Help stop classic cars being wrongly registered with the DVLA

  • HCVA says owners are falling foul of DVLA's ambiguous registration processes 
  • Answer the call for evidence to suggest ways to register and protect classics

The Department for Transport and Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) opened a call for evidence in May to gather industry, enthusiast and owners' views on how classic cars can be preserved for generations to come.

Now the Historic and Classic Vehicles Alliance – founded in 2021 and the classic car alternative to the Countryside Alliance according to chief executive Guy Lachlan - explains to This is Money the rigmarole around the DVLA registration process, and why it's so important that the 'systemic' registration issues are fixed.

help stop classic cars being wrongly registered with the dvla

Closing soon: A call for evidence is currently open to gather industry, enthusiast and owners' views on how classic cars can be preserved for generations to come

The call for evidence - what is it?

The classic car call for evidence was announced by Secretary of State for Transport Mark Harper at Bicester Heritage on May 9.

Running for eight weeks - until election day on July 4 - it's a huge moment for the classic car industry that's been campaigning for over four years 'to streamline every aspect of historic vehicle registration'.

But with the coinciding election there's a threat of it getting lost in the election run-up.

For the sake of the historic motors everyone wants to continue to see on our roads, the livelihoods of 115,000 people the HCVA estimates work in the classic car industry, and the £4billion the industry brings in yearly revenue, it's imperative enthusiasts and motorists answer the call.

help stop classic cars being wrongly registered with the dvla

The classic car call for evidence was announced by Secretary of State for Transport Mark Harper at Bicester Heritage on May 9

So what's causing the registration issues?

It's always been the case that imported and highly-modified historic vehicles can be subject to new Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs), Q-plates (used on vehicles where their history is unverifiable) and sometimes needing to re-pass vehicle approval.

But the classic car registration process hasn't been updated since the 1980s.

It used to be that local DVLA offices would look at each car and rationally examine any changes, talk to the owner and make an educated and sensible decision on how the car's changes or modifications should or should not alter the registration of the vehicle.

But cost saving measures were brought in, and offices were gradually closed. The DVLA system was centralised and the process has, according to Guy Lachlan, 'become a victim of its own bureaucracy.'

Today the DVLA's focus on modifications and repairs has led to many unilateral decisions denying genuine historic identities and original registration numbers.

How these decisions are reached is anyone's guess according to Guy: 'It's the only industry that operates to rules not published anywhere'.

help stop classic cars being wrongly registered with the dvla

Guy Lachlan says the DVLA's decision on what modifications and repairs warrant re-registration is impossible to gauge

Paul Griffin, lawyer, member and former board member of the HCVA, reported in an article in Classic & Sports Car that the DVLA's focus has 'stretched beyond even imported and highly-modified cars, and increasing numbers of enthusiasts are finding themselves powerless against unilateral decisions'.

DVLA intervention can be prompted by seemingly any number of things; from a minor body change to a new drivetrain component, or simply drilling a hole or undertaking standard repairs that improve the safety of a car and its drivability.

Obviously, there are some cars that really are modified beyond all recognition – two vehicles welded together to make one for instance - and warrant a Q-plate, but for the most part the HCVA says 'even radical change doesn't remove vehicle identity'.

Guy added 'the key is continuous vehicle history'.

help stop classic cars being wrongly registered with the dvla

The disheartening process of re-registering a classic car usually starts with a letter from the DVLA

The re-registration process - a letter

If your car's been put under scrutiny the process usually starts with a letter from the DVLA informing you that because the vehicle no longer has the component with the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), so the vehicle is voided and can't be used on the road until it's re-registered.

The DVLA will tell you to re-register your car with a new VIN, Individual Vehicle Approval and a Q-plate registration number.

The problem is that 'the DVLA processes are inconsistent' Guy explains. 'The appeals process isn't fit for purpose, you can go through arbitration and court, but that's too expensive for most people'.

And according to Paul 'most appeals to the DVLA fall flat'.

When questioned the DVLA told Classic & Sports Car: 'Applications relating to historic vehicles are considered on a case-by-case basis, based on the evidence provided.

What if you want to appeal?

Initially you can fill out a questionnaire and get the car re-inspected in the hope the verdict will be changed.

In the likely event the verdict doesn't change options include: appealing to the DfT's Independent Complaints Assessor (ICA), but the DVLA isn't obliged to accept the decision (and 'the evidence is that the DVLA does not'), or going to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) which requires a Member of Parliament to initiate the process.

Again, the DVLA seems to be under no obligation to implement the PHSO's findings.

After that Paul suggests the options are to approach the Minister for Transport – extremely unlikely to warrant a response other than a letter of sympathetic unavailability – or as Guy says, to go to the courts.

However, in a catch 22, you must go to the courts within three months of the DVLA notice – a period which will easily expire in the time it takes to go through the other laborious channels of appeal.

Drivers who ended up at the mercy of ambiguous DVLA registration policy

Paul collated people's registration experiences in The Past and the Spurious; The Case of Legitimacy in Historic Cars.

Electric conversion turned nightmare

One enthusiast Ed Keane had his 1960 Mini converted to electric and ended up up to his eyeballs in DVLA red tape when he asked for the electric conversion to be recognised on the V5.

'I was sent a questionnaire of around 40 pages with a huge number of irrelevant boxes, not least asking the engine capacity. When I wrote back to explain my situation, they sent out an inspector.'

The friendly and knowledgeable inspector gave his seal of approval to the car which included a 15mm hole in the battery – something that wasn't at all structural.

Yet the DVLA declared the monocoque compromised, and told Ed the car would need Individual Vehicle Approval before being registered with a new VIN and Q-plate.

After ending up with a delayed and impenetrable complaints process (with the same agent who issues the original Q-plate decision), Ed was given an irrevocable Q-plate verdict. The original V5 couldn't be retrieved, forcing Ed to scrap his car.

Imported classic car appeal process that turned up nothing

Andrew Waterston attempted to pursue the PHSO appeal route, to no avail. He told Paul Griffin: 'My Alfa Romeo was imported from South Africa and is certified as an original car, but the DVLA refuses to register it as anything other a Q-plate vehicle of unknown type and age.'

Andrew went through the Department for Transport ICA and the PHSO, which both upheld the complaints, but 'the DVLA refuses to change its view'.

help stop classic cars being wrongly registered with the dvla

Owners have ended up sending their classic cars to scrap because they can't overturn the DVLA's decision to give their car a Q-plate

Time for change – the call for evidence

The call for evidence has come about because the DVLA recognises the situation needs addressing and the DfT wants to improve and update the rules, making the process easier for the DVLA too.

More recently the DVLA has addressed a few concerns of HCVA members and partner organisations within the  Historical Vehicle User Group (HVUG), but it's only a small step towards the goal.

The DVLA responded to Classic & Sports Car: 'DVLA has taken positive steps to engage directly with clubs and trade associations representing the interests of historic vehicle enthusiasts and the industry itself, with a Historic Vehicle User Group meeting on a quarterly basis and providing a forum to discuss the particular issues and concerns of Group members.'

help stop classic cars being wrongly registered with the dvla

The HCVA will be submitting a response on behalf of its members and industry, but individuals are encouraged to answer the call for evidence questions with their own experience

Guy hopes the response to the call for evidence will bring about 'a simpler more understandable process' and to 'define the point at which a historic vehicle is no longer what it was'.

The HCVA will be submitting its own detailed 8,000 word 18-page response on behalf of its members and affiliates.

Crucially the HCVA's response offers classic car companies to join and add their thoughts without putting their heads' above the parapet.

Guy says that many companies aren't even sure of the rules, leaving them worried they can get caught up in the action - and cars they work on or sell could be deemed no longer historic or struck with a Q-plate.

But the HCVA is optimistic that with 'certainty and some simple changes to policy and its interpretation jobs, industries and ways of life are secured'.

To respond to the call for evidence you can complete the online snap survey or post or email your response. The closing date for postal responses is circa 30 June, while the online closing date runs until 4 July.

How to respond to the call for evidence – tips from the experts

The HCVA recommends doing the following when you respond to the call for evidence:

1. Don't worry about answering every question

2. Keep answers short and complete

3. The most important is section 5.2  - 'What haven't we asked?'

4. Write with your experience but don't use hearsay

5. Get your friends and relatives to contribute too - the more voices, the stronger the Call for Evidence will be and the better preserved classics will be for generations to come

The HCVA has compiled a user guide to help you answer the most important questions in the most effective manner and with easy guidelines in mind

  Read more

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