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Should I buy a pre-registered car?

As good as new? Nearly new? Not new? What's the real story with pre-reg cars?

If you are out and about looking to buy a car, you may hear a car salesman trying to talk you into a pre-registered car, usually with the spin that it’s done zero miles but was registered a few weeks ago. It’s a brand new car but amazingly much cheaper! 

But what’s the real story? Is it really as good a deal as you are being led to believe?

What is a pre-registered car?

A pre-registered car is one that has been registered by the manufacturer or dealer to itself (not to a customer) but not actually used. This is called self registration, and is done to add extra ‘sales’ to their quarterly/annual results, even though the manufacturers or dealers have simply sold these cars to themselves rather than to genuine buyers. 

Because they don’t have customers for these extra cars, they sit around in a storage yard or paddock somewhere (sorry, a “secure storage facility”) until eventually being sent to dealer forecourts and sold as ‘pre-registered’ cars. ‘Eventually’ might be anywhere from three to many, many months.

In simple terms, it means that the manufacturer and dealers can’t sell these cars new because nobody wants them, so they register them to themselves to make their sales numbers look good, lock them up for a few months and then have another go at selling them at a lower price. As such, it tends to only happen to models that are not selling in adequate numbers, and is a last resort rather than part of an overall plan.

Industry analysts have been reporting for years that the number of cars being pre-registered is continuing to increase, and is skewing the official sales results being reported by manufacturers and the UK industry body, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). The SMMT is very careful to report monthly ‘registrations’ rather than ‘sales’, and that’s because there’s often a giant difference between the two.

As with most industries, the coronavirus pandemic may have a significant impact on the practice of pre-registration, depending on how the new car market fares as the UK’s economy changes and how well the manufacturers revise their sales targets accordingly. We may see an increase or a decrease in pre-reg activity, but (as with pretty much everything to do with Covid-19), no-one really has a clue what’s going to happen.

Why register a car that hasn’t been sold?

As we have discussed before here at The Car Expert, everyone in the car sales world has targets that they need to hit – every month, every quarter, every year. The factory needs to build a certain number of cars to make a profit, so it sets a sales target for each market or country. Ultimately, this trickles down to every single dealership and every single salesperson having a target number of cars that they must sell. These targets are measured in the number of cars registered with the DVLA (or equivalent transport department in other countries).

If a brand doesn’t hit its targets here in the UK, there can be huge financial penalties from the company Head Office (which may be in Europe, Japan or the USA). So if a brand has an annual target of 100,000 cars but only actually sells 90,000 to genuine buyers, they may well register another 10,000 cars just to hit their targets.

At any point, there are thousands of cars standing around in fields across the UK, waiting for an accountant at a car company to decide that it’s time to sell them as ‘pre-registered’ cars.

So is a pre-registered car a new car or a used car?

Despite what a car salesman may tell you, a pre-registered car is not the same as a new car. It might have negligible mileage and might look for all the world like a new car, but it’s not. A pre-registered car is most definitely a second-hand car.

The car was originally registered to the manufacturer (often through its finance company or fleet department) or the dealership. They are the original owner of the vehicle, and will be listed as such on the vehicle logbook (registration document, known as the V5 or V5C in the United Kingdom). You will be the second owner. It might not sound that important, but if you sell the car sooner rather than later, the value will be less than if the car had only had one owner. If you keep the car for a number of years, this won’t be important.

The date the car was first registered is also the date that the New Car Warranty started, not the date when you bought the car. This means that you will have less warranty cover than on a new car – potentially several months less. Many new cars also come with breakdown cover for the warranty period, and obviously that is reduced as well.

It is also common for pre-registered cars to be older specification vehicles, even if they are basically ‘zero miles’. When a manufacturer updates a model, they inevitably struggle to sell remaining stock of the old model, so these cars are prime candidates for pre-registering. So despite being described as being “just like a new car”, they may not be the same specification as the model sitting on the showroom floor.

Also be aware that new car finance offers will not normally apply to a pre-registered car, since it’s not a new car, so the interest rate on the finance could be much higher than on a new car, and there may not be any deposit contribution either. This means that although the cash price might be thousands of pounds cheaper, your monthly finance payments might not be much cheaper at all.

How much cheaper should a pre-registered car be?

As we have discussed before, new cars take a savage depreciation hit as soon as you drive out the door. The market price of a car that is less than a year old is always going to be a lot less than the brand new price, and this applies to pre-registered cars as much as it does to other used cars.

As a rule, a pre-registered car shouldn’t be significantly dearer than an equivalent used car or demonstrator model. It certainly shouldn’t be even close to the new car price, just because the mileage is small. If you are selling a used car with very low mileage, a dealer won’t give you much more money than if it had average mileage, so the same works in reverse – you shouldn’t be paying more if they wouldn’t do the same.

A row of unsold cars - some of these may be pre-registered

As for the argument that the car’s condition is ‘as new’ – even if it’s true, it still adds precious little actual value to the car, so it shouldn’t add anything to the price tag. A similar age demonstrator should be in excellent condition (after all, that’s what they use to sell new cars to customers), so the only key difference should be mileage. And in three years’ time, that difference will be inconsequential.


The constant push from car companies to sell more and more cars each year means ever-escalating sales targets for dealerships. When the economy stumbles (or falls off a cliff, as is happening now), more and more new cars go unsold, leading to more pre-registrations. Ultimately it’s not good for anyone, since the cars are sold at basically no profit (or even a loss) and the residual values for the model range take a hit as the market is oversupplied with cars it doesn’t really want. 

While a pre-registered car can appear to offer a good saving off the official new car price, the likelihood is that there will be plenty of new car deals about, especially if you are taking the manufacturer’s finance plan offer. And the car’s resale value in three year’s time is likely to be pretty poor as well.

Remember that pre-registered cars are unwanted cars – if there was enough demand for them in the first place, the car company wouldn’t need to be registering thousands of unsold cars…

This article was originally published in May 2015 and most recently updated in July 2020.

Stuart Massonhttps://www.thecarexpert.co.uk/
Stuart is the Editorial Director of our suite of sites: The Car Expert, The Van Expert and The Truck Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the automotive industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.


  1. An interesting one – Seen a car for sale that has no registration (no number plate) for sale on Auto Trader – looks to be a sole trader or private sale so how do I check the car out? What proof do I need from the Seller that he owns it and that its the correct UK spec? Everything I have seen to independently check a car out requires the reg number. Its a 2020 vehicle with 60 miles on the clock (apparently)

    • Some private sellers cover up, obscure or remove the number plate on a car when they advertise it online, while dealers often cover the number plate with their logo. It’s perfectly legal but you should always get the registration details from the seller so you can run your own checks on the vehicle.

      If it’s a pre-registered vehicle, it may be that the dealer simply hasn’t got around to attaching the number plates yet. The car will have a registration number, since it will have been registered a few months ago. The mileage may be a placeholder, as it has probably been sitting in a field for months and actually have fewer miles on the clock. You should still run the same checks to make sure the car has no finance defaults or wasn’t written off by the insurance company as a result of an accident pre-delivery.

  2. I’ve seen dealerships advertise 68 plates as 19 reg or 69 plates as 20 reg, which makes the car seem more attractive(newer) because the cars weren’t registered til the following year. Should this make a difference to the value cost of the car
    being sold significantly? Is it legal to advertise this way?

  3. People also don’t know manufactures have 3 years to register a car after it has been built. So technically a pre registered car could actually be nearly 3 years old

    • Yes, usually – unless there is a change in legislation that means a car won’t comply after a certain date. This happened when emissions laws changed in 2018, when several manufacturers had to register thousands of unsold cars by 31 August because they could not legally be sold after 1 September.

  4. I was about to buy a new Fiat 500 sports hybrid with some extras for £16800 – was told because of the extras, would usually take 4 months to build it; instead he said he has a fiat 500 Rockstar (kitted out sports version) in the colour that I want, not hybrid, done about 60miles, car was registered 2 days before I called – for £11500!
    I was planning to use my bank’s car finance – so APR is the same! Definitely a good deal! I didn’t even know about prereg cars before that – I think I coincidentally called them the right timing for September sales :)

  5. You can buy brand new cars preregistered to the supplier just before delivery to you at a significant discount. You become the owner but not the registered keeper for 6 to 11 months after delivery. However, my insurance company, and one other I have approached, say they will not insure such vehicles. Therefore I have not pursued this purchase route.

  6. Hi

    New car owner here?

    I have just had the worst experience of buying a new car, and it still drags on

    I went to a dealer on 29th June 2019

    He offered me £5500 and to clear my finance was £6000

    I thanked him for his offer but wanted time to think, he jumped on me and said well you could wait until tomorrowe but ther price will go up £500, i know i should have walked then.

    We went through the process., I asked all the questions i wanted and got the answers i needed

    Cost of vehicle on PCP – I was happy with quote
    How much deposit i had to put down – i was happy with deposit
    I needed a boot liner – said no problem
    Mileage per year – 12000
    Service plan Looking at the net it states a 12000 or annual service – My service plan has come through and clearly identified 10000 or annually
    He then stated they did not have a white and it would be a 10 week lead time, i said fine i will wait. He replied i have a blue one outside but another £500

    I was now getting bored of his sale patter and told him i will wait.

    I picked up my car on the 07-09-2019 and it was registered as **19 ***.

    Why did he not register it as a **69 ***

    All through the twelve weeks waiting i had to phone them to get news about when i was my car due

    He kept saying its in the country should be here soon

    My log book got to me a week before the car

    When it comes to the finance i had paid another three months of my loan and have just had a settlement figure £500 cheaper, can i claim this back

    What can i do now i am so unhappy

    Still waiting for my boot liner


    • Hi Ronald. They probably haven’t done anything illegal but certainly not good practice. Obviously the car was registered in late August, which suggests that the dealer was keen to add some sales to the August numbers. I’d certainly be complaining to the manufacturer’s head office, but there’s probably not a lot that they’d be interested in doing about it.

  7. Hmmm I find it interesting that so-called people in the know think pre-reg deals aren’t as good as a brand new one. And in this article’s case, it won’t as good a spec as the newer model.
    Example, new BMW 3 series just launched, only two engines available however a pre-reg of the outgoing model, you can get all the different trim and engine options and whenever I look at pre-reg models, they’re often fully loaded. An M sport will often have the M Sport Plus pack which adds bigger wheels, Harman Kardon sound system, tinted rear windows and the bigger brakes. Bought as add-ons to a new car would push a 3 litre model to around £48k but pre-reg I’ve just seen some today around £32k with delivery miles only. I sold an 11 year old BMW 330Ci M Sport cabriolet which was either BMW demo or pre-reg originally and actually helped me sell it because it was so well spec’d. Forget “ooooh it’s got another owner.” The number of actual owners is more of a concern, not a car that was owned by the manufacturer, was parked up safely and then only got delivery miles on it. If it had 2 average owners in a short space of time, you’d wonder how well it had been driven and looked after. Clearly, sitting covered in plastic in a warehouse is going to be better than driven out on the streets by Average Joe.
    Even with new car finance deals, you’d still be paying more per month than for a pre-reg with such a huge cost saving on the new price.
    And seriously, who cares about missing a few months warranty these days? How many cars develop issues in the first 3 years? People sell cars privately, advertised with “12 months warranty still remaining” it stills gives the buyer peace of mind regardless.
    Rather than scare mongering like most journos do, how about sticking to facts and logic and listing the pro’s of a well spec’d, heavily discounted car owned and sitting unharmed during the first few months of it’s life is better than paying through the nose for a brand spanking new one on which most people can’t afford to add all the expensive options to.

  8. Hi Stuart, I’m new to the world of PCP deals and looking at upgrading my current 2012 Nissan Qashqai for a new facelift model. I’ve found a deal on an online leasing company for a 1.5dci Tekna manual at £200 per month over 36 months with a £2k deposit on a pre-registered delivery mileage 67-plate registered in December. This would have to be delivered by end of Feb obviously with 18-reg launching 1st March. Thoughts appreciated. Thanks

    • Hi Samantha. It may be a good deal, but you will need to compare what offers are available on an equivalent new 67-plate car delivered this month to see how much you are really saving. It may be less than you think.

    • Hi Peter. It may also depend on whether you can get the same finance deal on a pre-reg car as you can on a new car (and usually, you can’t). What looks like a £5,000 saving on paper may actually not make any significant difference to your monthly payments.

  9. I think that losing two months warranty out of seven years is OK. Also the “deal” was advertised on AutoTrader and the price was competitive with genuinely pre-owned vehicles up to a year old and with maybe 5k miles on the clock listed alongside my car. Plus I had the convenience of the trade in and the legal protections of buying from a main dealer over a private seller. It’s a win from all angles for me.

    The car is as good to drive today as on day one. The only exceptional costs to date are a set of wiper blades. Original tyres have plenty of tread remaining. Everything else has been covered under the service plan. Even the MOTs are discounted to £35 at the main dealer. Insurance and fuel costs are great too. VED is £0. Depreciation aside I am saving a significant amount annually in my motoring costs and the most I can lose in depreciation, even over ten years, is £14k. Many cars will lose that in one year.

  10. I bought a pre-registered Kia C’eed in February 2013. It had been registered on 31st December 2012, less than 8 weeks before I bought it. It had 84 miles on the clock when I took it for a test drive and 105 when I returned with a smile on my face.

    I paid by debit card and drove it home the same day, with a fresh valet and new mats, leaving my old car in part exchange. Price was £3,500 below list and I got a reasonable trade in for my 13-year-old Nissan on top. It was eligible for the five-year service plan for £629, which I bought, but only much later. I plan to keep the car for around ten years and, after the first 4.5 years so far, I could not be happier with the car or the deal.

    I would definitely consider a similar deal in the future.

    • Sounds like it’s worked out very well for you, Tim. If you’re going to keep the car for ten years, it definitely can be worth it since a few months or warranty is unlikely to be a great concern over the whole ownership. For those who change their car every three years or so, it is usually a different story.

      It also obviously depends on the deal being offered. You may find that next time you go into a dealership, the offer on the table may not be quite as attractive.

  11. I am looking to buy a new or used Mercedes SLC. I have just noticed a 2017 SLC 200 AMG with 5,000 miles for sale with Mercedes of York for £ 29,900. (Autotrader)

    However, using the Mercedes new car configurator I checked the ‘on the road price’ for precisely the same specification (not hard as it only has metallic/leather/auto and no other options).

    The ‘on the road price’ was £ 37,915 (£37,000 exactly + on the road) less the contributions of £ 7,063.57 = £ 30,851.43, a paltry saving of £ 951.43 (Less if you add the road tax required to make it ‘on the road’).

    Why would anyone bother, and isn’t this quite a disingenuous and almost dishonest practice?

    I should also mention that if you shop around with brokers there is up to another £2K to be had off the price after contributions. So basically MB York want the full new price for a car with 5,000 miles on the clock!

    I bet there will be a few high fives when it gets sold. ‘Back of the net’ MB York.

    • Hi Jeff. There is absolutely no requirement for the dealer to reduce the price of the car by a specific amount. It’s very common for demonstrator cars to be advertised as soon as they are registered, so the mileage may not be anywhere near 5,000 yet (good dealers will set it higher rather than lower, as they don’t want to have to update it every week to make sure they are not underestimating the mileage in their ads). Demonstrator discounts normally only apply after the car has been registered for 90 days, so if you want it sooner then there is usually no additional discount available. If the car is still unsold after 90 days, the ad will almost certainly be updated with a lower price and the correct mileage.

      The price on the vehicle will be entirely negotiable, so a buyer will probably end up paying considerably less than the advertised price if they are prepared to haggle.

  12. I wonder how much Darren would give you for your car, if you had just bought it new, drove off the forecourt, put two miles on the clock and took it back for a trade in?
    I think you would loose quite a few bob there, VAT is one.

  13. So these extra new cars, they sit around in a storage yard service, then get sold for less money. No wonder the car industry is in trouble.

  14. Your comments saying a pre reg car is worth less than a new car is absolute rubbish. I have been in the trade for 20 years plus at different levels and at no time have I or any one I know value a car less if it's had more than one owner even it they decide to sell after a week of purchasing a pre reg car. The glasses guide and various other trade value tools we use don't have a section stating that if it's had 2 owners it's worth less money. I could go on about other sections in your write up which are incorrect but at this moment and time I haven't got the time.

    • "Your comments saying a pre reg car is worth less than a new car is absolute rubbish. I have been in the trade for 20 years plus…" – Darren.

      Are you seriously suggesting that a pre-registered car is worth the same as a new car?

      "…trade value tools we use don't have a section stating that if it's had 2 owners it's worth less money." – Darren.

      Yet every used car ad will specifically point out "one owner" if they can. Every shoddy car salesman will tell a customer during their part-exchange appraisal that their car isn't worth quite as much because it's had multiple owners. Online valuation tools will ask how many owners the car has had. Maybe it's just a selling point for everyone in the industry except you. And it's certainly favourable from the customer's point of view.

    • Never been an issue buy them all the time; always prefer to save a few thousand and trade in never a problem.

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