Whether you’re buying, selling or giving your car to a family member, there’s more to the whole process than simply exchanging the keys. Whenever you give your car to someone else, or you take another individual’s vehicle off their hands, the new ownership has to be legally registered by UK law.

So, how do you go about doing that? Over the course of this handy guide, we’ll explain how you can transfer car ownership on- and offline, who is allowed to carry out the transfer, and any penalties you could incur for failing to carry out the procedure.

When do I need to transfer car ownership?

The transfer of car ownership is required in the following cases:

  • You’re buying or selling a car (including at public auction)
  • You’re giving away a car (even if no money is changing hands and you live at the same address)
  • After the death of the owner

What is the difference between the owner and the keeper?

Before we go any further, it’s a good idea to clear up the differences between the owner and keeper of the car, as it can be a little complicated. For instance, while the owner and keeper can be the same person, confusingly they can also be different people or companies.

Basically, the keeper is the person named on the V5C (registration or logbook). While a car could be owned by a third party such as a finance company or fleet operator, the V5C would name the person driving the car as its registered keeper.

Whoever is named on the V5C is the person who is legally responsible for the vehicle. As such they’ll have to deal with things like parking tickets, speeding and contact with the police if a motoring law is broken – even if they weren’t driving the car in the first place.

This also means they’re responsible for things like insuring and taxing the car, making sure it’s in working condition, and taking it for an MOT. It’s the keeper – and the keeper only – who can legally transfer a car and its V5C into another name.

How to change car ownership

Step 1: Locate your car’s V5C logbook

Before you list the car for sale, we’d recommend finding your V5C. It’s a red paper document, although older versions are in blue. If you can’t find your V5C, not to worry; you can apply for a new one through the government website here.

You’ll need the following information to receive a replacement:

  • Vehicle registration number
  • 17-digit VIN/chassis number
  • Registered name and postcode on your V5C
  • Credit/debit card for payment
man registering his new car online

If nothing needs changing from the original, you’ll have to pay £25 for the replacement. However, if there are changes that need making to the original, you’ll have to download and send a separate form to the DVLA.

Step 2: Let the DVLA know you’re transferring the car’s ownership

Whether you’re selling a car or giving it away to a friend or family member, you’ll have to inform the DVLA that you intend to transfer the car’s ownership. You have two options here: online or by post.

Transferring your car ownership online

A straightforward and streamlined process, transferring ownership online involves completing the form on the DVLA website. All you’ll need is the details of the new keeper (including their email address), along with the 11-digit reference number from the car’s V5C.

After submitting the form (which is mostly multiple-choice answers), both you and the new keeper will receive an email confirming the transferring of ownership has been completed. A new physical V5C will also be sent to them within five working days. You should also rip up and throw out the old V5C.

Transferring your car ownership by post

Alternatively, you can let the DVLA know of a transfer of ownership by post instead. To do this, enter the new owner’s name and address into the boxes on section 2 of the document (the green panel on the bottom left-hand side of page two).

filling out vehicle registration forms

Next, remove the New Keeper Slip, fill out the Date of Sale/Transfer, and pass to the new keeper. You should then post the remainder of the V5X, including section 2, to the DVLA as directed on the form.

N.B. on old-style V5C forms, the New Keeper section is part of section six of the form called ‘New Keeper Details’, and the new keeper can be found in section 10, called the ‘New Keeper Supplement’ or V5C/2.

In new-style V5C forms, the New Keeper section of V5C can be found in section 2 and is called ‘selling or transferring my new vehicle to a new keeper’, while the green slip is a part of section 6 of the form.

Changing the registered keeper to a dealer

If the transfer involves selling your car to a dealer, then both you and the dealer will have to sign section 9 of the V5C certificate (also known as the V5C/3). After this, the dealer takes possession of the V5C.

The dealer then notifies the DVLA of the change of ownership, and you’ll receive an acknowledgement of such within four weeks. Any tax direct debits – providing you have them – will be cancelled by the DVLA and you’ll receive any tax refunds that are due.

vehicle registration

The same process is also used if the car is being sold for scrap or transferred to a scrapyard.

Keep in mind that you can no longer transfer any remaining car tax on a car you’ve sold. The new owner will need to retax the car in their name, while you’ll also have to apply for a refund on any remaining months you have the car taxed for.

But what if you’re the buyer?

Should you be the purchasing party in these transactions, and the seller intends to update the information online, then you should give them your email address. They’ll then enter your email address when declaring to the DVLA you’re the new keeper and you’ll also receive email confirmation that this has been processed by the DVLA.

It’s not actually compulsory to provide an email address – you’ll receive a new V5C certificate within five working days either way – but you might like to simply for peace of mind.

Can I buy or sell a car without a V5C?

You absolutely can, though the DVLA recommends against it.

Selling a car without a V5C is perfectly legal since it only acts as a proof or registration and not as proof of ownership. You’d still need to provide the buyer with a bill of sale, however.

Selling a car without a V5C can be suspicious, which is why the DVLA advises not to do so. Without a V5C, it suggests that the car may be stolen, written off or have a loan against it. For a seller looking to get rid of their car in a hurry, these things can slow the buying process down, as buyers may naturally feel wary of purchasing a car minus its V5C.

What happens if I don’t transfer ownership of a car?

Failure to inform the DVLA of a change in car ownership might result in potential fines.

Likewise, if the car is still registered in your name, then you’ll be responsible for dealing with any offences, such as speeding tickets, for example, that the new owner commits.

Looking for more from the Brindley Group? Click here to check out all our news from the motoring world, as well as the rest of our motoring guides here. And if you’re in the market for a new car, see how we can help on our homepage.