[WA,US] Overdue initial car registration?
August 5, 2008 5:57 PM   Subscribe

Washington State: Embarrassingly overdue car registration, what do I need to know?

I moved to Seattle two years ago, bringing my car with me with already-expired out of state tags. Early on, my job was within walking distance and I never drove recreationally, so I was content to let it sit in the garage gathering dust.

Now I'm commuting, I've been ticketed once for the expired tags, and I'm wondering if anyone knows what I should be prepared for as I register it.

For example, the form the DOL uses says the following:
"Private automobile was purchased and used by me in another state for a minimum of 90 days while I was a bonafide resident, before I entered Washington on _____"

Does this mean they're going to put me on the hook for two years' of taxes? That's fine, if that's the law, but if there's a way to legally avoid it I'd prefer to do so.

That, and any other advice from anyone who's been in a similar situation would be much appreciated. I was born without the part of the brain that makes one able to understand and navigate bureaucracy.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Does this mean they're going to put me on the hook for two years' of taxes?

Only if they're aware of evidence that you've been driving it. (Don't drive it to the DMV to do the registration) But paying the registration retroactively is probably the not the biggest part of the penalty for that.

On the other hand, I wonder if they believe that it hasn't been driven for years, if you'll need to get it safety certified before registering it.

Anyway, call the DMV and ask what the procedure is. You don't have to give your name.

Or just walk in to the DMV and say, "I'd like to re-register my car, which hasn't been registered for the past two years." This is a perfectly normal and reasonable request. You can tell them you didn't need it for commuting anymore, or something else true but incomplete if you feel the need to give an explanation. I promise you that this won't even be the wierdest request that the clerk will get that hour.
posted by winston at 6:18 PM on August 5, 2008

I got pulled over for expired tabs (about 6 months overdue; I had plum forgot) and I went it to mitigate it (not contest it). While it took all morning, it was an overall very pleasant process and it reduced the $260 or so ticket to $120.

This may not be an issue for you -- it may be that a morning of work is worth $120 -- but for my poor college student ass, it was worth it.
posted by rossination at 7:02 PM on August 5, 2008

"Private automobile was purchased and used by me in another state for a minimum of 90 days while I was a bonafide resident, before I entered Washington on _____"

The 90 days is to indicate that you don't owe WA state sales tax on the car. If you buy a car in another state and then register it within 90 days in WA, you have to pay WA tax on the sale price of the car (even if you've already paid the appropriate taxes in whatever state the car was purchased). If it's past 90 days, you don't owe additional sales tax.

There are fines levied for driving unregistered vehicles but I don't know who assesses them. I would call the DOT and explain the situation to them -- my guess would be that you're only going to be on the hook for the current years' registration fees if you explain that the car has been sitting in your driveway gathering dust (but the fact that you've gotten tickets may work against you).
posted by camcgee at 9:37 PM on August 5, 2008

It's not as bad as you think. I don't know about WA, but I drove for 4 years in GA with an expired WV license and no insurance. It was very stressful, but I didn't get caught. I was like you, worrying about making things right, but when I went in I didn't make any explanations, I just said, I need to register my vehicle in GA. No problemo. I wish you the best of luck. Sometimes we worry too much.
posted by wv kay in ga at 10:23 PM on August 5, 2008

The DMV/DOT is in the business of getting you in compliance with the law. They are not going to retroactively bill you. Sometimes state troopers (in Illinois, anyway) or local cops will run enforcement actions near DMV centers or courthouses where they try to ding people who get their license taken away or don't get one and then drive off anyway. But there is an expectation of vehicles without tags being driven to DMV centers and without stopping you they can't be sure that you don't have a legitimate reason (say, maybe they were stolen). I am not recommending that you do so, but going to the DMV is a pretty good excuse.

Just my experience. It's a big faceless bureaucracy, but it isn't out to get you.
posted by dhartung at 10:28 PM on August 5, 2008

IANAL, IANYL, etc., and (perhaps more importantly) I have no idea about Washington state laws, but in Texas, awhile back ago I took a car off the street to restore it, and it sat in my garage for about 4 years. When it became time to re-license it, I told them that the car had not been driven during that period, they had me sign an affidavit to that affect, and let me pay the current year registration without paying for any of the intervening time.

Since you've been ticketed, obviously enough they know the vehicle has been on the road with expired tags, but it might be worth checking to see if you could claim that the car had been off the road waiting for service ("I didn't have money to replace the XXXX", etc.) for some of the intervening time before you were ticketed. I don't know if WA allows anything similar to TX in this regard, but if they do, it might save you some of the back fees.

(A slight cautionary tale -- a (not terribly bright) acquaintance of mine filled out a similar affidavit claiming a vehicle had been off the road during a period when it had been ticked, and was promptly up on perjury charges; double check your dates before doing anything foolish)
posted by nonliteral at 10:55 PM on August 5, 2008

I live in WA and buy and sell a few cars, sometimes from out-of-state.

The Washington DOL have a helpful website, this page seems to cover your situation. You'll note the "you have 30 days" thing. The only possible catch here is that you may have to pay a penalty for not having done so. I know the penalty for delaying the transfer of a title (I've paid it many times) is about $100. So anticipate about $200 - 300 to get all the paperwork done.

Note: You're going to require an emissions inspection, might as well get that done before you go in.

Helpful hint: Do not go towards the last day of the month or to a popular destination. If you're in Seattle, I've found mid-week, mid-day expeditions to the Ballard office rarely involved much wait, especially from around the 10th to the 15th.

The DOL and the cops are separate entities, the DOL doesn't care or want anything to do with your expired tabs ticket, so don't have any worries in that regard.
posted by maxwelton at 1:39 AM on August 6, 2008

PS, as far as I know, you don't pay for "back taxes" in WA, as far as tabs go. I've bought cars that have been off the road literally for years, and all they do is issue new tabs. Definitely bring registration papers from your previous state with you so you can demonstrate that you didn't buy the car out of state to escape state sales taxes.

That said, WA DOL is a hound for sales taxes on vehicles, so don't be too surprised if somehow that comes up.
posted by maxwelton at 1:43 AM on August 6, 2008

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