Private car sale to out of state buyer: how does it work?
March 30, 2024 11:11 PM   Subscribe

I live in Massachusetts. I am selling my car to a family member who lives outside of New England. The current plan is for them to come here, buy the car, and drive it to their home state. Googling seems to indicate that I need to take my tags off the car as soon as I sell it. So... how do they legally drive it home? Beyond a bill of sale and signing over the title, is there anything else I need? I'd appreciate someone walking me through this, as I've never sold anything of value before.

Bonus question: is there any advantage in gifting rather than selling? This is a 20 year-old car so its value is pretty questionable.
posted by anonymous to Shopping (9 answers total)
As long as you trust them to do so, they can drive the car home on your plates and mail them back to you. Don’t provide the proof of sale to the relevant state(s) until you have your plates back. Alternatively, when we sold our car to someone we didn’t know, my husband drove the car to them and I followed in our second car. W parked at their house, my husband unscrewed the plates from the car, and then we left with the plates and not the car.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 11:46 PM on March 30 [6 favorites]

Massachusetts now issues temp tags at the RMV:

As far as I can tell from the RMV webpage and the law that enabled the practice, this is only done for vehicles purchased from dealers.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:55 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]

Bonus question: is there any advantage in gifting rather than selling?

The best practice is to sell the car for $1 rather than straight out giving it away, as it makes paperwork easier. (Or at least that was true the last time I did this, one million years ago.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:58 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]

There is usually a grace period where relative can drive the car without plates (both dmvs should be checked with to confirm). They just need to carry the signed title and a dated bill of sale, which can be handwritten.

Another (more complicated) option with family members can be adding them to the title at your dmv, and then giving them a letter giving permission to register in the new state without you on the title. I regretted not doing this when I took a family car as would have avoided a hefty excise tax, but every state varies.
posted by veery at 8:03 AM on March 31

My state allows you to do temporary registration online and print out a temporary plate (paper that you can tape to your window.) The buyer needs to check with their state DMV and see if there's a similar option. They also need to make sure to put the car on their insurance before they drive it home.

Another option, if they're 100% sure they want the car, would be to complete the sale before they even come to get it. You could send them the title and bill of sale and they could register the car and get plates for it and then go to your state and drive it home.

It looks like Massachusetts doesn't require you to turn in your plates after you sell a car, so you could just let them drive it home with the current plates on it and they wouldn't even have to send them back. But it's probably not actually legal if you have completed the sale at that point and they own the car. If you're going to wait to send the title and bill of sale until after they put their own plates on the car, then you still own the car while they're driving it back, so you might have to worry about liability if it gets in an accident. And any tolls or speeding tickets resulting from photos of the license plate will go to you. So I'd stay away from that option if I were you.
posted by Redstart at 8:09 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]

If you decide to go sale and not gift, definitely sell with a lowball amount on the paperwork like corpse in the library suggests. We still pay property taxes based on the paperwork sale value of our ~20-year-old family-member-in-other-state-purchased car where the sale price/giftability was very flexible. learning after the fact that we could have, uh, configured the compensation differently is a recurring source of mild irritation at tax time.
posted by crime online at 8:10 AM on March 31

When we did this twenty years ago, I registered the car in MN, then FedExed the plates to my fiancé in Boston. I had to have insurance lined up already to get registered. It wasn't the worst.
posted by advicepig at 6:04 AM on April 1

I recall spending a little quality time on the phone with my DMV
posted by advicepig at 6:04 AM on April 1

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