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I've been looking for a used car for three weeks and i think i've finally found the one... I gave a deposit to the "owner" because it puzzled me a bit the difference between keeper and owner. However this link actually clarified to me the difference between "keeper" and "legal owner". I learnt from my last viewing that the keeper of a car isn't necessary the legal owner, since from where i'm from this doesn't happen (as far as i know) i got curious and i would like to understand how to check the real owner of the car, and if i can't if this information could ever be necessary when i've to sell/buy a used car. People suggested me to check if the car has been stolen or not, to check the HPI etc, but i don't get the sense to make such distinction between keeper and owner... So for future reference i would like to get a deeper sense on the subject.

  • As per DVLA advice, don't buy a car where the V5C isn't available! – Gagravarr Oct 5 '15 at 9:54
  • The V5C is available... the question is another – user8469759 Oct 5 '15 at 9:55
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Owners Don't Necessarily Keep

As you have discovered, the car owner is not necessarily the registered car keeper. Indeed, quoting from the linked police FAQ page:

A registration document (V5) is not proof of ownership. The registered keeper should be the person who is actually using / keeping the vehicle and this is not necessarily the owner of the vehicle or the person who is paying for it.

The point is that the owner is the person who paid for the car, or received it as a gift. The car however can be legally used by a person other than the owner. Think of company cars: the owner is the company, the day to day keeper/user is the employee. Further quoting from the linked police QA page:

The DVLA make a point of saying that the person named on the registration document is not necessarily the owner.

This is particularly true with a company car which is owned by the company, however the registration document should show the registered keeper, i.e. the day to day user (this may be an employee who has it as a permanent perk with his/her job).

In the case of a car used by a married couple, ownership of any property is usually classed as joint and if the husband was stopped driving the vehicle without insurance the police would probably accept that he was joint owner and not look to the wife for additional offences, such as owner permitting no insurance.

Checking the Vehicle

There are several things you can, and should, do to check the vehicle prior to purchasing it. You should first check that the vehicle is not stolen. This Citizen Advice Bureau webpage is very informative on the topic:

How can you tell if it's a stolen car?

It can be hard to tell whether a car is stolen, but you can look out for these warning signs:

  • the seller can't produce the vehicle registration document (V5C)
  • there are spelling mistakes or alterations on the V5C, or it doesn't have a watermark
  • the name and address on the V5C is different to what's on the seller's driving licence, passport, or recent gas or electricity bill
  • the identifying numbers on the car don't match the numbers on the V5C
  • the engine and VIN numbers have been tampered with. Look out for areas of glass that's been scratched off the windows, or stickers covering up alterations to the etching
  • the seller cannot show you the insurance policy for the car.

If the seller can’t produce the registration document (V5C)

A common excuse is that the registration document has been sent to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) for updating. This may be true if, for example, the seller has changed address recently. However, you should be wary as this means you cannot check the car's ownership and identity details. It may be better to delay the purchase until the V5C has been returned.

If the seller claims the car was bought recently and the V5 is with the DVLA for the change of ownership to be recorded, the seller should have a green slip. This applies only to cars issued with V5s from March 1997.

Checking the identifying numbers on the car

Carefully check that the identifying numbers on the car match those on the V5C. These are:

  • the number plate, called the vehicle registration mark
  • the vehicle identification number (VIN) found on a metal plate, usually in the engine compartment, and stamped into the bodywork under the bonnet and the driver's seat. Some cars have the VIN etched on their windows or lamps
  • the engine number.

If the numbers don’t match, it is likely that the car is stolen and you should walk away. If the seller is a dealer, you should report them to Trading Standards through the Citizens Advice consumer helpline. If the seller is a private seller, you should inform the police.

Once you are sure that the car hasn't been stolen, you should check it's history. For starters you can check the details, Road Tax and MOT status of the vehicle by typing it's registration plate in the DVLA's brand new Vehicle Enquiry service.

You can also run a private HPI data check using various services out there. These will cost you around 20-30GBP, and will tell you if, to their knowledge, the car is stolen/written off/scrapped/ringed/etc. For completeness sake, the RAC runs such checks, so does the AA, and HPI themselves. I cannot recommend any of these services, since I've never used them before. What I can say though is to use a reputable company so as to increase the likelihood of the information provided being trustworthy.

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  • So actually in order to get a proof of the real ownership (i mean except checking that it has been stolen etc) i could: 1. Ask if the previous owner actually sold the car to this person; 2. Ask to the presumed owner a receipt of such purchase; The car anyway hasn't been stolen, i checked by my self, and they actually provided me all regular documentation, as far as i could understand of course. To me just sound a little twisted, because in the last viewing when such thing happened often... most of them didn't gave me an exhaustive explanation. – user8469759 Oct 5 '15 at 12:51
  • However, except for the company case you mentioned, i still struggle the benefit for a private to keep such distinction, to me sounds natural to be both the keeper and the owner, even if the ownership will be entailed by the purchase of the car. – user8469759 Oct 5 '15 at 12:53
  • And again, with previous people, most of them say "we didn't prefer to keep the car (in the sense of the V5C module) since we don't want to increase the previous owner numbers, as it could make the care less attractive in the market"... so given such statement... i believed there was some kind of relationship between keeper and owner, so i feel like i'm still missing something. – user8469759 Oct 5 '15 at 13:00

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