Interstate car purchase headaches
June 13, 2012 7:53 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to figure out the logistics of purchasing a car in one state (MA) and registering it in another (TN).

My current car is registered and insured in TN, but it (and I) am in MA until the end of the summer. For various reasons we want to replace the current car before I return to TN, trading it in for the new one.

My original idea was that we would buy the new car shortly before returning to TN, driving it with the temporary tags you usually get form the dealer (the ones that are hand-written with a date that tells you how long you have to get the car registered). I was trying to find out how long those temp tags would last in MA, but all I could find was this page which indicates that MA does not issue temporary tags.

Does that mean when you buy a car at a dealer in MA, there are no tags at all? Or am I just looking for the wrong keywords?

My spouse suggested that if that was the case then we could just transfer the plate from the current car to the new car, and get it officially registered as soon as we get to TN. But I'm worried about the legality of that in the off chance we get pulled over or in an accident or something on the way to TN. The TN tags don't expire until 01/2013, and we would have a bill of sale showing the car was recently purchased, but would we get a huge ticket or something like that? Also, can I put the new car on my insurance before it is registered?

I absolutely DO NOT want to just register the car in MA and then transfer the registration.
posted by pamplemousse of love to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total)
OK, I live in MA, and I have a car, and I know that if I were to buy a new car, I could transfer my existing plates to the new car and then I would have X number of days to tell the RMV about this. Maybe TN is the same way?

Looks like in TN you need to register with the local county clerk, so why not call them up? They can't be as bad as the RMV. And it definitely looks like transferring plates is at least *possible* in TN.

If you're buying from a dealer, they probably have done this before - maybe not with people from Tennessee, but certainly with people from New Hampshire or Rhode Island or something. So they could help.
posted by mskyle at 8:13 AM on June 13, 2012

When I bought my last car the dealer took care of transferring the plates from my old car. This was through paperwork that he had to mail in, so for a few days, if the plates were run they would have still shown up. Being for the other car, and I would have had to explain.

So you could probably just physically transfer the plates and say that they were being transferred and the cops probably wouldn't look into it to deeply. But that would not be strictly on the up and up, obviously.

My other thought is, I once bought a car from out of state. It was shipped to me, so I don't have any experience with getting from state to state, but when it arrived it had no tags, temporary or otherwise, and I needed to move it. I found out that in my state you have 72 hrs to get the vehicle registered, so I was okay driving it in that time frame with no plates at all, and would have had to explain if I got pulled over. So maybe look into those laws. Of course if you drive across several states with no tags at all you are guaranteed to get pulled over.

Finally, is the any possibility that the dealer could do a legitimate transfer of the plates using your TN plates? Maybe not, and of course the info would have to be sent to your local DMV, but it wouldn't hurt to ask.
posted by catatethebird at 8:21 AM on June 13, 2012

When I bought a car at a dealer in Mass. a few years ago, it had to be registered (they did it for me) before I could drive it off the lot; it's correct that Mass. doesn't issue temporary tags or temporary registration, other than the 7-day period for transferring it from your old car. It also had to be insured before it could be registered in Mass. The PDF linked on the page you linked talks about what paperwork to have ready if you're pulled over during that time. So the question is whether they can do it with the Tennessee plates - the dealer could probably tell you more, or maybe your insurance agent?
posted by songs about trains at 8:38 AM on June 13, 2012

I bought a car at a dealer in MA and registered it in NH (it was legit -- I was actually living there at the time). They wouldn't let me drive it off the lot until I had registered it and arrived back at the dealership with my NH plates. NH wouldn't let me register it until I had purchased it. So it was rather an ordeal. The dealership in MA was not expecting me to be able to take it the day I bought it -- apparently it usually takes a while -- and were surprised when I came back a few hours after I bought it with it all registered and ready to go.
posted by brainmouse at 9:09 AM on June 13, 2012

In MA, you need to insure the new car before you can register it. I think the big question in your case is how TN handles the transfer of the registration for someone out of state like yourself. If it were a MA registration, the process would be to transfer the insurance to the new car, then take an RMV-1 form to the registry (or have the dealer do it) and have the new registration issued.

Should you find yourself able to, be careful putting the existing plates on the new car before officially transferring the registration. While MA does have a policy of allowing 3 days to transfer the plates, if you get pulled over in that situation you might have a problem. Years ago, I was stopped by the police having just purchased a car and the car was impounded and I was issued a ticket for 'attaching plates'. It all worked out in the end but I had to go to court and describe the situation before they dropped the citation - a big hassle. And I still had to pay to get the car out of impound.
posted by Diginati at 10:51 AM on June 13, 2012

As far as the insurance goes, it's quite possible that your current automotive insurance policy will automatically cover a newly-purchased vehicle for up to 30 days --- you might call them and check.
posted by easily confused at 12:54 PM on June 13, 2012

Response by poster: TN does allow for the transfer of registration & plates, but the old plate is not supposed to be on the new car until that registration process is complete. I was wondering about buying the car in NH instead of MA; this site says NH has a 20-day temporary dealer plate, but it specifies NH residents. Does that mean if an MA (or other state) resident buys a car in NH, they can't get the plate?
posted by pamplemousse of love at 1:27 PM on June 13, 2012

I was coming in to recommend the plate transfer as well, and to see if you can talk to an MA dealer who has sold a car to non-residents. I'd also recommend double checking the tax laws, to make sure you're not going to be paying tax on your car twice. (This in part depends on how soon you will move back. While living in TN I bought my car in another state, but over one weekend, and just paid TN tax.)
posted by NikitaNikita at 3:39 PM on June 13, 2012

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