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Washington Buying a Vehicle

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You must title and register your vehicle if you want to drive it on public roads in the state of Washington and anywhere else in the United States. Whether you are buying a vehicle for the first time or have titled and registered several over the years, the following will help you to stay abreast of current Washington law

Obtaining a Title and Registration for a Vehicle Bought from a Car Dealership

Virtually all car dealerships in the state can process title transfers and help buyers with remote registration services from the Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL). You should be able to purchase a vehicle and wait a short period for the dealership personnel to remotely transfer the title to your name and arrange the registration.

You will need to insure the vehicle prior to obtaining the registration and license plate. Most people either add the new vehicle to a current policy or transfer coverage to the new vehicle from one that they just traded in. Many car dealerships either have license plates available or can provide a temporary registration until you obtain a license plate from the DOL or receive your in the mail.

Obtaining a Title and Registration for a Vehicle Bought from a Private Party

When you buy a vehicle from a private seller instead of a dealership, you will have to handle all of the title transfer and registration duties. The state provides up to 15 days to transfer ownership into the new owner’s name. The state levies at $50 fine on the 16th day and $2 additional each additional day with a maximum penalty of $125 for late title transfer requests. You will have to provide the selling price and pay a use tax as well as obtain required insurance coverage before registering the vehicle and obtaining a license plate.

Filling Out the Title

The title will require you to provide your current address and the odometer reading if the car is less than 10 model years old. The seller must sign in the appropriate location when transferring the title and provide the selling price so that the state can levy the correct use tax.

Registering the Purchased Vehicle

After obtaining the title, you must register the vehicle in order to drive it on public roads. Prior to registering it, you need to ensure it passes a smog test. The state’s Clean Car Law requires all vehicles that are built in 2009 or more recently must pass an emissions test. You cannot obtain a registration and license plate without passing the emissions test. You can register your vehicle online, via mail or at a DOL service center.

Submitting Payment

The DOL accepts personal checks, money orders, cashiers checks, credit cards and debit cards to process payments for title and registration services. The DOL does not accept cash.

Last Verified:
Dec 28, 2022