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What to do when you buy a car at auction

Around 9 million cars are sold at auction every year in Britain, and a substantial proportion of these are sold to private buyers. Many of these, perhaps unknowingly, drive them home in an illegal manner.

Police forces throughout the country are aware of this and it is not unusual for them to stake out auction houses in order to catch those who are doing so.

Can you drive an uninsured car away from an auction house?

It may only be a few miles to home and you might feel you will get away with it but many police cars are equipped with number plate recognition software which tells them instantly whether or not a car is insured. Also, people who are driving a car that they are not familiar with occasionally make mistakes which can be picked up by alert police officers. The likelihood of getting caught if you do indeed drive from an auction whilst uninsured is high.

How do you insure a car when you have just bought it at auction?

If you intend to keep the car that you just bought you will need to take out a year's insurance; but you will want to spend some time comparing quotes first of all to get the best possible deal. In the meanwhile it should only take you a moment or 2 to buy a short-term policy to cover you for the time being.

Tempcover are prepared to accept applications for short term cover of up to 28 days which should give you ample time to get it registered and either sell it or get a permanent insurance policy for it.

Most large auction houses have Wi-Fi facilities so if you take your mobile phone with you you should be able to get a policy organised quickly even if you have a poor 4G or 5G signal.

Could I have problems insuring particular cars?

Do bear in mind that not every car is acceptable for a short-term policy. Whilst most modern cars are, many older, rarer or more expensive ones may not be. If you have any doubts, before bidding on anything other than a mainstream model it would be a good idea to get a quick quote on it; it only takes a minute or two and you could confirm whether or not a policy would be available.

Would the car be covered immediately?

You can be covered from the moment your credit card details are accepted and your policy is confirmed - which usually only takes a few seconds. Bear in mind though that the details of your policy may not be recorded right away on the Motor Insurers Database, which is a central database of all the car insurance policies in the UK, and which is checked constantly by police forces. It is therefore highly possible that you could be stopped to prove that you are insured even though you have bought a policy a short while earlier. If you have your mobile phone with you you will be able to show any police officers, who wish to check your insurance status, the documentation that you will have been sent by email by your insurer, and this should be completely acceptable to them.

You should make sure that you insure it for long enough to allow you sufficient time to arrange your full-time policy. Although it may be tempting just to buy cover for a few hours to get the car home, you may still have to park it on a public road and it is illegal to do this unless there is sufficient insurance in place.

What if I am covered via my existing insurance policy on another vehicle?

Many comprehensive policies allow a motorist to drive vehicles which he or she does not own. Many people think that this gives them the right to buy a car at auction and drive it home. This is not the case at all; if you buy a vehicle at auction the ownership passes to you and it is not therefore covered under this clause.

Can a friend drive it for me?

You may believe that a friend with an 'Any Vehicle Not Belonging' type of insurance policy could drive it for you legally since he or she did not own the vehicle, but it is common for insurers to insist that the vehicle being driven is itself insured. Your friend could then be open to a charge of driving without insurance, and you could be open to a separate charge of allowing a car you own to be driven without insurance, which carries similar penalties. A short term policy can eliminate these risks.

What if the car does not have an MOT?

Some cars do indeed get offered for sale without a current MOT certificate and you should be extremely dubious about these since the previous owner would not have found it economicaly in their interests to arrange for one before offering it for sale. You could be buying yourself a lot of expensive trouble.

However if you do indeed buy one it is illegal for you to drive it on a public road unless you are driving it straight to a testing station. You would therefore need to leave the car at the auction house until you had a definite appointment at an approved vehicle testing station and then you could legally take it there; provided of course that it was roadworthy. A car without a current test certificate will almost certainly require work to make it fit for the road so be ready for a possibly hefty bill!

Again Tempcover will accept applications for short term insurance for a car without an MOT certificate provided that it is roadworthy, and the vehicle is driven straight to a pre-booked appointment at a test centre.

Can you drive a car if it is not taxed?

Whenever you buy a car the existing road tax on it is automatically cancelled and you have to buy another road fund licence. There is a common misconception that there is a 14 day period of grace before doing this, but this is not correct. Strictly speaking you should tax the car as soon as you have bought the insurance, but this is not usually possible because at such short notice it is unlikely that the Motor Insurers Database has been updated, and so you cannot insure it online until this has happened.

Usually however the database is up-to-date within 24 hours and so you can go ahead and tax it online. Technically, you would be committing an offence by driving the vehicle or keeping it on a public highway until you did have a chance to tax it. Whilst it is very unlikely that you will be prosecuted; it could happen but very rarely does, provided that you did buy your road fund licence as soon as possible.

Conclusion

The really important one to make sure of is the insurance. Whilst driving without tax or MOT can bring a fine, driving without insurance is a serious offence which could mean a very large fine of perhaps £500 or so, plus around six penalty points on your licence. These would stay on your licence for four years and you would need to disclose the fact to future insurers for five years.

The vehicle you were driving would also be liable to impoundment, leaving you with heavy impound costs to bear, as well as extreme difficulty in finding insurance cover – apart from a small number of specialists, nearly all insurers refuse to cover impounded cars, and without insurance it would be practically impossible for you to get the car back.

Clearly, if you are thinking of buying a car at auction you must be prepared to arrange for proper insurance cover for it before you drive it. With short-term car insurance this should be a quick and easy transaction.