When you SORN a car because you're not going to be using it, it's important to remember that you can't legally drive it except for some very specific cases. The longer that it's off the road, the easier it is to forget whether you have SORNed your car. Here's everything you need to know about how to check if a car is SORN.
What is a SORN?
We get asked a lot of questions about cars that have a SORN and have written in-depth guides on a variety of SORN related subjects. It's a lot more common to SORN a vehicle than you might think as well. In 2019, the DVLA reported that there were over 39 million vehicles in the UK that were licenced, of which around 5 million had been declared as SORN. That's why it's important to check if a car is SORN if you're not sure or if you're buying a second-hand car and want to double-check. Vehicle owners in the UK must pay their road tax if they want to drive those vehicles legally. Failing to pay that tax means that it is illegal to drive that car. Motorists declare their cars as SORN when they want to stop paying tax, usually in cases where they realise that their car is not going to be used for a while.
SORN stands for Statutory Off Road Notification, and it's a straightforward process. You can check out our guide on how to SORN your car here. The most important thing to remember is that when you SORN a car, you apply to the DVLA and let them know that you have no plans to use your vehicle. Bear in mind the following:
- When you declare a car SORN, you do not need to pay tax or insurance on it.
- When a car is declared SORN, you cannot park it on a public road, and it must be parked in your driveway, garage, or on private property.
- It is free to SORN a vehicle.
- If you have paid tax or insurance on a car that you then declare as SORN, you will be entitled to a refund.
- A SORN does not expire, so once it's in place, you do not have to worry about renewing it until the time comes that you wish to use it again.
How to check if your car is SORN
To check if a vehicle is SORN, there are three ways to choose from. It's often a good idea to use all three options if you want a more precise idea of its current SORN status.
The government site
The government website Gov.co.uk has a portal that allows you to check some basic details about your car or a car that you want to buy. Simply head to the page and make sure that you have the registration number of the car that you wish to check. This system can take up to five days for new records to be updated, so if you want to check SORN status on a car that has only recently been declared SORN, there may be a crossover period where you may not get the most accurate information. However, as well as being able to check if a vehicle is SORN, this site will also give you vital information about that vehicle's tax.
The Motor Insurer's Database
Every car in the UK is registered with the Motor Insurer's Database (MID). If you own a car in your name and it is not insured or declared SORN, you automatically get sent an initial Insurance Advisory Letter, known as an IAL. One way to check to see if a car is SORN is to look at the AskMID database and input some details about your car. That's because all cars have to have either valid insurance or a SORN. If your car is not listed on the AskMID database, then it doesn't have valid insurance, meaning that it has either been declared SORN or the owner is committing an offence.
You can also check SORN status online by going through the DVLA car check portal. This can provide you with a vast amount of information about your car or a car that you want to buy. This is a very comprehensive way to check if a car has a SORN because you will also get a lot of info about a vehicle's history. Not only will you be able to get information about the technical side of things, but it will also identify the current MOT date and due dates, the tax rate, and carbon emissions data, to list just a few. It will even let you know the colour of the car! In amongst that information will be the SORN status. The DVLA recommends using AskMID to check insurance status and highlights that AskMID will also give you an estimate on future insurance costs. If you need any further information about your car beyond a check of SORN status, then you may have to apply for that information via post rather than online.
Can you buy a car with a SORN?
You can't technically buy a car that has been declared SORN. That's not because of any laws, but simply because when you buy a car, a SORN isn't transferred to a new owner. The moment that you buy and then tax your car, the SORN will be removed automatically. A SORN will expire the moment that the car is taxed, but in those cases where you're buying a SORNed car that you don't plan to use for the foreseeable future, you simply have to declare it SORN yourself.
The problem is that if you do plan to use the car and you know that the car has been declared SORN, then you can't legally drive it. So test drives become immediately more challenging. To test drive that car, you will need to get car insurance for the period of the test drive. There is something called Laid Up Car Insurance (also known as SORN insurance) that covers vehicles that have a SORN. However, this won't cover a test drive because this kind of insurance is only for cars that aren't being driven. The car will also have to be taxed if you want to test drive it. The reason that you should always check if a vehicle is SORN before you buy or test drive a car is that if you get caught driving it, or you get involved in a collision, then your insurance will not cover you, and there are some very serious financial penalties too. That will be the case even if you are driving a SORNed car unknowingly. Remember, if you buy a car with a SORN, then that SORN will expire immediately.
Laid Up Car Insurance
If you do a DVLA SORN check and the car has been declared SORN, you aren't allowed to drive it. You also don't need to pay tax or insurance on it, which is one of the main reasons why motorists choose to declare a car as SORN. In some cases, you may still be in a position where you want to keep your SORNed car safe. Of course, paying for a full insurance policy on a vehicle that's not being used is a waste of money. SORN insurance (more commonly known as Laid Up Car Insurance) offers a cheaper alternative. SORN insurance will keep your car covered in the case of fire, theft, or damage, even if it's not being used. There is no obligation to have SORN insurance, so don't panic buy a policy if you check a vehicle is SORN and find out that it is. However, many people do buy SORN insurance because it gives them significant peace of mind, and it is generally much cheaper than a standard car insurance policy. That's because it will be viewed as extremely low risk (after all, it's not going to be going anywhere!).
How long does a SORN last?
If you check a vehicle is SORN, find out that it is, and aren't sure if you need to renew it, the good news is that a SORN is permanent until it is sold or taxed.
A car can sit in your garage or on private land for as long as you want, and for the whole time that it is SORN, you will not have to pay tax or insurance on it. Come the day that you do want to use it, simply pay for the tax, and the SORN is removed. Of course, you will still need to have a valid MOT, tax, and insurance.
You can legally drive a car that's been declared SORN on public roads only if you are taking it to a pre-booked MOT check. If you cannot prove that you are driving a SORNed car to an MOT checking centre, then there are some hefty fines involved, and it could end up costing you as much as £2,500.
If you carry out a DVLA SORN check before selling a car and it has been declared SORN, you will still need your V5C to transfer the registered keeper of the vehicle. If you've lost your logbook, and are either selling a car or want to declare it SORN, then you will need to get a replacement from the DVLA. This will cost you £25. Your car must have a V5 logbook if you want to declare it SORN. If you are selling a car to a Scrapi.com scrapyard, remember that we can do all of your paperwork for you, and just like selling a SORNed car to anyone else, the SORN will automatically be removed as soon as the car is sold. You can find out more about scrapping a car with a SORN with our in-depth guide.
Penalties if you don't check if a car is SORN
Driving a car that's been declared SORN on a public road is illegal unless you're driving to a pre-booked MOT test centre. If you fail to check if a car is SORN when you buy it, then you may be driving it illegally. The DVLA keeps a comprehensive database of all taxed and untaxed vehicles, and if you are flagged as using a car that isn't taxed, then you will get an automatic letter from them and an £80 fine. However, you do have the option of paying that fine quickly, and if you pay it within 28 days of receiving the letter, then you will get a 50% discount. Whether you pay it quickly to get that discount or pay the full amount, you won't be further penalised with points on your licence. However, if you fail to pay the fine at all, then you will be liable to prosecution, and the fine could increase to £1,000. That's why it's so important to check if a car is SORN before you buy it or use your car for the first time in a while. If you do get fined, your car might even be clamped until the fine is paid.
But it's not just the lack of tax that's a problem. Driving a car without tax is bad enough, but if you get caught driving a car that's been SORNed, then you will face much harsher penalties. If you get flagged by the DVLA system or stopped by the police while driving a car that has a SORN, then you will face prosecution and a potential fine that can be as high as £2,500. Of course, if you can prove that you are driving to a pre-booked MOT check, then you will avoid that possibility of a large fine.
Using a car after a DVLA SORN check
Vehicle owners will SORN a car if they are not planning to use it for a while. Sometimes, this is because it has failed its MOT and they need time to save up for essential repairs. Other drivers will SORN a car if they don't use their cars as much as they used to but want to keep hold of it for emergencies. The end result is that the car will be sitting still for a while. Drivers will always be held responsible for the condition of their vehicles, so if you SORN a car for long periods of time and then pay the tax and make sure you have the right insurance, you still need to ensure that your car is safe to drive. You will be prosecuted for driving a car that's unsafe, and if your SORNed vehicle has been unused for a while, then you'll need to check that it's roadworthy before you sue it on a public road. You can get a fine of up to £2,500 if you are caught driving a dangerous car, and you'll get an automatic three points on your licence. So if you're buying a car and you do a DVLA SORN vehicle check, and it shows that the car has been unused for a while, always check:
- The windows and mirrors and clean and undamaged
- The lights and brakes are in working order
- It has enough engine oil, brake fluid, and the radiator water levels are high enough
- The battery works
- The tyres are inflated, are undamaged, and have the required tread depth
Checking and keeping a SORN when buying a car
As you can tell, it's vital that you check if a car is SORN before you buy it. If you're buying a car that's been declared SORN and you want to maintain that status, it's easy to assume that the SORN will simply transfer to you as the new owner. This is not the case, and making this mistake can result in those hefty fines. In no cases whatsoever will a SORN be transferred from owner to owner. If you're buying a car second hand and check to see if a car is SORN but want to keep that car as SORN, then you will have to complete a new SORN in your name. As soon as you are the legal owner of a car, the SORN will be removed. So you can't drive it until you pay tax on it.
Never pay to check if a car is SORN
It is 100% free to check if a car is SORN, simply by using the Gov.uk website. Unfortunately, there are always people out there wanting to make a few quid at your expense, and there are a variety of scams that target people who don't know that a government or DVLA SORN check is completely free. These scammers will have very professional looking websites and promise to do all of the 'hard work' of carrying out a DVLA car SORN check for the supposedly low price of between £30 and £40, depending on how quickly you want that check carried out. Of course, they don't just take your money. They will get all for your personal details as well, and in some cases, that will even include your passport number. Avoid this type of scam. Never pay to check if a car is SORN.