Buying a classic car within the EU market

European integration has made it easier to trade used cars within the European area. The exchanges of old cars thus obey simple rules which allow rapid registration. It is advisable to know these rules well to avoid any disappointment.

There are 4 stages in the process of acquiring a car in Europe: 1) transport and customs clearance, 2) technical control 3) recognition of the approval and 4) registration. By European countries we mean here EU member states (France, Germany, Belgium, etc.).

No more taxes or customs controls

When you buy a vehicle that is more than six months old in another EU country, you do not have to pay any import duty or VAT. In addition, you are not subject to any specific obligation when crossing the border. Therefore, the services of a customs forwarder are unnecessary.

On the other hand, you must be able to present the vehicle’s papers and proof of purchase when passing through customs. In addition, if the car is driven by yourself, it must have temporary plates and appropriate insurance. Please note, depending on the country, temporary plates are not always valid for travel outside national borders. Thus, it is recommended to go through a professional carrier for acquisitions in Europe.

Mutual recognition of European technical inspections

As with any car over four years old, a technical inspection of less than 6 months is required to register a vintage car in Europe. It is possible either to use the technical inspection provided by the seller, or to carry out the inspection during the acquisition.

Since 2018, technical inspections have in fact been harmonized within the Union. It means that the technical inspection of the country of origin is valid in the country of destination. It can be used during registration, under certain conditions. In particular, the inspection report must be translated into the language of the country of destination.

In addition, the harmonization of technical controls means that the rules in force are similar everywhere in Europe. Thus, a car having passed without difficulty a control in Germany will, in principle, also have to pass a control in France or in the Netherlands.

Recognition of the homologation of vintage cars

The recognition of the homologation of vintage cars is the most delicate part when acquiring a vehicle in the European Union.

For cars produced after 1996 and sold in the EU, there is a Manufacturer’s Certificate of Conformity. This document, which attests to the conformity of the technical standards of the vehicle, is sufficient to recognize the approval of the vehicle in all the countries of the Union. It can be supplied by the seller or requested directly from the manufacturer.

For cars produced before 1996 and sold within the EU, several cases can be distinguished:

  • If the car is delivered with its complete manufacturer’s certificate of conformity (in the form of a copy of the descriptive notice including the initial acceptance report), then this document is sufficient.
  • If the car does not have its certificate, then contact the manufacturer who usually has a copy of the document.

If the car is over 30 years old, the status of “collector’s car” can also be granted in certain European countries, with simplified homologation procedures. In France, for example, an association, the French Federation of Vintage Vehicles, can issue a dating certificate with an approval value for the authorities.


The registration of a car purchased in Europe is almost identical to that of a car purchased on the local market. The previous registration certificate, the title deed or the purchase contract, the technical inspection report, and the forms requested for any registration must therefore be submitted.

You must add the document justifying the European homologation. In some countries of the Union, you must also submit a tax discharge form.

Points to watch out for

The registration of a vintage car from the European Union does not pose an insurmountable difficulty.

However, you should be vigilant about:

  • Documents provided by the previous owner (registration certificate, sales contract, and if applicable, title deed)
  • The availability of manufacturer’s certificates of origin for the oldest and rarest models.
  • The difficulty possibly related to the homologation of vehicles which have undergone major modifications, which can be tolerated in one EU country but not in another.


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