How do I make sure the buyer of my used vehicle registers it in his/her name?

When signing over the title & registration to a new buyer for an old vehicle – a 20 year old ‘beater’: How do I make sure the buyer registers it in his/her own name? In my state the plates stay with the vehicle. The new owner is supposed to register it with motor vehicles office. But if the current plate stickers are good for many months they might not bother. Especially if it’s a $500 car they are not sure will last.

When they buy the car, they’ll probably just hand me $500 in cash. I could use a signed contract with date and time. (I would need this information to show I’m not liable for future parking tickets.) However, do buyers really give their full name, address, phone and driver’s license number to the seller? Seems like the buyer would be worried that I might come steal the car from their address with a spare key I’ve kept. And maybe I (as the seller) don’t want the buyer knowing my address in case they are psycho and determined to get their money back after they’ve abused it. But my full name & address are already printed on the title & registration papers–crud!


In my state, I electronically file a release of liability with my DMV, and I also send it in the mail, just to be doubly sure. And I also print out my receipt, when I file it electronically, for added protection

After I do that, what they do with the car is of no concern to me

If the DMV acts stupid later on, I just send them a copy of the release of liability

I’ll add something . . . if you’re paranoid that an address will fall into the wrong hands, just donate the car to your local NPR-affiliated radio station. You’ll get paperwork entitling you to a modest tax write off. My brother did that awhile back, when he wanted to get rid of his beater

I thought of donating it, but I would like to recoup a few hundred dollars of work I’ve had done on the vehicle in the past two years. Next thought was a consignment lot, but they want newer cars. So it’s going to be the private sale route for me.

Do buyers really provide their name and address to the sellers? Of course I’d have to verify it by seeing their license. Do I ask or make a photocopy of their driver’s license? That seems awkward.

You need to contact your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles with your question. They’re the real experts in what’s necessary.

When I sent my release of liability to the DMV, I had to provide a name and address of the buyer

Now, if that guy showed me a fake driver’s license . . .

Here’s more info about obtaining a release of liability:

I always try to go the local courthouse with the potential buyer and do the paperwork right then and there. If I do get in a situation like a holiday or long weekend…I will sell the vehicle but check in a few days to see if it was transferred. If it wasn’t…I will call the buyer and tell them the vehicle will be “junked” in 48 hours. If the transfer is still not done…I junk the vehicle. The buyer will have to jump through many hoops to get the vehicle in his/her name. I used to get burned but now I do the burning. I started this when Kentucky began holding the original owner responsible for the taxes on the first day of the new year if the vehicle title was not transferred.

NOTE: Junking of the title voids the tags and registration immediately and will allow law enforcement to stop the vehicle and take possession of it.

+1 for mountainbike’s suggestion. Thais the best way to determine how to protect yourself.

In WA you can file a seller’s report at the DMV. As soon as the information enters the system you do not need to worry about speeding tickets etc. or wonder if the buyer will register the vehicle at all.

@252525 what about the taxes that are owed on the vehicle when the first of the year rolls around? Who is responsible?

It was a while since I sold a vehicle, so I might be wrong, but here is how I remember: at least in WA when you get your registration sticker the taxes are included in the registration fees. The buyer has to pay these taxes so as long as you filed the sellers report the rest is on the buyer. Without registration the new owner will not get a valid sticker for the license plate so he or she will get in trouble to using an unregistered vehicle.

If I am wrong, please anybody feel free to correct me.

You’re right @252525‌. There are no yearly taxes due at the beginning of the year. Whatever excise and RTA taxes are levied are included in the vehicle registration fee, along with the National Parks donation. Any sales tax on the purchase price of the car is levied by the state Dept. of Revenue and collected by the license agency on their behalf.

As to the original question, who cares if they ever register the car in their name? As long as you unregister–fill out a report of sale and provide the buyer’s info–the car is no longer registered in your name and it’s no longer any of your concern.

Sorry @asemaster but you are wrong. Some states may not levy a tax on the value of the vehicle (property tax) when the first of the year arrives but Kentucky and many other states do. When you go to renew your tags…the sold vehicle will still appear on your vehicle list. If it’s there…you pay the tax. Your state might not but it’s not the only state in the union. There are 49 others to consider.

@missileman is correct. I googled a quick survey and here are some of the states that tax the vehicle at the first of the year. They call it several different names (excise, usage, value added, ad valorem, or property tax) but they are taxes and they come out of the vehicle owner’s pocket every year. Some have descending percentages by year and others do not.


@missleman, Perhaps I misstated what I meant. We do pay the state tax on our vehicles, but it’s not a tax bill that comes in the mail like your yearly property tax bill. It’s part of the vehicle registration fee that we pay. It’s not due at the first of the year, it’s due when you renew your registration–be that in Feb or Aug. But that’s irrelevant if I’ve sold the car. Why would I renew registration on a car I don’t own?

I can also choose not to pay any of the tax if I don’t register the car. If I have a project car in the garage with the engine apart I’m not going to register it this year. That’s just wasted money.

@asemaster you are missing the point here. In some states you must pay the tax on any vehicle that is still in your name at the first of the year. If you don’t pay the tax then you can’t register the vehicles that you do own. It’s not fair but that’s the way it is. That’s why I junk the title of any vehicle that I sell if the new owner does not transfer ownership. The “tax” is for the “value” of the vehicle only and not any sales tax. That’s a separate issue. You don’t renew the registration on the vehicle you sold but you must pay the vehicle value tax in order to “junk” the title. There is no other way to get the vehicle out of your name since the new owner did not transfer the title.

That’s crazy. How did a program like that ever get put in place…making you responsible for someone else’s taxes? But then again here in WA if I file the seller’s report then the car is no longer in my name and I am no longer responsible for it. So I guess we would never have that problem here.

It started because some states were missing out on a lot of tax money. The kicker is…they also get paid twice when the vehicle is sold. I have to pay this vehicle value tax when I renew my registration and then the buyer has to pay the same tax again when the vehicle is sold. I pay a smaller amount because the tax is prorated for owning the vehicle longer than 1 year. The buyer pays 100 percent of the current value. Some states are not so bad…but you are absolutely correct…it’s crazy.

Personally, I would always feel better with a notarized bill of sale signed off on by both parties. Seeing as how state laws vary so much it’s quite possible for someone to end up in big trouble if an accident or crime is involved shortly after handing the car over and before any paperwork is processed.

In OK a buyer has 30 days to transfer title so imagine a beater on the cheap being used in the commission of a crime the week after purchase. The criminal could have burnt the title the next day and ditched the car after the crime. The law will go after the last registered owner of that car so any alibis better be good and verifiable ones.

In NY there are no release of liability forms. When you sell a car, the seller must prepare a bill of sale, remove the plates and scrape the registration sticker off the windshield. You must then surrender the plates to the DMV by mail or in person. I would then take a copy of the buyers license. You get a form when you turn in the plates that lets you cancel the insurance, otherwise the state provides you with costly insurance until you surrender them. If you don’t pay it you can;t register anything, renew your license ot get a state tax refund.