Buying a Car in Spain

The very idea of buying a car in Spain might seem like a nightmare. Like the horse sellers of old, car salespeople have a bad reputation and caution is required when purchasing a vehicle in Spain, just like everywhere else. There are additional problems too: the language barrier, the bureaucratic timetables and even the relentless heat.

Yet thousands of cars, new and old, are bought here every day. The Spanish-make SEAT, now owned by Volkswagen, is currently the number one bestseller in Spain, though the most popular car in 2011 was the Renault Mégane. French cars tend to sell well, followed by Volkswagen and then Ford. Smaller models are advisable, since parking spaces are rather 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 if you prepare for the purchase with military precision it will all go well.

Necessary fundamentals for buying a car in Spain:

  • A big folder for paperwork
  • Documentation – obviously ALL of it must be up to date and current.
  • Help - a good friend, a helpful Spaniard or a gestor (legal representative)
Furthermore, before you even begin to covet a new roadster or simply a more effective way for getting from point A to point B, you’ll need to make sure you have at least one of the following (though, it’s best to have as many as possible with photocopies). Note that you do NOT have to have a driver´s license, car insurance or a residence permit in order to buy a car in Spain.
  • Your Permiso de Residencia or Residence Permit (NIE) or passport.
  • Your escrituras, or house deeds, or a rental contract for a minimum of one year.
  • Although it should not be required, it is a good idea to have a Certificado de Empadronamiento or proof of residence in your municipality, available free or for a few cents from the Town Hall. It should not be older than three months. Some car dealers insist on it, and if you don´t have it, everybody wastes time until the dealer checks his facts.
  • If you are financing the car through a dealer you will also need to provide a tres nóminas, your three last payslips, or some other proof of income, such as a copy of your work contract.

Buying a car in Spain from a private seller

Buying a second hand car (coche de ocasión or segunda mano) from a private seller is certainly possible for expats in Spain, and as you normally have more leeway to negotiate with these individuals, it can be a great way to bag a bargain. That said, keep in mind that you will get no guarantee or warranty on the car, that you’ll have to off-load your old car – if you have one – by driving a car in Spainyourself, and that you’ll have no help with financing or tax and transfer fees. Thus this car buying process becomes very much a do-it-yourself ordeal.

In a nutshell, buying a car from a private seller involves you and the seller entering into a joint legal relationship and handling all the paperwork yourselves.
You and the seller must draw up a Contrato de compraventa (a purchase agreement), and make the transfer of ownership at the Registro de Vehículos (the vehicle registration desk) of the Jefatura de Tráfico (Traffic Department). You both fill in and sign the Solicitud de Transmisión de Vehículos (transfer document), and keep a copy.  Make sure that the date and time of the transfer appears on the Contrato so that any traffic fines the seller has left unpaid are not passed on to you. 

Also, note that it is accepted practice to take the proposed car for a thorough check over to your own mechanic; look out for a toda prueba (all checks welcome) in the advert. 

To start the car-hunting process you could check out your local newsagent´s (quiosco) for specialised car magazines, such as AutopistaCoche ActualCar and Driver and Autofácil or use their online versions. Other digital sources include and
If you need to finance your car, you´ll have to apply for a loan from the bank yourself. Bank rates can be better than dealers’ rates, but the banks also have stricter criteria of eligibility. If you don´t need financing you´ll have to pay with a cheque bancario (bank cheque), since personal cheques are barely used and not guaranteed.

Hiring a gestor

If you don´t yet speak much Spanish, but you live in an area with a large expat community, there will be plenty of people happy to help you with the purchasing process and to answer questions you may have.
However, if there are few expats near you, or if you don´t have the time to queue in lines or to devote to the laborious paperwork necessary, you might consider hiring a gestor to do most of it for you, including the visit to the Traffic Department, if you are making a private purchase.
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, you 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. You 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 if you’d bought from a private seller - even if the dealer does offer you a discount or a special deal.
You will, however, depending on your circumstances, be able to pay up your car and the dealer might pay the registration fee, especially on a new, list price car or if you pay cash. 
Due to various government plans to reduce pollution, cars over ten years old may be taken in part exchange and qualify you for a discount.  
When you purchase cars through a dealer you will pay the car finance through standing order monthly, which is an automatic deduction from your appointed account.

Paperwork for buying a car in Spain

Whether you decide to buy from a private seller or a dealer, similar paperwork is involved. You should ask to see the originals of all documents, particularly when dealing with a private seller.  
►The Permiso de Circulación or Log Book, which is the car´s ID. It shows proof that the chassis number (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 Transferencia, or transfer of ownership form.
►The Inspección Técnica (or ITV) document or MOT, 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 Impuesto Sobre Vehiculos or road license fee for the current financial year, paid in full. 

Car insurance in Spain

In Spain, it is illegal to drive a car without insurance. You must have the minimum Seguro de Terceros, also known as the Responsabilidad Civil Obligatoria, which covers third-party damages, and usually fire and theft. You must carry the insurance policy with you when you drive.

One way of obtaining insurance is to ask the seller if they will transfer the existing policy to you. 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 you finally pick up your new, insured car, you 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 you lose it, it is time-consuming and expensive to replace.

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