Some cars are best enjoyed during the summer. In the wintertime, these same cars are often put away, most commonly to avoid use when the roads are being treated with salt.

When a vehicle is out of use, many will opt to suspend its road fund licence – though, of course, vehicles made before 1 January 1981 are exempt.

Recently, a client of ours decided to get their car fully restored but did not submit their Statutory Off-Road Notification (SORN). They asked us to take the car off 'road use' and insure it on a laid-up basis.  This meant the vehicle would no longer appear on the Motor Insurance Database, which resulted in an automatic warning, generated by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and threat of a possible fine.

Why did this happen? And how can you avoid it?

We'll begin by explaining how SORN works. SORN is the system whereby vehicles which are not being used are effectively registered as such.

If you decide to take your vehicle off the road and not keep or use it on a public highway, then you need to declare it SORN. This applies regardless of where the vehicle will be kept – even if you are putting in your garage or storing it on private land.

This is the step that our client omitted and as a result they received an automated notification from the DVLA, warning them that the vehicle was considered untaxed and that a fine might be charged.

You must declare your vehicle SORN if your vehicle is untaxed, uninsured (even for a short time), if it is being broken for parts prior to being scrapped or where you have acquired a vehicle and wish to keep it off the road (as a SORN cannot transfer between registered keepers).

The SORN process can be done online and uses the 16-digit reference from your v5c registration document, or the reference number on the tax reminder letter sent by the DVLA.

Crucially, even if your vehicle is tax exempt, you must apply for an exemption in much the same way as taxing a vehicle. Currently, this process has to be done via a Post Office initially and you will have to renew the exemption annually. Failure to do so will result in the vehicle being treated as untaxed.

Due to the vehicle taxation system being primarily online, if you stop using your vehicle, then you must declare it SORN, unless you continue to pay Road Fund Licence or renew its exemption – the system will consider any vehicle untaxed otherwise and issue an automatic penalty, regardless of the vehicle's tax status.

The current maximum penalty is £2,500 and up to three penalty points on your driving licence.

While you do need to have a valid motor insurance policy in force to tax a vehicle, your insurance policy will not specify that your vehicle is taxed (or exempt).

If you SORN your vehicle, then you may wish to consider amending your insurance cover to 'laid up'. In simple terms, this will continue to provide cover for any damage while the car is kept off-road, but not for any road use.

Depending on the length of time the vehicle will be unused and/or the number of miles left on a limited mileage contract, you may be entitled to a return of some of the premium you paid. You will need to discuss this with your insurance broker and ensure that, if you amend your cover to 'laid up', full cover is reinstated before you use it on the public highway again.

It is important to highlight that if you amend your policy cover to laid-up, cover for road use is removed and the vehicle is deleted from the Motor Insurance Database (MID) automatically. At this point, you must declare the vehicle SORN.

If you fail to do this, then the database will assume that your vehicle is both untaxed and uninsured and issue an automated warning and/or a fine.

If you need to SORN your vehicle, you can do so here. You will need the v5c registration document to do this.

If you need any more advice around this subject, then please talk to us today.