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FAQs - Cars

These questions were put to and answered by a European consumer advice service. Do you have questions of your own? Contact your local European Consumer Centre.

Buying a car abroad

  • Can't I just bring the car back to my home country using the number plates from my old car?    

    NO - That's illegal.

  • How can I find out where the car I want to buy will be cheapest?  

    If you are planning to buy a new car, you can compare prices using the report on car prices across the EU, published annually by the European Commission.

    However, you must also take into account the cost of VAT:

    • For a new car, the final price you will pay is the net price in the country of purchase + the VAT in your country.
    • For a used car, you do not pay VAT if the seller is a private individual. But if the seller is a professional, you will pay the local rate of VAT in the country where you buy the car.
  • How can I take home a new car that I have bought abroad?    

    You can:

    • tow it yourself
    • hire a specialised shipping and transport company
    • drive it yourself. But you will need valid insurance (for all countries you will drive through) and a temporary number plate. You can obtain these in the country where you buy the car. Your seller should be able to inform you.
  • How do I obtain a temporary licence plate for driving home a car I bought abroad?    

    A temporary licence or number plate allows you to drive a car you have recently bought in one country to the country where you intend to register it. You can obtain a plate in the EU country where you buy your car.

    You should get a permanent number plate in the country where you register your car.

    You will also need insurance that is valid in all the countries you will drive through.

  • I live in Ireland and bought a new car in Germany. I think it has a serious technical fault. What can I do?    

    If something goes wrong with your new car bought from a dealer, check the terms of all relevant warranties (such as the manufacturer's warranty and dealer's warranty) to find out whether the problem you have is covered, and if the warranty applies in Ireland.

    If so, you should contact the dealer to seek a remedy. You will also be covered by EU consumer laws on minimum guarantees, which usually last for two years.

  • I'd like to buy a car in a neighbouring EU country. What kind of guarantee will it come with?

    You are covered by a two-year legal guarantee when you buy a new car from a professional seller. The guarantee period may be reduced to one year for a used vehicle. The guarantee covers manufacturing faults, for which the seller is responsible.

    In addition to the legal guarantee, you may also have a commercial guarantee.

    Under EU law, you may invoke your guarantee at any dealer in the manufacturer's network, regardless of the EU country in which you bought the car. So if you buy your car in Germany and take it back with you to France, you go to a car dealership for that make of car close to your home to ask for a manufacturing fault to be remedied (within the guarantee period), rather than travelling back to Germany.

  • What are my rights if I buy a second-hand car from a car dealer in another EU country and there is a problem?    

    This will depend on what the dealer told you about the car when you bought it, and what the problem is.

    Under EU law, the quality and performance of goods must be satisfactory. This depends on the nature of the goods and the statements made about them by the seller, the producer or their representative.

    If the car has a major defect which you were unaware of when you bought it, you may well be entitled to a remedy. If you are, you should contact the seller first to check that they agree to your taking the car to a local garage for repairs. This is generally not a problem for new cars, but can be for second-hand cars.

  • What are my rights if I buy a second-hand car from a person who isn't a car dealer and there is a problem?    

    Your rights in this case are extremely limited. Consumer law does not apply to a private sale - it only applies when a ‘business' sells to a ‘consumer'. You should therefore exercise extreme care if you buy from a private individual.

    If you cannot resolve the matter amicably, you might consider a civil action against the seller, but this can prove costly and difficult.

  • What do I need to know before buying a car abroad?

    Rules and guarantees differ depending on whether:

    • you want to buy a new or used car
    • the seller is a private individual or a professional
    • the seller is based in an EU country.

    You have the greatest level of legal protection when you buy a new car from a professional seller based in the EU.

  • What formalities do I need to go through to bring my new car, bought abroad, into the country where I live?    

    You will need to go to your national customs office, where you will make a special VAT declaration and pay the applicable VAT for your new car.

    You will also need to get insurance for your vehicle, pass a government safety test if it is a used car, register the car and pay any other relevant taxes in your country, such as road tax.

Tax on car purchases

  • I live in Belgium and want to buy a new car in the United Kingdom. I know that I will need to go through Belgian customs and pay Belgian VAT. My sales receipt is in pounds sterling. How will VAT be calculated, since I will be paying it in a country that uses the euro?  

    Customs will convert the price paid in pounds sterling to euros. You will pay VAT at 21% of that amount (the rate applicable in Belgium).

    Customs will use the value of the pound against the euro on the date shown on your sales receipt. If there is no sales receipt, it will use the date on the purchase order.

  • The car I want to buy is three months old and already has 3 500 km on the odometer. It's being sold to me as a new vehicle. Is this legal?    

    YES - A car sold in the EU is considered new if:

    • you take possession of it less than six months from the date it first went on the road


    • the vehicle has been driven less than 6,000 km.

    A car is considered second-hand if: 

    • you take possession of it more than six months after it was first driven


    • the car has been driven more than 6 000 km.
  • What about VAT when I buy a car in another EU country?    

    If you buy a new car in another EU country, you will not pay any VAT in that country. You will pay the local rate of VAT when you import the car to the country where you plan to register it.

    A seller who is a private individual, rather than a professional car dealer, may reclaim the VAT they paid on the car when they first bought it. This is to avoid VAT being paid twice on the same vehicle.

    If you buy a used car from a professional seller, you will pay VAT on it at the local rate in the country where the seller is based. If you buy a used car from a private individual, you will not pay VAT.

Car rental abroad

  • What do I need to know before renting a car in another country?    

    Make sure you:

    • know how much you will be liable for in the event of accident
    • inspect the vehicle carefully (with a car rental company employee present) when collecting and returning it.
    • request a written statement that the car was returned in good working order before you leave.
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