The V5C: what is it and why is it important?

Official V5C registration certificate cover heading.

Published 9 April 2021
Last updated 12 April 2021

Learn about the V5C – the document that registers your vehicle with DVSA. Find out why it's important, especially when you're buying a car.

Sometimes we like to use this blog to tell you general stuff about owning a car and, if you’re just about to buy a car, then the chances are you’ll have heard of the V5C. Unfortunately, it’s not a piece of paper that gives you extra driving privileges, or which grants you free parking. That said, it’s a really important document relating to your car, so it pays to know something about it.

So what is it?

The V5C or vehicle registration document registers your vehicle with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). It contains all the essential information about your car, such as the date it was first registered, its manufacturer, and the colour and engine size. It also shows who the vehicle’s registered keeper is. It’s important to understand that ‘registered keeper’ and ‘owner’ are two different things – but more of that later.

In the normal course of things, you probably will not need to contact DVLA to amend the details on the V5C. However, if there are mistakes on it, you change your name or address, you make certain modifications to the vehicle, or you sell the vehicle on, you’ll need to contact them. You can find more information about this on the GOV.UK website.

The V5C and buying a vehicle

If you buy a new vehicle from a garage, then they’ll usually tell DVLA about the change of keeper and you’ll be sent a new V5C. If you’re buying a car privately, there are a few more things to bear in mind.

  • Hold the V5C up to the light to check the ‘DVL’ watermark is there. If it is not, the document may be a forgery.
  • The V5C should display the same name under the ‘registered keeper’ section as the person who is selling you the vehicle.
  • You should expect to be able to view the vehicle at the address on the V5C.
  • If the seller cannot show you a valid V5C, ask them why. If they cannot produce a valid V5C, do not buy the vehicle from them!
  • Remember: being the registered keeper of a vehicle is not the same thing as being the owner. The registered keeper is the person responsible for taxing the vehicle, not necessarily the person with a legal claim to ownership.
  • Look out for stolen V5Cs. If the seller has a blue V5C with a serial number in the ranges BG8229501 to BG9999030 or BI2305501 to BI2800000, do not go ahead with the sale. (The serial number is in a white circle in the top right-hand corner of the V5C.) Contact the police when it’s safe to do so.
  • Do not buy the vehicle if you think the serial number has been altered or if part of the V5C is missing.
  • Do not buy the vehicle if the vehicle identification number (VIN) has been tampered with or is missing: it’s usually on a metal strip at the base of the windscreen, under the bonnet or beneath the carpet on the driver’s side. Before buying a vehicle, check that the VIN and engine number match those on the V5C.

GOV.UK has a useful online service that helps you to check the status of a vehicle. By entering its number plate and make, you can find out

  • when its current road tax is due to expire
  • the date it was first registered
  • the vehicle’s colour
  • the engine size
  • the year it was made
  • its carbon-dioxide emissions, measured in grams per kilometre
  • its current rate of road tax.

You can also visit GOV.UK and use this information to check the vehicle’s MOT status.

We hope this post has given you more of an idea of what the V5C is and why it’s important, but if you’d like more information on this and many other essential topics, check out the brand new version of The Official DVSA Guide to Driving – the essential skills in the Safe Driving for Life shop.

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