Buying a LIMOUSINE? Read this info before you do!

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Limousine Buying Guide Do you want to buy a stretch limousine and start your own business? There are a few things you should know before you commit yourself as they could save you a whole lot of grief!

Following on from the new enforcement powers granted to the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA, now the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, DVSA) on the 1st October 2009, I have updated this buyer’s guide. The basic laws appertaining to limousines and their operation remain unchanged. It is now not possible to operate or offer a limousine for hire unless you have some form of licence to trade. In the past there were a couple of loopholes that could be exploited, but due to their mis-use, they have been closed. The only way in which a car or limousine can be hired out without one of the following three licences is when it is being used exclusively for either a wedding or funeral. The licences that can be obtained, depending on the seating capacity of the vehicle, are a Private Hire Vehicle (PHV) Licence normally issued by a local authority, a Standard Public Service Vehicle (PSV) Operators Licence or a Restricted PSV Operators Licence.

  Up to 8 passenger seats: In order to legally use a motor vehicle whether it be a car, people carrier or a limousine for private hire or ‘Hire & Reward’ it needs to be licensed. This is normally done via the Local Authority taxi licensing department. You will need to satisfy their requirements as an operator and also as a driver. This may involve you having a driving assessment and passing a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check. None of these are difficult to apply for. As a limousine is not your standard saloon car they will pay particular attention to it. Usually it will need to have passed a Single Vehicle Approval (SVA) test. This would have been done upon import in order for it to be able to be registered for the road. SVA has now become Individual Vehicle Approval, a similar process. Sadly not all the local authorities are prepared to issue licences to limousines generally due to the fact that they have side facing seats and are left hand drive. Some time ago the Department for Transport (DfT) advised local authorities not to prohibit limousine owners from operating and to accept applications on their individual merit. If a local authority refuses to licence, it is possible to appeal against this in court. Another avenue open to limousine operators of this size used to be the Restricted PSV Operators licence available from VOSA. These were not ideal as the conditions attached to the licence made operating quite difficult. However, this form of licensing has now been withdrawn by VOSA, they will not accept new applications and those already in use will be withdrawn. As previously mentioned, the only suggestion they make if your particular local authority resists in licensing limousines is to take court action. Far from ideal, but vehicles of eight seats or less never fell into VOSA's remit anyway.

9 or more passenger seats: Any motor vehicle with the capability of seating nine or more passengers and is used to carry people for ‘Hire & Reward’ is, in law, classed as a Public Service Vehicle. I know a stretch limousine doesn’t look much like a double deck bus but that is irrelevant as the regulations are the same for all. Simplified, you are taking passengers from point A to point B for money in the same way a minibus or larger bus would so you have to abide by the same set of standards. For a limousine with nine or more passenger seats (don’t include the driver) to be able to be used for Hire & Reward it will need to be able to satisfy the requirements of the Certificate of Initial Fitness (CoIF). This ensures that the vehicle has been constructed or adapted to meet UK PSV standards. As most stretch limousines come from the USA this can generally mean that many components and indeed certain aspects of the structure of the vehicle will not meet UK standards. There are very few limousines that have been built to CoIF standards that have originated from the USA. Certain Ford Excursions and late model Hummers have met this standard and it can be possible, but quite expensive, to do a ‘retro’ conversion. There are also new build PSV spec. ‘Limo Buses’ based on the Mercedes Sprinter and Volkswagen Crafter available.
Therefore if buying a limousine with an advertised seating capacity of 16 for example, you must check that it has a CoIF, a Class 6 (PSV) MOT (not Class 5 as that is for private use only) and that it is taxed as a ‘Bus’ which will be shown on the tax disc. It will also need to be fitted with a calibrated
Tachograph and probably will need to have a speed limiter set to 100kph.  In order for you to be able to operate a limousine for Hire & Reward you will need to have either a Restricted or Standard PSV Operators Licence. This is done through DVSA. In a nutshell you will need to prove that you are of good repute, have the facilities to maintain your vehicle(s) or employ the services of someone who does and are of good financial standing. You will need to demonstrate that your financial standing (which is dependant on what licence and number of vehicles you have) has been in place for at least three months prior to application. A Restricted O Licence will allow up to two vehicles of no more than 16 passenger seats. A standard licence will allow you to operate as many vehicles as your financial standing and vehicle parking facilities allow. You will need (or employ the services of someone who has) a Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC). This is a series of exams that prove you are capable of managing a public transport business. The loophole of Self  Drive or ‘Dry Hire’ with a large limousine (9 to 16 seats) has now been defined as an illegal practice by DVSA. This involved converting the vehicle to meet Schedule 6 minibus regulations (which enables the vehicle to be used as a private minibus ONLY, not commercially) and then hiring the vehicle to the customer on a self drive basis, then pointing them in the direction of a convenient ‘Chauffer’ hire firm (i.e.: people whom you trust to drive it) to ‘supply’ a driver. Remember, Schedule 6 is NOT an equivalent to a CoIF. This was an obvious scam to avoid proper licensing and DVSA will prosecute. Vehicles of more than 16 seats are exclusively in the PSV bracket so this method couldn’t be used for them.

New enforcement powers: As of the 1st October 2009 DVSA have new powers at their disposal to enforce the existing construction and use and operator licensing regulations. These are based on similar powers that were already being used to deter unlicensed HGV operators. For the PSV side of these they allow the impounding of a vehicle that is being used as a PSV (i.e.: being used to carry 9 or more passengers for Hire & Reward) that is not certified as a PSV and/ or is being used without a valid PSV Operators Licence. Obviously if the vehicle has serious mechanical defects it can be prohibited from the road regardless. These laws extend to all PSV’s irrespective of size and also to other types of vehicle such as Fire Engines, Ambulances, minibuses and coaches that have been converted to resemble a limousine/ party vehicle. In addition to the cost of releasing the vehicle from its impounding, there is the possibility that if the vehicle isn’t able to be adapted to meet PSV certification it could be destroyed to prevent its continued mis-use. This has now happened (March '11), with two illegally operated, unlicensed Ford Excursions crushed and shredded by VOSA.

Who to seek advise from: You could well be looking at a serious financial investment if starting a limousine business so it is best to seek the advice
from those to whom you will be ultimately answering to. In other words either your local authority taxi licensing officer or somebody from DVSA. The DfT have an informative page on their website and publications are available from DVSA. Many legitimate limousine operators have basic guides on their websites to inform customers to avoid unlicensed illegal operators. It will give you a general idea. Remember, you are running a public transport service in the first instance and an entertainment business second!

What you may find on Ebay: Searching for a limousine here on ebay shows some predictable results. 8 seat cars have to have SVA or IVA as a matter of course so will almost certainly be promoted as having passed this inspection. The seller may also state that the car is legal for use as a PHV with a local authority. Listings for 9+ seat vehicles are a different story. If the vehicle has passed the CoIF test and is legal for use on a PSV Operators Licence (see above) then the seller will be promoting this fact most prominantly. You will also see that such vehicles are significantly more expensive, for obvious reasons! 9+ seat vehicles that have no CoIF, and more importantly those that are incapable of ever passing the CoIF, are for sale for much less money. Sellers give few details and conveniently 'forget' to state seating capacity and the fact it cannot be legally used for 'Hire & Reward' unless, in some cases, a significant sum of money is spent to bring it up to CoIF standards. This can in effect double the cost of the vehicle. As stated above, 'Dry Hiring' a limousine is considered an illegal practice and you can face prosecution so don't accept that the vehicle can be used in that way. It can't. Don't fall into the trap of buying a vehicle you subsequently find out you cannot use!
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