept car is more than just nice. I’m willing to bet a person who looks after their car aesthetically, also looked after it mechanically. If any of the answers don’t match the answers given over the phone, then it does bring into question what else the seller was not overly truthful with.

If anything isn’t up to scratch, then all is not lost, this adds to your bartering leverage.

Buying

All is good, so now is the time to barter.

A note here is that most car supermarkets tend to have a ‘no haggle’ policy, even on the morally dubious +£200 ‘admin fee’ they generally add on. You’ll have a much happier time with a traditional dealer. I went to a few supermarkets during my search but the cars were not priced cheaper when compared with a post haggle dealer price.

If the car needs anything done, then bring that up now. The dealer will pay trade prices so it’s far cheaper for them to get work done than you so they will be far more willing to budge on this than price.

Common stuff to ask for :

  • New tyres (are they worn?)
  • New brake discs (a little rust is ok but a lot should be questioned)
  • Respray (Our car had significant chips on the bonnet, brought this up with the dealer and they resprayed)
  • Replace the missing extras, keys, chargers, gps chips etc.
  • New MOT/Service - these are especially valuable, because if anything is flagged then this is something they can fix.

A good sentence to go for is ‘If you’ll take X for it, and provide the fixes as discussed, I’ll buy today’.

NB: If you paid a deposit over the phone, and since seeing it, find the car has issues, then don’t feel obligated to continue with the purchase without asking for extra fixes. The dealer doesn’t want your sale to slip away so they’ll be willing to come to an agreement. If there’s no agreement, then walk away. Even in the extremely unlikely event the deposit is not refunded, it’s better than buying a dud.

Paying

A UK dealer will need to be paid in GBP. If you have a UK bank account by far the easiest way is to use that debit card to pay the remainder (ie agreed purchase price - credit card deposit already paid). To convert Euros to Sterling I used TransferWise, they use the market mid rate plus a flat fee so are significantly (~€800!) cheaper than using your Irish bank.

If you don’t have a UK bank account then Revolut is the answer. They will allow you to have a GBP account with an Irish address. I would hesitate to make your first purchase on the card a car though, money laundering checks can be stringent on any card so use it for a few weeks beforehand for day to day use.

Signing the paperwork

Before you can drive away you need:

  • Tax - this can be bought online instantly in the dealership. For plug in hybrids, it’s £0! If it’s more than this don’t fret, you can apply for a refund of any outstanding once the car is declared out of the country.
  • Insurance - Drive away insurance doesn’t exist in Ireland so you have 2 options. Option 1 is to take out a new insurance policy. Most minimum terms are a year but if you don’t actually want new insurance then you do have the option to cancel it once you have driven the car home as you have the right to cancel within the regulatory 2 week ‘cooling off period’. Your other option is to switch your current insurance onto the new car you have bought, but bear in mind that some insurers close on weekends if you plan on calling on the day. All the insurers I contacted were fine with covering a UK licence plate.
  • The V5 Logbook - to register with the NCTS you need the full document. For this, the dealer fills out export part and hands you the rest of the form. This is unorthodox for them as they will be used to sending off the whole thing or registering you online but you need the full v5c to register the VRT when you get back to Ireland. When they send off the permanent export section, it’s wise to also include a note explaining they have sold the car to an overseas resident, and include your address. Another option is to give an address of someone you trust in the UK and the logbook will be sent there, then have them forward it on.
  • Receipt for the car. This is very important and, as far as VRT is concerned, is your proof of ownership. Ideally it should be a full page with the model and with the dealers letterhead.
  • MOT Certificate - (Hard Brexit not forthcoming) the remainder on any MOT can be recognised as an NCT in Ireland.

Arriving in Ireland

There’s multiple ferries that go between the UK and Ireland. All I would say is if you are starting in South Wales and getting to Dublin, then the new motorway makes it far quicker to go Rosslare to Dublin than Swansea to Holyhead! However you get the car across to Ireland, make sure you keep a paper copy of the receipt to prove the day the car arrived in Ireland. You need to book a VRT appointment within 7 days of arriving back with the car, and the date you choose must be less than 21 days from the day you arrived. On the day you need to bring with you:

  • V5 - UK Logbook
  • Car purchase receipt from dealer
  • Mot cert (if car is older than 4 years old, newer cars don’t need NCTS)
  • VRTVPD2 form. Any sections that you don’t know then it’s generally ok to leave blank.
  • Ferry Ticket showing arrival date and reg
  • Proof of address in Ireland. Bank statement etc.
  • PPS number on official documentation. Either the card, or on a letter from Revenue.
  • ID - passport or driving licence.

Plates

You have 3 days to change over your UK plates to Irish ones. You can generally get new plates from the VRT centre, otherwise any motor factor will print them in 10 minutes. Take off the old plates and match up the holes on the new to ensure you drill in the right place. Don’t forget to contact your insurers to let them know your new reg.

Tax

You can pay your road tax online the day after the VRT, the pin is the last 6 digits of your VIN. Your disc will then arrive in the mail, followed soon after by the logbook.

Overall Savings Comparison

I bought a 162 Mitsubishi PHEV for £17000 with 46000 miles. I was able to negotiate new tyres, a new (manufacturer dealer) service and respray of the bonnet from Sinclair Direct). Here below is a comparison with buying locally, ie one of these GX4H late 2016 models with similar mileage. Note the Irish dealer price quoted on their website is inclusive of a trade in, any car is €2000 flat rate.

Cost UK Ireland
Car £17000(€19900) €28995
Flight £100 0
Ferry £185 0
VRT €1350 0
Private Sale Existing Car / Trade In -€1000 -€2000
New Plates €25 €0
Total €20600 €26995

Overall Saving €6000