Buy a car in France: complete guide for foreigners

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Publié par Eplaque - 9 min de lecture ⏳

Le 23/09/2022 - Mis à jour le 31/08/2023

Is buying a used or new car in France on your to-do list? Do you want to know what steps to do to own a car? Is it allowed to register a car as a foreigner if you just own a second residence? Are you looking for sound advice to avoid getting scammed? Then our guide on how to buy a car in France has been written for you!

Before digging into the subject, let’s first clarify whether you can buy a car in France as a foreigner. In short, you can as far as you are in a position to produce a proof of address (here is what you can use as proof of address in France). It can be a copy of your title deed, a rental contract, a utility bill, etc. You must also hold a valid driving license, it can be a foreign one.

Those are the 2 conditions that determines whether a foreigner can buy a vehicle in France. You don’t have to be a permanent resident to do so. Even illegals can register a car in France if they satisfy the conditions above. Expats can therefore very easily acquire a new or second hand French car and use it legally, as non residents.

Buy a second hand car in France: how to choose the right vehicle?

Whether you are eyeing a specific model or a category of vehicle (small SUV, station wagon, etc.), the first thing to do is to get familiar with the prices asked on France used cars market by consulting sources such as the Argus as well as classifieds sites. Your budget defined, you can then start looking for your future car.

If the classifieds sites (Le Bon Coin, La Centrale, etc.) are interesting for identifying cheap used cars for sale in France, you will obviously have to travel to inspect the vehicle from every angle before committing yourself. Most ads are legit, but, of course, scammers use those websites to prey on naive people. We’ll give you later some advice to safely buy a second hand car in France from those websites.

Ideally, you’ll get the assistance of someone who has some expertise in automotive matters (a mechanic, a knowledgeable amateur, etc.). But don’t panic, if your knowledge is limited, you can still avoid many pitfalls by following this advice.

How to buy a used car in France?

First of all, request the maintenance log. It will allow you to determine if the previous owner(s) took good care of the car, as well as any problems, sometimes significant, that the vehicle has experienced during its life. The HistoVec report is a gold mine of information, as explained on our page dedicated to French number plate check . Indeed, it goes beyond the role of a French MOT checker. It is a report that compiles all the MOT mileages, administrative events that occurred to the car (number of owners, modification of technical characteristics, serious crash(es)) and the administrative situation of the vehicle (unpaid fines, etc.). Ask the seller to provide it to you. If the owner is reluctant, a small red light should flash. Even if this does not automatically mean that the vehicle is not in good condition, not having the report creates uncertainty. If you know nothing about cars, it is better to abstain, or invest in an assessment if the vehicle really interests you. Another reservation to this advice: if the car is sold by a dealer who offers a warranty, this can undoubtedly dispel legitimate fears.

Buy a second-hand car in France from a professional or an individual?

Some will tell you that they only buy a second hand car privately, others from garages… Both options have clearly their pros and cons. Good deals can be found with individuals and dealers. Generally, prices tend to be lower when the car is sold by the owner. Indeed, these are not subject to VAT and to overheads. Due to an urgent need for cash or for convenience, some owners can also sell their vehicle well below its market value.

However, garages can provide some perks. Their additional cost is offset by the warranty (when included). This warranty should reassure potential buyers whose mechanical knowledge is limited to knowing where the accelerator, brake and clutch pedals are. Be careful, however, to deal with a serious garage. There are crooks everywhere.

How to buy a car in France via classified ads

Le Bon Coin, Auto Scout, La Centrale… Classified ads websites are very popular to sell and buy second hand cars. Owners use them, but also garages and dealers. Most ads are legit, published by honest people. Others are complete scams. Here is what to do to avoid being scammed when buying a car in France. Those recommendations are actually valid irrespective of the way you found a car:

  • Beware of too good to be true prices: when something is too good to be true, well, it mostly isn’t. Prices well below market value will most of the time hide nasty surprises
  • Avoid paying a down payment: it is especially true with individuals, who can disappear afterwards. Beware also the fake garages: don’t put a down payment unless you physically visited the premises
  • In general, don’t wire money to people or dealers you have never seen. Scammers are very talented when it’s about creating a sense of emergency. They will come up with very good reasons to get some money from you, don’t fall for it
  • Don’t sign the Cerfa 15776 until you have checked all the documents listed below. The seller says that he will give you the registration certificate “tomorrow”? Well, you’ll sign everything tomorrow too then, because otherwise you might never get the carte grise

Administrative process for buying a used car

After buying your second hand car in France, you must take steps to transfer the ownership of your car. As you probably know, the plates remain with the car during its lifetime. You therefore have to update the name of the holder of the carte grise so that yours appear. The seller must give you the crossed car registration, the keys, the vehicle, and some documents.

What documents should you receive when buying a used car in France?

Here is the checklist of what the seller should give you when buying a second-hand French car:

  • Original registration certificate, crossed and signed by the seller (mandatory)
  • Certificat de situation administrative (certificate about the administrative status of the vehicle, which states whether the ownership transfer is possible or not; mandatory)
  • Filled Cerfa 15776 (selling certificate, mandatory)
  • MOT made less than 6 months ago (mandatory)
  • Copy of the purchase declaration (déclaration d’achat) if you buy the car to a garage, dealer…
  • Maintenance log (optional)
  • HistoVec report (optional)

What to look for when buying a car second hand?

Getting all the documents listed above might not be enough. Checking those additional things will make sure that the ownership transfer application will go smoothly, and most issues will be avoided:

  1. Identity of the seller: the person who sells the car must be the one whose name is mentioned on the car registration certificate. Some people buy a car, don’t transfer the ownership to themselves, then resell it. It is forbidden. In case of mismatch between the name on the carte grise and the Cerfa 15776, the ownership transfer request will be denied. This does not apply if the seller is a dealer, in that case the carte grise will still be on the name of the owner, it’s normal
  2. The administrative status certificate must be less than 15 days old. It must be empty, otherwise it means that the car ownership transfer will be blocked.
  3. MOT made less than 6 months ago: a valid MOT is not enough. It must have been passed less than 6 months ago. Beware if this period is about to expire when you buy the car. Indeed, this condition is checked when you submit your ownership transfer application. Therefore you’ll have to submit it before this timeframe expires, otherwise you’ll have to pass a new MOT check
  4. Car history: HistoVec report is almost a must, although not mandatory by law. If the seller doesn’t want to bother with that, you can get it yourself if you manage to get a copy of the registration certificate.

French car ownership transfer online

Eplaque, a private car registration company established in 2009, helps locals and foreigners to avoid the red tape when dealing with such matters. We offer our French car registration services in English for a speedy processing of your application. To change the ownership of your new car, you’ll need to provide us with:

  • Filled Cerfa 15776*02 form (document signed by the seller and you, « déclaration de cession »)
  • The original carte grise, crossed out, dated and signed by the previous owner
  • Copy of your driving license (French or foreign)
  • Proof of address and identity
  • Proof of insurance
  • For vehicles subjected to French MOT, proof of less than 6 months (or 2 months if of a follow-up visit has been requested due to faults)
  • If you bought the car to a dealer, garage, etc. : “déclaration d’achat” (purchase declaration)

The completed Cerfa 13750*07 will be provided by us, autofilled, you’ll just have to sign it electronically.

Sale contract: an optional document, but so precious

French authorities only require the Cerfa 15776 form to officialize any used car purchase. A sale contract is nevertheless highly recommended when you buy a second-hand car (or if you sell it, actually). Why?

The sale certificate 15776 only mentions basic information about the vehicle. About the previous and the future holder of the gray card. For example, the price does not even appear on this document. If so, what evidence can you present that the seller of the car promised you that the alloy wheels were part of the deal? Or that the set of winter tires will be given to you together with the keys? You are beginning to understand the principle… The sale contract makes it possible to perfectly define what the transaction is about. And how it will be.

In addition to the price, the terms of payment will be indicated. As

  • Vehicle mileage
  • Equipment
  • Visible defects such as a scratch on the fender or a dent on the left rear door

The purpose of a sale contract is to protect the buyer, but also the seller. A mere misunderstanding between 2 people that are actually honest can very well arise during the purchase of a used car. In French there is a saying that we can translate by « words fly away, writing remain« . A sale contract will dispel any doubt… Provided that it is well written.

What about the purchase of a new car?

The registration process of a new car is much simpler. Usually, it is even the dealer who takes care of it on behalf of the customer. Otherwise he will provide you with the form Cerfa 3 in 1. All you need to do is submit this form with some additional documents (proof of identity and residence, copy of your driving licence…) to register your new car in France.

Buying a car in France for export

If you want to buy a car in France for export, the procedure is exactly the same as described above. A second hand car is exported with its current license plate. However, the right of driving such car, with a crossed registration certificate, if subject to local authorities agreement. There are no export plates in France for second hand cars. For new cars, a WW registration is to be made.

Buy a car in France FAQ

What is the code de cession?

The cession code is an authentication code. It allows the buyer of a vehicle to transfer the registration certificate online via the ANTS. The code is generated during the process of declaration of transfer by the former owner. The buyer must therefore obtain it from him. It replaces certain supporting documents requested by gray card professionals. They therefore do not need the transfer code to make a name change on the CI.

Are there grants for buying a used car? A new one?

There might be if you purchase a clean car. See our guide grants for electric vehicles in France.

I want to return the car, is it possible?

The law allows individuals to cancel any purchase made by credit or 100% online to a company within the following 14 days. If you bought the vehicle to an individual, it’s not possible. The only way to cancel is via an agreement with the seller, or if you manage to prove that the car had a “hidden defect” (vice caché).

Own a car in France: is there an annual tax to pay?

No. There used to be a tax on the most polluting cars, but it has been cancelled.

Should I buy a second-hand diesel car in 2022?

If you plan to drive in big French cities, probably not. More LEZ zones will appear by 2025, existing ones are getting more strict and are unfriendly to diesel.

How to sell a used car in France?

You simply have to fill a « Certificat de cession » form with the buyer, cross the carte grise and write « vendu le… + date and time », sign and fill the « coupon détachable ». On top, provide the buyer with a « certificat de situation administrative » (encumbrance) and a MOT not older than 6 months. Once done, declare the ownership transfer online.

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