Buying and Selling a Second Hand Car in Spain

12 February 2021

Second hand cars in Spain

This article is about the processes involved in buying and selling second hand cars in Spain. It will also look briefly at some of the pitfalls and problems to avoid, concentrating mostly on the buyer's point of view. As a seller, it would obviously be in your best interests to prepare things so that a buyer of a second hand car in Spain can actually buy your car.

The car might be for sale because the owner knows about an ITV problem that is not obvious...

First Steps

Every car needs to have the following documents up to date to start the buy / sell process:

  • Permiso De Circulación - In England you would call this the Log Book. It gives the car details, number plate, chassis number, make and model, year of first registration, and most importantly the name and address of the current owner.
  • Inspección Técnica - Also called the ITV. In England you would call this the MOT. It gives the car details, and is stamped and dated with the last ITV inspection passed and stating for how many years (1 or 2) this is valid.
  • Impuesto Sobre Vehiculos - This is equivalent to a road licence fee. It is payable yearly to the Ayuntamiento where the owner is registered.

So one of the first things to check, whether buying or selling, is that these are all in order for the car in question. Ask to see the original of all these documents before going any further.

Let’s assume you’ve found a second hand Spanish car you would like to buy. Ask the seller to show you the originals of these three documents. Check that the names correspond between them. Check the seller’s ID too.  If the person selling is not the owner for any reason, such as family member, or second hand car dealer, then you need to make sure that they are allowed to sell the car. This is particularly important in the case of a private sale.

The Permiso De Circulación is valid if the name and address are correct and the details correspond to the second hand car you are trying to buy.

The ITV could be out of date, or nearing it’s renewal date. If this is the case, then you would be well advised to ask the owner to pass the ITV before you continue. The car might be for sale because the owner knows about an ITV problem that is not obvious to a prospective buyer without actually testing. Would you know if the car would pass the environmental checks for gas emissions or noise?

The Impuesto Sobre Vehiculos could easily be out of date by one or more years. Once you have bought a second hand car in Spain, you would be liable to pay the back dated taxes before you could register the car in your local Ayuntamiento

He will steal the car back at the earliest opportunity, and you won't have a legal leg to stand on.

The Beaurocratic Process

If you are buying through a second hand car dealership, then they will take care of all this part. If not, then go to another dealer for your car. They will ask you for your official identification, Passport, Residencia, and anything else they could require for the processing of the transfer of ownership. If you are buying privately you will need to make sure you have a full day free to go to your local Jefatura De Tráfico. It is a huge advantage for both you and the seller if you can both go. That way, any little details that could cause a hiccup in the process can usually be sorted out on the spot. If he/she cannot be there, you will need copies of all the car documents, his/her documents, and a signed declaration allowing you to make the transfer in his/her name. It is unlikely that the seller will refuse to go with you though, as he will want to keep the documents in his possession until paid, and you will not want to pay until you know the car can be transferred. Take plenty of CASH with you, and take plenty of PHOTOCOPIES with you of all your own documents. Take documents that are not apparently required, such as your Empadronamiento and your driving license. If you get a 'Jobsworth' then you will need these things. On the other hand, a 'Jobsworth' is your biggest protection against a fraud, as he will be double checking the details of the car being sold. And take a BLACK BIRO with you. It is no joke if you need to fill in a section you missed on the form, or anything like that, as you can lose your turn trying to borrow a pen, and so have to wait the full queue again.

  1. You need to get the Solicitud. This is the official form to request the transfer of ownership. You can get this before the day and fill it out at ease, preferably with the seller, as you both need to enter details. You can print a copy from here.
  2. At the Jefatura De Tráfico you will have to queue up for a long time at the Caja to make the payment of (currently) 43.40€, which is the cost of the transfer. Cash is the best way to pay, as it avoids any problems of cards not working. Make sure you are in the correct queue. There is nothing worse than queuing for an hour or more only to be told that you should be in the even longer queue at the next window! They will give you a receipt and either a number, or you will be directed to another queue, depending on the Jefatura.
  3. At the next window, when your number is called, or you reach the head of the queue, you and the seller will produce all the documents listed above for the car, the Solicitud filled and signed, the receipt for the payment you just made, your ID documents, the sellers ID documents (which is why he should be there with you) and any photocopies of these documents that the guy behind the desk asks for.
  4. He might well ask you to pay the Impuesto Sobre Vehiculos for the coming year. If so, this is for the buyer to pay. Keep the receipt for this to show at the Ayuntamiento later when you register the car there. It is worth mentioning here that if the guy behind the desk is skimping things, he could easily pass over any unpaid road tax by stating something like "You do realise the Impuesto Sobre Vehiculos is outstanding?" and move on to complete the transfer. This is where you could find yourself landed with the seller's back-tax. Another good reason for checking it is up to date before you start.
  5. You might find that there is another payment to make for transfer from one community to another, or because there is a deferred Impuesto de Matriculación or registration tax. If this occurs, you need to agree with the seller which of you is responsible for that payment. A deferred tax would normally be the seller. Change of community tax would normally be the buyer. Whatever it might be, sort it out quickly so you don't lose your turn. You will be glad you brought real cash with you at this point.
  6. Extra payments are sometimes taken at this desk, or sometimes you are sent around the queues again. Patience is required!

All being well, the worst part is over. The car is in your name. Now you can go to your Ayuntamiento to make sure the road tax is in their system and paid up. There is no rush about this, but depending on where you live, it could mean another morning in a queue. A side issue worth mentioning is that you can also ask the seller if he could transfer the insurance to you. You could find it beneficial and it is easy to arrange. It means you can drive the car away same day with insurance included.

What problems can occur at the Jefatura?

  • The local tax is not paid up to date. They insist you go to the Ayuntamiento to sort this out and return. Solution: This is a real pain. But you have no option. The seller has to do this and the time all this can take might well mean you have to return to the Jefatura the next day.
  • Documents are not in order. Solution:Find out what needs to be done to put things straight, and do it. It will probably be something silly and simple, but time consuming. If it is an inconsistency in the car documents, you might have to forget the deal. Usually though, it is just that they need another photocopy of your documents because you are not Spanish.
  • There is an embargo or other financial lien on the car. Solution: If this shows up on the computer at the Jefatura then the deal falls through. The seller cannot sell the car until he clears this problem, which will take a long time. Get back any money you have paid to the seller. Kiss goodbye to the 43.40 Euros. Go look for another car.
  • There is an unpaid traffic fine. Solution: Armlock the seller and take him to the office where fines are paid. It is usually in the same building. If it is an old fine, then it could now be lodged at SUMA. Whatever the case, the seller must pay these fines. Again it might mean using up so much time that you will have to complete the transfer the following day.

What other problems can occur?

Apart from the usual difficulties associated with second hand car purchase in any country, the Spanish system opens up a number of extra pitfalls. This is because of the possibility of the transfer process not being completed. The seller will want some sort of down payment before going into the transfer process. Once completed, he will expect to be paid the balance before handing over the new car documents in your name and the car keys.

  • You need to be able to reclaim that down payment if the deal falls through at the Jefatura.
  • If the seller has to go to his Ayuntamiento to pay back-taxes, it is a good idea to accompany him. You don't want him to disappear with your down payment and not return to complete the transfer. The same goes for fine payments. But don't get pulled into paying his fines for him, unless it is taken off the outstanding payment due.
  • Don't accept the seller's word that the transfer has been completed until you see the new Permiso De Circulación in your name. How could this happen? Example: the transfer process is held up because the back-taxes are not paid. Seller says he will deal with it all tomorrow and call you. He calls you to say everything is done and dusted, so you can collect the keys and pay him the balance. You get the keys, the documents except for the Permiso De Circulación The seller tells you it will be sent to you. It's all LIES!! He will steal the car back at the earliest opportunity, and you won't have a legal leg to stand on.

Generally speaking, if at the start you have checked that the original documents for the car seem to be in order, and correspond to the ID of the seller, you can assume that the sale is being made in good faith. Just doing that will detect the majority of the con tricks. If a seller cannot produce all of those original documents in his own name, then be very careful!! Maybe better to look elsewhere.

Resources for Second Hand Cars in Spain

A second hand car dealer in Spain (some nice cars) Loquo (Barcelona) used cars - check around the other Loquo cities (on the left) for more. CraigsList's Barcelona second hand cars - again, check around the other craigslist sites too

Try the Spain Expat Facebook page or comment below (you'll need to be signed in)

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