Hi, I am a retired UK police officer who, in 2008, when I wrote this guide, was renting in Spain. Please bear in mind that I have now returned to the UK, and information in this guide referred to the motoring law in Spain as it was in 2008. Consider purchasing a copy of Brian Deller's 'Motoring in Spain' , which is very helpful to all foreigners driving in Spain. (amendment added 4/10/2011)
Original guide: I am becoming increasingly concerned about the information and advice that sellers of UK registered vehicles in Spain are including, or not including, in their vehicle auction descriptions. I offer this advice, which is true to the best of my knowledge, and have been in touch with the DVLA to clarify it, for the benefit of anyone in Spain thinking of purchasing a UK registered vehicle here, either personally, or online through ebay and similar sites.
As a typical example I have been told by the seller of a UK registered motorhome on ebay that the Spanish authorities now allow owners of UK registered vehicles to renew the expired mot with an ITV(Spanish equivalent). THIS IS NOT CORRECT! There is NO RECIPRICAL AGREEMENT between the UK and Spain. In any case, please don't fall for this story if you are living in Spain and considering buying a UK reg motorhome. The only way you will get a RHD UK reg motorhome onto Spanish plates is if you have an unobstructed 360 degree view from the driving seat. The only circumstances in which a UK registered vehicle may undergo a Spanish ITV is for the purposes of re-registering that vehicle onto Spanish plates, a somewhat complicated and expensive business. ITV centres here in Spain MAY accept your vehicle for a test, and indeed take the fee for doing so, (they need money like any other business) BUT that ITV is not legal for UK registered vehicles. In a Spanish police check, its possible that the officer MAY accept the ITV as proof the vehicle is roadworthy, BUT, its a UK registered vehicle, and in order to comply with UK law, it must have a current UK mot certificate no matter where it travels outside the UK, and of course for subsequent re-entry into the UK. If your mot has expired remember also that when you drive back to the UK, you are entitled to one journey only, to the nearest mot test centre to where you have re-entered, and you must have made an appointment beforehand otherwise you are committing an offence if stopped by the UK police.
THE ONLY way of ensuring the vehicle therefore complies with EEC regulations is to take it back to the UK every year for a fresh mot. There is NO OTHER WAY - no , you cannot even take it to Gibraltar, so please bear this in mind when thinking of purchasing, and the extra fuel and ferry costs involved. BE CAUTIOUS of brand new mot certificates given to you with a newly purchased UK registered vehicle here in Spain. Forgeries of the new style mot have been seized, as have the old style mot certificates that have been stolen in the UK and been brought here for use in vehicle crime. You can telephone the issuing mot garage yourself to put your mind at rest, or indeed get the salesman or seller to do so for you and YOU speak to them on the phone! Failure to ensure your mot is kept current COULD result in your vehicle being impounded in a Spanish police stop check. The Spanish Trafico authority are now conducting more checks on UK registered vehicles that are used on Spanish roads in order to detect motoring offences, one of which is using them on Spanish roads after 6 months of being brought into the country. It is deemed that if you remain in Spain for more than six months and one day, you are resident there and must abide by their motoring regulations, which includes re-registering your UK vehicle onto Spanish plates.
Owners of UK registered vehicles selling them on ebay, or indeed part exchanging them for a Spanish vehicle here in Spain SHOULD make themselves aware that since January 2004, in the UK, Continuous Registration applies. This means that YOU are the legal owner of your vehicle, and therefore responsible for ANY charges on that vehicle for as long as YOU remain the lawful keeper, this of course includes its excise tax. If you come to live in Spain, keep your vehicle here and fail to tax it, YOU are liable for the TOTAL period of time the vehicle remains untaxed PLUS a possible fine, which will probably catch up with you whenever you re-enter the UK. YOU CAN pay for your vehicle tax online, or simply email them with your query. As I am not supposed to include links outside of ebay in this guide simply send me a message through your ebay message centre if you require more information on contacting the DVLA. A SORN notice (statutory off road notification) ONLY applies in the UK, and using a vehicle outside the UK subject to a SORN is an offence of evading vehicle excise duty/tax, no matter what anyone may tell you, especially at your local!
REMEMBER, to ENSURE you fully complete the V5C change of ownership form, OR state that you have TRANSFERRED the vehicle to a Car Sales/Trader. UNTIL you have done this, YOU are liable for whatever occurs to that vehicle when you walk away from it. ENSURE you send your part of the document off to the DVLA, immediately, TRUST NO-ONE! Don't forget your liability to any unpaid tax!
Although the following is not directly concerned with the subject, I have included it to explain WHY there are so many UK registered vehicles being offered for sale in Spain, and why there is some pressure to sell them.
UK residents in Spain, particularly those who hold official residential status CANNOT, LAWFULLY, in any circumstance, drive their UK vehicle here without now re-registering it onto Spanish plates and paying import duty at 10% of its total value. This can cost up to £1000 per vehicle. Many owners sell their UK registered vehicle or part exchange it for a Spanish registered one, to avoid paying out what could be more than the vehicle is actually worth. The reason is that you cannot obtain residencia until you have been here for at least 6 months, in which time you are expected by the Spanish authorities to comply with their Traffic laws, and be registered on their systems for driver and vehicle licensing. (UK/European driving licences are another matter altogether!) Non residents and tourists (and you need to keep proof in the form of receipts, etc) may continue to use their vehicles lawfully in Spain if they leave Spain within the first 6 months and re-enter, in effect starting a new 6 month entitlement, but you may be asked at a police stop check to provide ferry or airline ticket receipts as proof. Additionally new exhaust emission laws in Spain are also causing larger fuel thirsty UK vehicles to enter the selling market because of the `emissions' tax owners now have to pay.
You may also be advised by sellers/salesmen `persons' that the local police in the area you are purchasing the UK registered vehicle are not concerned, and will not take action against you because your seller `KNOWS THEM'. With respect to those sellers who genuinely enjoy a close relationship with their local Spanish police, BE VERY CAREFUL. Unscrupulous dealers may say this to merely put your mind at rest, in order that they can sell the vehicle. What happens afterwards will not be their concern.
Basically, if you buy a UK registered vehicle here in Spain, BE CAREFUL. Be aware of the cost of transferring that vehicle onto Spanish plates when negotiating a price, or even ask the salesman if he is willing to do the paperwork for you (for an extra fee, of course!) There is a reason why so many of these vehicles are being put up for sale, remember this guide, and your pocket! Naturally the responsibilities of ownership rest with you as the new possible owner, just make enquiries and clarify where you stand lawfully via several independent sources. The Spanish authorities have quite rightfully become impatient with foreign motorists having blatantly disregarded their system up to now, so make sure you are `legal'.
I used to be a police officer. I am not now, but it saddens me to hear of innocent and trusting people purchasing what they believe to be a bargain, but finding themselves lumbered with a sometimes extremely expensive `white elephant'. I sincerely hope that this guide proves of use to prospective UK registered vehicle purchasers. I have done my utmost to be as accurate as possible. This guide is in no way designed to deter or affect the sale of UK registered vehicles here in Spain by companies or individuals who are trading lawfully, and make their customers aware of their responsibilities here in Spain, it is a failsafe for the ordinary person on the street, you and I in other words.
**UPDATE** concerning Japanese `grey' import vehicles on UK plates, OVER 10 years old. I received a pleasant email from a guy called Rich who told me that he found this guide very useful, and thought the following may interest readers of my review. Basically, if you have a UK registered Japanese `grey import' vehicle which is over 10 years old , ie, one that has not been imported into an EEC country from new, you WILL NOT be able to transfer it over to Spanish plates. Trafico simply will not do it because it is so difficult to obtain the original vehicle specifications, or homologation? certificate to ensure it complies with EEC import regulations. So, if you are thinking of purchasing a UK registered Japanese vehicle in Spain which is a grey import from Japan, AND its over 10 years old, DON'T TOUCH/BUY it, because whoever is trying to sell it to you will most probably have already found out that you cannot have it put onto Spanish plates. You also CANNOT scrap an English registered vehicle here, lawfully, only Spanish registered vehicles which are on the trafico system. Again, thank you for reading this guide.