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For many expats, the very idea of buying a car in Spain might seem daunting. Car salespeople have a bad reputation and caution is required when purchasing a vehicle in Spain, just like everywhere else. The language barrier and bureaucratic timetables can create additional problems.
Smaller car models are advisable since parking spaces are stingy in size and on-street parking is often very difficult to find.
The process of buying a car in Spain can be trying, but with proper preparation for the purchase, there is no reason for it not to run smoothly.
Necessary fundamentals for buying a car in Spain
A folder for paperwork
Current and up to date documentation
Help from a good friend, a helpful Spaniard or a gestor
When beginning the purchasing process at least one of the following will be necessary (though it’s best to have as many as possible, with photocopies). Expats should note that they will not need to have a driver´s license, car insurance or a residence permit in order to buy a car in Spain.
Residence Permit (NIE) or passport
House deeds or a rental contract for a minimum of one year (Escrituras)
Proof of residence (Certificado de Empadronamiento), available free or for a few cents from the Town Hall. It should not be older than three months.
If financing the car through a dealer an expat will also need to provide their three last payslips (tres nóminas), or some other proof of income, such as a copy of a work contract.
Buying a car in Spain from a private seller
Buying a second-hand car from a private seller is certainly possible for expats in Spain, and as there is normally more leeway to negotiate with these individuals it can be a great way to bag a bargain. That said, keep in mind that private purchases will get no guarantee or warranty on the car.
Buying a car from a private seller involves entering into a joint legal relationship with the seller and handling all the paperwork yourselves.
A purchase agreement (contratode compraventa) must be drawn up, and the transfer of ownership must be made at the vehicle registration desk of the Traffic Department (Jefatura de Tráfico) where a transfer document (Solicitud de Transmisión de Vehículos) needs to be filled in and signed. Make sure that the date and time of the transfer appear on the Contrato so that any traffic fines the seller has left unpaid are not passed on to the buyer.
Also, note that it is accepted practice to take the proposed car for a thorough check over at a mechanic; expats should look out for a toda prueba in the advert.
To start the car-hunting process expats are advised to check local newsagent´s (quiosco) for specialised car magazines, such as Autopista, Coche Actual, Car and Driver and Autofácil or use their online versions. Other digital sources include Autoscout24.com and Coches.net.
If external finance is needed for the car, expats will have to apply for a loan from the bank in person. Bank rates can be better than dealers’ rates, but the banks also have stricter criteria for eligibility. If external finance is not needed, payment will have to be made with a bank cheque, since personal cheques are barely used and not guaranteed.
Hiring a gestor
Expats who are not yet fluent in Spanish but live in an area with a large expat community will find that there are plenty of people happy to help with the purchasing process and to answer questions.
However, in areas with fewer expats, or for expats who don't have the time to queue in lines and devote to the laborious paperwork necessary, it might be worth hiring a gestor to do most of the process.
Since the gestor has runners who deal with many clients at the same time and don´t need to queue like the rest of us, expats shouldn´t have to pay for too much of the gestor's time.
Buying a car in Spain from a dealership
Alternatively, foreigners can buy a new or used car from a reputable dealership (concesionario), and the dealer will handle the paperwork with the Traffic Department. Buyers will also get a guarantee that lasts up to a year on the car, but unfortunately, the overall price of the car will most likely be more expensive than one bought from a private seller - even if the dealer does offer a discount or a special deal.
Depending on your circumstances, it could be possible to pay upfront for the car and the dealer might pay the registration fee, especially on a new, list price car or if it is paid in cash.
Due to various government plans to reduce pollution, cars over ten years old may be taken in part exchange and qualify for a discount on a new purchase.
When purchasing cars through a dealer the car finance will be paid through standing order monthly, which is an automatic deduction from the appointed account.
Paperwork for buying a car in Spain
Whether deciding to buy from a private seller or a dealer, similar paperwork is involved. Expats should ask to see the originals of all documents, particularly when dealing with a private seller.
The Log Book (Permiso de Circulación), which is the car´s ID. It shows proof that the vehicle identification number corresponds with the one on the vehicle´s registration document, and provides information on the car, such as the number plate, make, model, name and address of the owner and when it was first registered.
A transfer of ownership form (Transferencia)
The ITV document (Inspección Técnica) stamped and dated on passing the last inspection and detailing when the next one is due. This proves that the car met the minimum environmental and road safety standards required by law.
The road license fee (Impuesto Sobre Vehiculos) for the current financial year, paid in full.
Car insurance in Spain
In Spain, it is illegal to drive a car without insurance. All drivers must have the minimum Seguro de Terceros, also known as the Responsabilidad Civil Obligatoria, which covers third-party damages and usually fire and theft. Drivers must carry the insurance policy in the car at all times.
One way of obtaining insurance is to ask the seller if they will transfer the existing policy. Dealers also offer insurance policies or suggest which insurance companies are offering a good price. The big insurance companies in Spain, such as Mapfre or Mutua Madrileña, are reputable and efficient so there is no cause for concern. Dealers also offer insurance policies or suggest where to get one.
When finally picking up a new, insured car, expats will be given the registration document. It´s a good idea to have a photocopy of this document stamped at the Town Hall and to keep this in the car. Keep the original at home; if lost, it is time-consuming and expensive to replace.