Driving across the country with an unregistered car.
April 23, 2009 6:14 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving to California and need to drive car there this summer. Difficulty: the car is currently garaged in Pennsylvania, without tags, and uninsured; I reside in New York City with a DC license (but could transfer that to NY license if necessary). Uhaul/shipping the car is out of the question.

Backstory is in this ask.mefi question; I moved to NYC two years ago and garaged my car in Pennsylvania after mailing my plates to DC and canceling the insurance. Now, I'm about ready to move to San Francisco, and I'm going to drive my car from NYC to SF along with my cats and my electronics. I will be shipping the rest of my stuff; a uhaul that's able to tow my car costs on par with estimates for moving companies, so I'd rather save the hassle and just drive. The car is running and will have a tune-up before it goes on this trip.

My question is: I need to figure out how to legally register and insure the car for a cross-country trip, when the car is in Pennsylvania, I live in New York City, I hold a DC license, and the car and I will eventually reside in California. I would like to keep this as simple as possible. Do I, in order of preference:
  1. (Magically, through some process I am not yet aware of) Register and insure the car in California while it is in Pennsylvania;
  2. Register and insure the car in Pennsylvania (how?), and get my license converted to a PA license through somewhat sketchy means; or
  3. Register and insure the car in NYC without it being physically present, as that is where I reside, having my DC license converted to an NY licence;
  4. Something that I haven't thought of.
Everything that I've seen so far deals with driving a car that's already registered across the country. I would just register it in Pennsylvania and re-register in California, but they require that you be a full-time resident there, with a driver's license, to register a car.
posted by kdar to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't think you'll be able to do (1) due to CARB emissions regulations, where you have to bring the car in when registering it. But things may have changed since I brought a car to CA in the late 90s.

If you can register elsewhere, CA gives you a grace period, I think it's 30 or 90 days, until you have to register in the state.

Given the costs involved, you might consider (4) selling the car in PA, and then buying a nice smog-tested rust-free car in CA once you move here. Cheaper and easier.
posted by zippy at 6:22 PM on April 23, 2009

Whose name is the title in? Yours? To the best of my knowledge, you just need the title with your name on it and the bill of sale [even if it's old, yes this is weird] and then follow all of the other rules to register the car in NY. This may involve getting a NY title for it which will be a pain but manageable. You could, maybe, get a transit permit which is like a 30 day "I'm moving" permit. Website says this

Interstate In-Transit Permit -- The permit is valid for 30 days and allows you to transport a vehicle from New York State to another jurisdiction to register it. For example, you need an interstate in-transit permit if you buy a vehicle in NYS, but you reside in another state or you move to another state, and you plan to register the vehicle in the other state. The fee is $10.

I'm not even sure it matters that you have a DC license, actually. Then you get the temporary permit, put it on the car, [don't go through Massachusetts!] and then drive to CA in 30 days or less. This may make your car a cop-magnet, but it should be legal.
posted by jessamyn at 6:25 PM on April 23, 2009

Here's the CA DMV's page on bringing a car into the state.
posted by zippy at 6:33 PM on April 23, 2009

If I'm reading your question correctly, the car was last registered in DC and the title is from DC. In that case, you should get a temporary or in-transit registration from the DC DMV. I don't think you want to go through the hassle of legally moving the car to NY and then moving it again to California. To do this, you'll need a binder of insurance to cover you on the journey. I think you would need to get insurance in DC as well, though if you already have a plan for insurance once you reach California, it might be worthwhile to give that company a call now and see what they can do for you. If you can't get DC insurance, then it should be possible to get a binder in NY (though you may have to get a NY license to make that work).
posted by ssg at 6:50 PM on April 23, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies, everyone. To answer a few questions: yes, the car has a clear title in my name, and that title is from DC.
posted by kdar at 8:10 PM on April 23, 2009

I just purchased a vehicle from a dealer in PA. I live in West Va. The dealer provided me with a 30 day "In Transit" cardboard tag along with paper documentation that he had me sign. He did not charge for that service. I don't know if the DMV can do that for you, or not. But at least I could get the car home and get the title transferred to my state, etc without having the actual car title in hand. I received the title after my check cleared.
posted by JayRwv at 8:37 PM on April 23, 2009

I think ssg is right. Easiest would be to do everything in the same state, and since you already have title and driver license from DC, you should probably just register the car and get temporary insurance in DC.

The only reason I added this comment is, in case you do NOT follow that advice - I once received an automatic ticket for having a FL plate, CA driver license, and Idaho insurance (while house-hunting in WA, but I don't think that matters). I can't find it on Google now, but apparently you have to have two of those things in the same state.
posted by ctmf at 1:12 AM on April 24, 2009

I got a car (as a gift) in NY. I was able to apply for a NY state "Transfer Registration" which cost me something like $10 and was a paper license plate that goes in the rear window of your car. this makes the car legal to drive to somewhere. I think it is only valid for 30 days. The problem is that, while you don't need the car to be in NY, I think you need to swear that it's in NY... So make sure you can drive it across the border first.
posted by zpousman at 10:53 AM on April 24, 2009

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