New York City joint car ownership for a complete newbie
September 4, 2014 8:16 AM   Subscribe

My unmarried partner and I live in Queens. He had a car when we moved in together, and the title, registration, and insurance have always been entirely in his name - I didn't even drive it. The car died this summer and we are looking to buy a used car free and clear from a friend, so car payments are thankfully not an issue. I have been thinking that maybe I should consider being more involved with the car, but I am utterly clueless about the most basic details, and don't know where to start.

My partner is in his 50s, and has been driving for only 13 years. He has a clean driving record and so-so credit. I'm in my 40s, and have had my license for almost 20 years, but have never owned a car or been insured. I have very good credit (mid-700s).

I was thinking that we might be able to get better insurance rates if I applied, since I have the better credit, but he thinks that my not having any insurance history at all would work against my credit. Also, he would be the primary driver, so I'm not sure if that means that he would have to also be the primary policyholder.

Additionally, I don't know whether we should both be on the title and/or registration - I found this on the NYS DMV page that indicates that you CAN register a car with two names, but I don't know how to figure out whether we SHOULD do it that way.

Basically, I could use guidance on any and all aspects of the pluses and minuses of joint car ownership in New York - no information is too basic!
posted by Neely O'Hara to Travel & Transportation (3 answers total)
I'm not sure, but I *think* NY is one of the states where they're not allowed to use your credit score to determine what you pay for insurance. When I lived in NY, though, my car was registered to my dad's company, largely because I was a teen and the insurance was much cheaper that way, plus he got tax writeoffs for maintenance and upkeep on the car.

The only reason my name is on the title and registration of my wife's car currently (in MD) is because at the time we bought the car, I had the better credit rating, and we could only get a loan if I was somehow legally attached to the car. (Also, we weren't married at the time.) Since you're buying the car outright, this won't be an issue for you.

If both names are on the title, both names have to be on the registration, and vice versa. You cannot have one without the other.

If both names are on the title and registration, you have to think about who gets the car if your relationship ends -- one of you will likely have to buy the other person's "half" of the car. If only one name is on the title and registration, this is more clear-cut and no money needs to change hands.

Also, if you're both on the title, both of you will need to sign off on the title and bill of sale when you sell the car (or, one of you will need to sell their "half" to the other first).

Any parking, speed camera, or red light camera tickets will be in both of your names if both are on the registration. I don't know if NY camera tickets give you license points or make your insurance rates go up like normal tickets (here in MD, camera tickets don't count on your license or insurance; they just make it so you can't renew your registration until the ticket is either paid or dismissed in court).

The name(s) on the registration makes no difference in terms of insurance rates because both of you will be authorized drivers. What makes a difference is who is listed as the primary driver on the vehicle. The insurance policy can be in either of your names. Get several quotes from several companies -- one if the insurance policy is in your name, another if it's in his, a third if it's in both of your names. That way you'll see exactly what credit scores and time uninsured do to your rates.

My auto insurance policy is in my name only, but it is for two cars -- on one I am the primary driver, on the other my wife is the primary driver. I'm not sure if I'd have to be the primary driver if we only had one car.

This was kind of a brain dump, so I'm sorry if it's all over the place or not helpful.
posted by tckma at 8:36 AM on September 4, 2014

This isn't directly applicable to your situation, but I live in Brooklyn with an unmarried partner and own an a car, which I had owned prior to us moving in together. When we moved in together, I put her name on the insurance (legally required if she is to drive the car, which she does sometimes; it did not affect my rates). We split the cost of the insurance, and she pays for gas sometimes. I still pay for all the maintenance, and the car is registered/titled in my name only. If our relationship were to end, obviously the car would go to me.

Really, I think you should do something like that: have the car be in his name only, put your name on the insurance so you can drive it, and work out some kind of unofficial arrangement to split the costs. Adding another driver to insurance does not affect rates if the driver is over a certain age (I think 21 or 25) and has a clean record. Putting the car in his name will simplify the transactions related to it, and make it clear who the car goes to if you break up - that, of course, being him.

Also, in NY camera tickets do not go on your insurance.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:46 AM on September 6, 2014

These were both super helpful - thanks so much!
posted by Neely O'Hara at 7:46 PM on September 10, 2014

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