What useful information is available to me as a buyer on a vehicle registration certificate?

Most people don’t know the difference between a licence receipt and a registration certificate. In very simple terms, a licence receipt is the document on which you have cut out the licence disc. At a casual glance the two documents appear to be very similar. A registration certificate will have the words CERTIFICATE IN RESPECT OF REGISTRATION OF MOTOR VEHICLE right at the top. This is the important one and the document that will tell you a lot about a car. It should always be an original. A copy is worthless. The paper is a greenish tint and is similar to cheque book paper.

Where do I find the year of 1st registration?

BEFORE buying, ask to see the registration certificate. First thing you check is the year of first registration. I can't tell you how many people falsely believe (wittingly or unwittingly) that their vehicles are newer than they actually are. It is imperative that the year of 1st reg. matches that which the owner has advertised it as. (Funny thing is it never works the other way round - where you score a year!) In legal terms, this is called misrepresentation . 

How can I tell how many owners a car has had? 

Look down about halfway along the page, you will find a line titled: Last 3 registration numbers. If there are three numbers listed, it has had at least 3 previous owners 

How can I tell if it is a genuine used car and not a rebuild? 

Next thing to check is the Code a few lines lower on the Reg. cert. 
It will read one of the following: NEW /USED/REBUILT 


Private sellers sometimes get away with selling a Code3 (rebuilt) vehicle to an unsuspecting buyer, but dealers may not sell a Code 3 vehicle unless it is for cash and then they have to declare it up front. A Code 3 vehicle may not be financed. Insurers also sometimes refuse to insure a Code 3. Watch out for adverts where a shrewd seller uses subtle phrases like ‘coded vehicle’ which makes it sound like it is colour coded or even security coded. 

How can I tell if a car is being sold by a private person who is actually a dealer?

Look at the DATE OF LIABILITY FOR REGISTRATION. This will tell you how long the seller has had the vehicle registered in his name. If it is less than six months, there is a strong possibility that the car was bought specifically to resell and it could have been in an accident. There might be an alternative reason for the short ownership, so ask direct questions. Make notes of the answers and check their veracity out in your own time. 

How can I tell if there is money owing to a bank?

The final check on the reg.cert. is the Owner/Title Holder status. If the vehicle is fully paid and unfinanced, the name of the owner must be the same as the Title Holder. Occassionaly a finance company's name will appear as Title Holder even though the vehicle is fully paid. In such a case, there must be a letter from the Finance Company, confirming full settlement. (This MUST be an ORIGINAL letter). Do not accept the documents like this. Insist that the owner registers the vehicle in his name as Owner and Title Holder. Otherwise you will be sitting with a registration nightmare and hours in long queues. 

How should I handle the situation if there is still an outstanding settlement at a bank? 

In the event that there is still an outstanding balance on the vehicle to a finance company - insist that it should be settled first, before you pay for the vehicle. In most cases the owner does not have the cash flow to do that. In the latter case, you should settle the finance company yourself (never pay the owner in full so that he can settle the bank - this is when the bad stuff hits the fan every single time). Only after you have collected the original registration certificate from the finance company, should you pay any balance to the owner. 

Ask around - word of mouth recommendations are usually the right ones.