‘Pre-registered’ or ‘self-registered’ cars are abundant on dealer forecourts across the UK, and these models can account for up to 30 per cent of all new car sales each year. In general, they are models produced by manufacturers to be snapped up by dealers which help them to meet their monthly sales targets. Often offered with big discounts, these savings compared to list price can then be passed on to the first genuine buyer.

Do a search of local dealer websites or newspapers, and you’ll find plenty of ads for these type of pre-registered cars, and they will all promise buyers the benefit of what’s effectively a brand-new car that’s available for a used car price. These cars are often called ‘ ex-demo’ or ‘delivery mileage’ cars, too, and you’ll find that the odometers usually register only single-figure mileages, as they will have been ferried around dealer networks on the back of transporters.

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Overall, pre-registered cars are a great way to get a lot of car for not as much money as if you buy new. But before you snap up the first pre-registered car you see, we’ll guide you through all the pros and cons of purchasing one. 

What does ‘pre-registered’ mean?

The process of pre-registering a car involves a dealership or dealer group buying new cars from the manufacturer at a discounted rate and registering them to the dealership. This means that the dealer is technically the first owner on the V5C registration document, while the car is already registered, ready to go on the forecourt.

Officially this is a ‘second-hand’ car, even though it may only be weeks old with just a handful of miles on the clock. Dealers tend to offer these vehicles periodically to boost their monthly sales, normally with great savings, in order to reduce their stock.

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When buying a new car, you can choose the exact spec and options you want, although you’ll often have to pay full price and wait weeks for delivery. However, with ‘pre-reg’ cars, what you see is what you get, so you might have to compromise on the kind of spec you want. Still, knowing the dealership is keen to sell gives you the power to haggle for a greater discount and extras, plus you’ll enjoy immediate delivery. If you’re buying from certain manufacturers that offer different trim levels without much scope for adding options, the only compromise you might have to make is with the car’s colour. But other firms offer innumerable options on their cars, so you might have to do a bit of hunting to find the right car for you. But if you’re looking at cars within a manufacturer’s approved used network, there will be a far greater choice on offer, because you will be able to browse stock across the country, which can then be delivered to your nearest dealer if you’re keen to buy a specific car.

As well as looking for the right car to buy, there’s also the right time to buy. The best time is when dealerships need to sell their ‘old’ stock, mostly following the registration plate change every 1 March and 1 September. Each dealership also has different targets to meet and manufacturers’ incentives to realise, so deals are often available towards the end of the month or financial quarter.

However, be aware that some pre-registered cars aren’t necessarily listed as such. If you see a ‘new’ car that has been heavily discounted, already has a number plate and very low mileage, it’s likely to be a self-reg, so ask the salesman to confirm this. 

The pros and cons of buying pre-reg

Pros

• Fast delivery
• Great discounts
• Scope to haggle on price
• You can negotiate for extras – if you don’t ask, you don’t get

Cons

• A pre-reg car is a ‘used’ car 
• Colour choice is limited 
• What you see is what you get – customisation isn’t possible
• Not being the first registered owner could affect resale value
• Check mileage and panels; even pre-reg cars may be damaged
• Depending on the registration date, any remaining manufacturer warranty, road tax or breakdown cover will be reduced

Buying a pre-registered, nearly new or used car: top tips

Franchise dealers don’t just sell brand-new cars straight from the factory; they will also have pre-registered or used models on their forecourts. But these used models can be had with great finance packages that are as good as the ones offered on new cars, and this can be a cost-effective way to get a great deal. To stay safe when you hit the dealership for your new motor, Auto Express has compiled 10 top tips with the help of Sue Robinson, director of the National Franchised Dealers Association.

1. Drive before you buy

Make sure you see the car first and check it for any discrepancies to ensure you’re not being fooled. Never commit to buying without driving it, either, so you can get a feel for the mechanical condition of the vehicle. This may not be possible if you’re looking at a car from a UK-wide approved used network, so in this instance at least try and test drive a similar vehicle so you can get a feel of the car and see if it’s right for your needs.

2. Check the registration and MoT certificate are genuine

Ensure that the details quoted are correct, paying attention to the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). You should also check the previous owners listed on the registration document match what you’ve been told. To check the details on a registration document match the official record, you can use the DVLA’s online service. For MoTs on cars that are more than three-years-old, go to www.gov.uk/check-mot-status.

3. Check its service history

Call the dealer whose stamp appears opposite the last service in the car’s records. Explain why you’re ringing and ask it to verify the work.

4. Check the guarantee

With a second-hand vehicle, you’ll usually get at least a year’s warranty – less if the car is older. Check what’s offered and consider purchasing extra cover to ensure you’re protected. With nearly new and pre-registered cars, the remainder of the manufacturer’s warranty will still be intact. 

5. Check for outstanding finance payments

If someone sells you a car that still has outstanding finance on it, the title or ownership of the vehicle still resides with the finance company, which could repossess the vehicle. In this instance, walk away from the car – there will be plenty of others out there.

6. Check the mileage

If you are sold a car with incorrect mileage, it can impact on the car’s value and factors such as when the cambelt should be replaced. You can check the mileage of older cars at every MoT for free at www.motinfo.gov.uk.

7. Make sure you tax it

In the past, a tax disc would have shown you how much VED was remaining. Now, tax expires on sale, so you’ll need to buy it straight away and factor it into your buying budget. If the vehicle isn’t taxed and has a Statutory Off-Road Notification (SORN), again you’ll need to tax it before you can drive it on the road.

One thing worth noting is that the road tax rules changed on 1 April 2017, so if a car was pre-registered by 31 March 2017, it will likely qualify for a different – usually lower – tax rate than the same model registered after 1 April.

8. Look under the bonnet

Inspect the oil and all hoses for any leaks or loose connections. Be wary if the engine bay is too clean – it may have been cleaned to hide something.

9. Look under the car

Don’t lie down in the road, but see if there are any oil or coolant leaks on the surface underneath. Also check the car sits level on its springs and that all the tyres are equally worn and road-legal.

10. Make sure the seller provides full contact details

Franchised dealers or local garages are most commonly used, but if you’re dealing with a private seller, make sure you have their contact details, including a landline to reach them on as this places them at a specific location.

Expert opinion

Philip Nothard from used car pricing and technical expert CAP Automotive warned us: “Don’t be talked into buying a pre-reg if you had intended to buy brand new or an older second-hand car. Make sure you get what you want.”

If you’re looking to part-exchange your current vehicle, get independent valuations first to ensure a comparable price, and check the list price of any potential buys to confirm the savings being offered.

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We asked Nothard if there is anything else to consider before making that final decision. “These heavy discounts do undoubtedly have a knock-on effect on the price of other cars on the forecourt. And as you’re not the first registered owner, it’s likely to reduce the car’s value when you sell on,” he explained.

“Shop around. Although the pre-reg price may look great, there are also some good finance deals available on new cars, such as PCPs (Personal Contract Plans) with big dealer contributions. This could mean it makes more sense to buy brand new. It all depends on how you intend to finance the car and how long you plan to keep it for.”

Have you ever bought a pre-registered car? Tell us about your experiences in the comments section below…



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