I'm buying my first used car from a person in my town...
August 17, 2011 8:52 AM   Subscribe

I'm buying my first used car from a person in my town. In what order to I get license plates, receive the title, and so on?

Sounds like a dumb question, but I've always lived in cities without a car. I'll be living in a smaller town in a new state soon and wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing...

If I test-drive the guy's car and want to buy it, do I just write a check and the title is handed over to me right then? If I don't have plates or insurance for it yet, how do I drive the car legally to the DMV to acquire plates? Before I do any of this, do I need to go to the DMV and get a driver's license in this new state I'm living in? Thanks!
posted by critzer to Shopping (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What state? Laws and rules about plates and title transfer vary widely by state.
posted by cosmicbandito at 8:54 AM on August 17, 2011

If you have a valid drivers license that is all you need to drive. But you will have to get a drivers license for the state you live in. And check with your insurance company to see if they will insure you with an out-of-state license. The current owner could leave the tags on the car so that you can drive to DMV but the owner is taking a bit of a risk.

You can get license plates before you move the car. You do that when you transfer the title and buy your tags. When you write the check the current owner will sign the title to you. He could make you wait until the check clears but that is not the usual case.

And in my state you have 7 days after purchase to get it through state inspection. But if it has a current inspection sticker you might be able to fudge that a bit.
posted by JayRwv at 9:00 AM on August 17, 2011

The current owner could leave the tags on the car so that you can drive to DMV but the owner is taking a bit of a risk.

Again, this varies widely by state. In some states the tags belong to the car, not the owner, and stay with the car. We absolutely need to know your state before this question is answerable.
posted by brainmouse at 9:04 AM on August 17, 2011

In a person to person transaction, you'll likely get a signed receipt and a pink slip (title) that has been signed over to you. You can take those to the DMV, or more likely, the tax assessor, to get the title switched over to your name. Most likely, you won't need to get new plates, but you can check with the tax assessor in your area to double-check. You should definitely get a new driver's license, but it's not critical to do it immediately (or else drivers from other states would be getting arrested left and right). If your inspection and registration stickers are current, you can wait that out. Once the registration is up, the state will find you, assuming you've transferred title. As has already been said, this varies from state to state, but that's about the gist of it.
posted by Gilbert at 9:05 AM on August 17, 2011

Response by poster: (State is VA - thanks!)
posted by critzer at 9:06 AM on August 17, 2011

Best answer: Here in VA you're supposed to:
1. call your insurance company and tell them you're buying the car; get proof of liability insurance (for the DMV)
2. get the owner to sign over the title, filling in the odometer and sale price
3. owner removes the tags
4. you drive to the DMV with no tags (seriously)
5. at the DMV they'll do a title transfer, registration, and temp tags

If a cop pulls you over during the drive to the DMV, you show him the signed title and explain where you're going.
posted by introp at 9:10 AM on August 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh, and step 1 of course requires you to have a license. The insurance company won't give you insurance if you can't legally drive. :P
posted by introp at 9:25 AM on August 17, 2011

Best answer: I used to live in VA.

I'm not sure, but I think you may now be able to print temporary plates in VA online, this would eliminate step #4 above and possibly the need to go to DMV at all. I could be wrong, though.

Also, are you new to Virginia? Be aware that Virginia charges an annual property tax on vehicles; the tax is levied by the county or independent city in which you live. In addition to going to DMV you also have to register with your county or city for taxes. When I lived in VA, this required a trip to Falls Church City Hall, where they told me I did not, in fact, live in Falls Church even though my mailing address said so, and instead I had to go to Fairfax County Government Center -- so your address may not show which jurisdiction you'll be taxed by.

You will also need to get a safety inspection every year (at any gas station) and there's a sticker on the windshield. If you live in northern Virginia, you'll also need to get an emissions inspection (also at any gas station) BEFORE they will let you get plates. In my case, they honored my emissions inspection from Massachusetts; they may honor the prior owner's inspection too if it is still valid.

VA insurance, for me, needed a VA license, but they were able to issue the policy on my MA license, then when I went to register I also changed to a VA license at that time, and I had to give that info to my insurance company.
posted by tckma at 9:28 AM on August 17, 2011

The property tax from the county/city is separate from the 3% sales tax the state charges on vehicle sales, that tax is collected at DMV when you register.
posted by tckma at 9:35 AM on August 17, 2011

Best answer: Hey, I just sold my 2 old cars this month in VA.

What we did (as seller):
Before selling: give VIN to buyer, tell buyer to get insurance on the car (call their agent)
Sign over title to new owner.
Fill out and sign a bill of sale (from the DMV web site)

The buyers:
First ones were out of state, so they needed a transport permit. Went with them to DMV, got my old plates cancelled, got a trip-permit for them, off they went.

Second buyer was instate. Gave her the signed title, signed bill of sale. She had already got insurance. She took the title and bill to the DMV, got the plates from her old car (wrecked) transferred to our car. She came back, put the plates on, drove it off.

(mostly what introp said, but introp forgot the bill of sale, and that really is a big deal at my DMV ..)
posted by k5.user at 9:35 AM on August 17, 2011

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