New cars sales in the UK were up 31.6% year on year in October, their fourth consecutive rise, according to figures released Thursday by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

Total sales were 168,942 boosted by the government's scrappage scheme which gives buyers GBP2,000 off a new car when they trade in one that is at least 10 years old.

"October has seen this year's biggest monthly increase in registrations with the successful scrappage scheme accounting for over 20% of them," said Paul Everitt, SMMT chief executive.

The scheme, co-funded by the car industry, has proved so popular that the government agreed last month to increase funding to include an additional 100,000 vehicles.

Despite the positive news, car sales for the January-October period have fallen 12.3% compared with the equivalent period of last year, according to the SMMT.

The surge in UK sales is the best in western Europe for October. Earlier this week, Spain reported sales up 26.4%; sales in Germany were up 24% despite the scrappage scheme there ending in September; in France they rose 20.1% and in Italy 15.6%.