Can I buy a car out of state (CA) without changing my driver's license?
February 26, 2013 8:03 AM   Subscribe

I am a Rhode Island resident. I'm in San Francisco, CA for several months, working. I've decided to buy a car from a friend here, and today I'm going over to give him the money (I've been driving it for a week or two, since he already bought a new car and we trust each other).

Today we are going to make it official. My question: is there any way for me to buy the car without switching my driver's license to a California one? It's just about March now, and in late May or June I will be driving back to Rhode Island. My health insurance is dependent upon my Rhode Island residency (I have "group of one" insurance). I don't know if they could ever find out, but I would hate for this transaction to affect it.

Secondly, I think I know what to do, but am I correct that the steps for me are:

(1) Get car's VIN and get insurance for car
(2) Give seller the money and get signed title and bill of sale, as well as smog report
(3) Go to the DMV with the title, bill of sale and smog report, as well as proof of insurance, and pay registration fees and get new plates
(4) Drive away with new plates!

Thanks for any help!
posted by betsbillabong to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total)
Here's the link to the California DMV.

Now I suppose you could register your car in CA, but why not register it in RI?

The only issue I can think of is inspection. Here's the RI DMV,.

There is temporary registration in CA. THAT seems to be your best bet.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:09 AM on February 26, 2013

Best answer: Sure. I just did this, myself. Moved to California from New York, bought a car my first week out here before I'd changed my license over.

Life will be a lot easier if you register the car in California. I registered in California and didn't hear a peep about my license being NY. That said, I registered at AAA, so maybe they're less draconian over there? Either way it should be possible to do, you just might face a bunch of surly faces at the DMV.

Re your steps:

1. Yes, though you should already have the VIN if you have the car. The VIN should be conspicuously displayed in a few different places. My car (a Honda) has the vin easily observable on the lower windshield, and also has a bunch of stickers with the VIN on certain parts like the inner bits of the doors, a sticker under the hood, another sticker in the trunk, etc. You should be insuring ASAP, yep.

2. Yep, and seriously DO NOT forget about that smog certificate. Based on my own experience (which sounds sketchier than yours) I'd also say to take things like, "Oh, yeah, I'll take care of that..." or "I have it around here somewhere, I'll send it to you..." or the like with a grain of salt. Walk away with the smog certificate in hand along with everything else.

3. Yep, but they (probably?) won't give you new plates, just a sticker for the plates you already have.

4. No, you're probably not getting new plates.
posted by Sara C. at 8:19 AM on February 26, 2013

You forgot step (0) make an appointment at the DMV via their webpage.
posted by jeffamaphone at 8:49 AM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

We don't do new plates in CA. You keep the old plates, unless they're personalized plates that the seller wants to keep. You also generally keep the old registration month of the car, so check to make sure that bill isn't coming up in the near future.

Yes, make an appointment. Make it right now.

California has rules about getting a CA licence if you move here, so if they give you any trouble about that, tell them you're here on a temporary basis for work and are going back home in a month.

Temporary registration is for cars that haven't passed smog or other things like that. I don't think you'll get a temporary registration because you're taking the car away in a couple of months.
posted by elsietheeel at 11:26 AM on February 26, 2013

States tend to care more about car registration than the driver's licence (its the taxes and fees they don't want to miss out on), and there are legitamate reasons for having tags in one state and a license from another, like people with a second home in a different state.
posted by 445supermag at 12:41 PM on February 26, 2013

Response by poster: Belated thanks to all of you! Especially to Sara C, who gave me the tip about registering at AAA. What a difference!

I was able to get insurance and registration using my Rhode Island address, and I will keep my Rhode Island driver's license. They didn't care at all when I explained I was only in California temporarily. When I get back to RI, I will simply register the car there.

I think that even if you are not a AAA member, it's worth joining just so you don't need to step foot into the DMV!

Oh, and yes, the same plates just remained on the car.
posted by betsbillabong at 9:06 AM on March 7, 2013

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