Car to PA
July 13, 2010 11:36 AM   Subscribe

Looking for people who have registered a car in PA. I've seen a bunch of different information and there are a lot of quirky requirements, so I'm asking for assistance. Do I have to change over the title and registration to PA from another state, or just the registration? Tracing paper? Really? Am I able to do this directly with the DOT or do I have to use an agent who tacks on additional fees? How does all this work for registering my car in PA from out of state? I know I need insurance, then I register it, then I need to get a bunch of tests done, but if someone knows the entire process because they've done it recently, I'd love to hear from you and get any tips or tricks. I am not looking for just links to the PennDOT website.
posted by furious to Travel & Transportation around Pennsylvania (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Ok, I'll try this one.

Do I have to change over the title and registration to PA from another state, or just the registration? You have to change over both.

Tracing paper? Really? I can't remember. They may do it for you at the auto tag place. Or you may do it yourself with some paper they give you there.

Am I able to do this directly with the DOT or do I have to use an agent who tacks on additional fees? You have to get it done at an auto tag place. Look at it this way, whatever fees the auto tag agent charges you are what the state would charge if you lived in a normal state. You can find a list of auto tag agents on the website. Just go to the one closest to you. They are all the same.

I had a hell of a time getting it all sorted. Your best bet is to get all your paperwork in order and take it with you to the auto tag shop. Print and fill out any seemingly relevant forms from the website and take those with you too. I don't think I traced the VIN, but maybe I did with some form the auto tag people gave me.

If I recall, you have to make two trips to the auto tag agent. One to drop everything off, and one to pick the stuff up when it comes in.

It's really that awful compared to other states, and I've lived in NJ and MA, both of which are renowned for pointless and complicated procedures for getting stuff done.
posted by vincele at 12:09 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

IANA PennDot expert, but as I recall it was a fairly straightforward, although expensive, process. I know you said you didn't want PennDot links, but their website actually outlines the process fairly clearly. What's tripping you up may be the bit about tracing paper/VIN verification, and I'm not sure that whole thing needs to happen; when I registered my car some years ago (at an AAA shop), the agent just walked out with me to check and photograph the car's VIN in person.

After you register the car, you have a certain amount of time to get a PA state inspection. That's a whole other PITA right there.
posted by Bardolph at 12:13 PM on July 13, 2010

I have done this, and it can be a pain. My suggestion is to head to your local AAA office and do it there. It's a lot easier. I'm an AAA member, so I don't know whether they charge any extra fees for non-members. You'll need to have your PA driver's license already, and that you do get at the DMV office. You do need to change over both the title and the registration, and to do this you'll need to surrender the old title. If you're still paying off your loan, AAA will take care of the title stuff with the lienholder for you. Like vincele, I had to make 2 trips (well, 3 if you count me leaving to get the VIN certified, but more about that below) to AAA to get it all done, but if you have the title in hand you might only need 1 trip.

As far as the VIN tracing goes, I wasn't able to trace mine, and had to go to a mechanic to get it certified. The mechanic I went to did it for free and it only took a couple minutes, so you might want to go that route even if your VIN plate is traceable. Supposedly some AAA offices will do the VIN certification on the premises, but the one I went to did not.

Once all that is taken care of, AAA will give you the new registration and plate, and then you need to get it inspected. It seems like most mechanics do inspections, and you have 10 days to get that done. You'll get your inspection stickers from the mechanic, and then you're finally set.
posted by I Said, I've Got A Big Stick at 12:26 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just want to add that I could be wrong about some or all of what I said. The main thing is to get all your paperwork and your checkbook and go to the auto tag agent.
posted by vincele at 12:27 PM on July 13, 2010

It was painful enough just getting my new car registered instate. Rather than go through the hassle of transferring a plate I just got a new one, which was way easier, they have them right under the desk at an auto tags place. Basically, all I had to do was get insurance on the new vehicle, then take proof of insurance to the auto tag place (I didn't need the title or anyting), then they gave me the plate with registration stickers already on it, then I let my brother who is a mechanic put the plate on and take it to the shop to inspect it. Auto tag places in PA are like the gate keeper to the DMV, just go there like vincele says with cash (they didn't take checks) and your insurance paperwork. Getting the new plate and the registration was roughly $80.
posted by The Straightener at 12:53 PM on July 13, 2010

Listen to I Said, I've Got A Big Stick, i.e. get someone to help you with this. AAA does just fine. It's actually not nearly as big of a deal as it sounds like.
posted by valkyryn at 1:09 PM on July 13, 2010

It is a huge and monumental pain in the ass with confusing and contradictory requirements involving those somewhat shady shack-like joints that do auto titles.

Just go to AAA. They make it beautifully painless. The fee is nominal. It is worth every penny. Call your local office to double-check how the process works (I can't recall all of the details.)
posted by desuetude at 1:15 PM on July 13, 2010

Re inspections: Keep in mind that depending on what county you live in, you may also need an emissions inspection, in addition to the safety inspection.

Also, although I agree that PA motor vehicle stuff is a pain, contradictory, etc., I found Virginia to be just as bad. Is PA all that unusual?
posted by Chrysostom at 1:21 PM on July 13, 2010

A couple of years ago I had to register my car in PA even though it was not yet physically present in PA. It was a pain, but doable. The car was physically located at my parents' home in another state. The VIN plate was not easily accessible to trace, so my dad had a friend who was a school cop sign the back of a photograph of the VIN plate (satisfying the "police officer certification" requirement). Also, the title was in my dad's name, so he signed it over to me, and then we also had to fill out and sign an affidavit that he was giving it to me as a gift so I wouldn't be charged sales tax (because the title had been in his name for less than six months, IIRC, otherwise that wouldn't have been an issue). It was a big convoluted mess, but I managed to wade through it and got it registered on the first try with only one visit to the AAA office in Pittsburgh.

After you register it, you'll have a week or so to get it inspected. Since my car was out of state, I was told I had 10 days from the date I brought it into the state to get it inspected, and to carry proof that it had been out of state until that time in case I was stopped.
posted by Nothlit at 2:08 PM on July 13, 2010

I'd call AAA.
posted by Raichle at 4:36 PM on July 13, 2010

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