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Jo C.
Jo C., Barrister
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 69263
Experience:  Over 5 years in practice
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how can i find out if i am buying a used car (privately) from

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how can i find out if i am buying a used car (privately) from the legal owner?
Submitted: 3 years ago.
Category: Law
Expert:  Jo C. replied 3 years ago.

Thank you for your question . My name is XXXXX XXXXX I will try to help with this.

In order to give you an answer tailored to your circumstances, I will just need to ask you some preliminary questions so that I can consider your position from all angles.

-Could you explain your situation a little more?

Customer: replied 3 years ago.



i bought a classic car from a guy who as it turns out runs a scrap car metal yard in croydon. alarm bells have been ringing in my head the whole time but the car is a rare find as it is in very original condition.


he claims it was from an probate auction for the sale of the deceased. no paperwork to prove the transaction at this auction. he gave me the original V5 certificate from the 1970s which said it had no previous keepers. did a HPI check and it is not registered stolen, financed, written off etc and also said had no previous keepers. did a check on the name of the original keeper - cannot find anything on death register. i sent a V62 form to DVLA to change the name of the keeper but even if that clears this still doesn't prove i am the legal owner. i am worried that the car may have actually been kept by the scrap metal merchant on behalf of the legal owner (as a favour perhaps) but that actually the full title still belongs to the original owner or his estate (if he is actually deceased).


i am worried that it may be registered as stolen by the original owner once they find out and that the car will be taken off me by the police.


when i bought the car i made him sign a contract i drafted that said the cars details as well as something to the effect of 'i declare that i am the legal owner of the vehicle' and that the title has passed to me now that he has received the money for the vehicle but i am not sure this holds any weight.


it seems very difficult to prove ownership of a vehicle!





Expert:  Jo C. replied 3 years ago.

Did you pay a sum that was substantially under the market value?
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

no, i paid £5000. actually i have only paid £500 deposit so far, am paying the rest next week. he was keen to get the money in the next couple of weeks. i met him at a farm in surrey which is not far from the address on his licence. probably this is because the car isn't taxed. he says he hasn't registered the car in his name as it would add to the number of keepers on the car, reducing its value.


i have all the recent mot's back to 2010 and it indicates that the owner has hardly driven the car in the last few years. that is, unless the seller has clocked the car.


it could be genuine, but equally it could also be a scam. the assumed deceased may get a letter from DVLA in the next few weeks saying there is a new keeper for the car, and he may register it as stolen. even if it has been paid for by the seller, they could say it was stolen if there is some bad sentiment?

Expert:  Jo C. replied 3 years ago.

I just need about 10 mins to type out an answer if thats OK?
Customer: replied 3 years ago.


Expert:  Jo C. replied 3 years ago.
Thanks for the time.

Ultimately you are right, it is always very difficult to prove the ownership of a car. When you buy a car from a person not named on the log book you are always taking a risk. The question is whether you take reckless risks or managed ones.

As you know the V62 registration doesn't prove ownership.

However, I don't think they can subsequently report a theft. Either the car is stolen or its not. Usually when a car is stolen the owners notice its missing fairly quickly and report it immediately. What may happen is that the new registration can alert the authorities to the whereabouts of the car but then the car should have flagged up stolen.

That said, it may have been ringed or clocked. There is no way of being certain at the roadside.

You can ask a mechanic to examine these things but obviously there is a cost.

If you were to buy and the worst were to happen you would be able to rely on the innocent purchaser defence whereby you would be able to argue that you could keep the vehicle because you bought in good faith.

Obviously you can use this service

but you will have done so.

If you do have the name of the original keeper then you can always make contact with him to check this sale is legitimate. That isn't all that quick but its an option for you.

In fairness though, if you have taken all these steps and you are not paying a very cheap price for the car then I'm not sure what else anybody can argue you could have done.

Can I clarify anything for you?

Customer: replied 3 years ago.

thanks for your answer.


he advised not contacting the widow of the original owner as she may be upset, because he bought the car to restore apparently. i could though for peace of mind. still doesn't conclusively prove ownership.


supposing for example that after taking the car, it turns out that the legal owner is not the seller but his wife (he did mention he was in the middle of a break up with his ex) and she then registers it as stolen. if she has some proof of purchase from the auction then she will have proof of title. all i have is a seller's contract which i have drafted myself. he has signed this though.


what then?


i won't bother you for much longer but could i for example take legal action again the seller if he has fraudulently sold this. i have a copy of his driver's licence, i know his business address (he has a website which seems genuine).


have you ever dealt with these kinds of cases in court? how do you think a case like mine would stand up?

Expert:  Jo C. replied 3 years ago.
If that were to happen then you could still rely on the innocent purchaser defence.

If you have to hand the car back then you would have an almost failsafe claim against the seller.

Unfortunately there is a trade in the UK in ringed cars and indeed in stolen cars. The innocent purchaser defence is effective if you can satisfy a court there was no reason to believe there was anything improper.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

i think i have done all i can to make the necessary checks - HPI, checking VIN number against existing V5 certificate, checking through old MOT receipts, invoices for work done on the car etc. i've also tried unsuccessfully to find info on the original owner, he was last registered on the electoral roll in 2002 it seems. there were MOTs done every year till 2008, the most recent one was done by the seller a couple of weeks ago at my request.


if i had the receipt from his purchase at the probate auction then i think everything would be in order.


it's the fact that he can't prove that he is the legal owner that bothers me.


i guess the worst that could happen is that the police would take the car as it could be reported 'stolen' after i register it, and i would end up with nothing.


perhaps the only thing i could do then is take the seller to court for selling something he does not own, the evidence being the advertisement on the website i mentioned as well as the contract he signed stating he is the legal owner?

Expert:  Jo C. replied 3 years ago.
You won't have any problems with suing the seller if that happens.

If the police seize your car then you have an almost overwhelming case.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

one last question, if i sue the seller and win will i get all the money back ? (legal costs, cost of car, possibly costs associated with renovating it if i have receipts for these)


very last question (sorry) - does the seller contract that i made him sign effectively prove that i am the legal owner of the car?

Expert:  Jo C. replied 3 years ago.
1 You could try to claim that but most likely you would get the cost of the car plus legal costs.

2 Not really. It just proves that he told you that he was. If he isn't the lawful owner then he isn't the lawful owner.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

thanks. i think you've answered my questions - i may be able to sleep a bit better now (just?)


the whole proof of legal ownership is a shambles in the UK. there should be proper deeds registered somewhere, with watermarks to prove they aren't forged. anyone can say they own a vehicle and can sell a car, unfortunately it could a while for the actual owner to realise that their car is being re-registered before they are alerted to the fact that the car is stolen. particularly if someone is 'looking after a car' for a while. i guess the dvla will send out a letter to the previous keeper of this car and it is quite possible it could be reported stolen in a few weeks, by then the seller will have my money and have disappeared. so i will always have that doubt in my mind as to whether i own the thing or not.

Expert:  Jo C. replied 3 years ago.
Yes, I do agree. This makes these sales so difficult.

All the best.

Please remember to rate my answer.
Jo C., Barrister
Category: Law
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Experience: Over 5 years in practice
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