How to Sell a Car and Keep the Plates

January 27, 2012

Some sellers would like to sell a car, but keep the plates, either because they are personalized plates or they may have a particular sentimental value to them. Technically, the car plates are the property of the vehicle owner, and are not "attached" to the vehicle displaying them.

Sometimes owners do offer car number plates for sale alone or with the car that displays them. Whenever you do not sell car registration plates with the car displaying them, you must notify the DMV as such.

Step 1: Transfer Title

The seller must release ownership of the vehicle by signing over the title. Each DMV has its own forms for this process. Sometimes the seller endorsing the pink slip can do this.

Step 2: Smog Certification

Some states require evidence of a valid smog certificate within 90 days of the sale of the vehicle. Some DMV offices require an odometer reading as well.

Step 3: Notify DMV of the Transfer

File a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability with the DMV so that the seller is released of all liability for the vehicle in case of an accident, misuse or illegal use of the vehicle.

Step 4: Decision Concerning License Plates

Most standardized license plates transfer with the vehicle upon its sale. Usually the DMV requires you to bring in the old plates so that they can reissue them to someone else. However, the original owner may keep specialized plates. Simply take the plates off of the car and inform the DMV that you are doing so. These plates use a combination of numbers, letters and characters to spell out special words or phrases. These combinations cannot be vulgar, offensive or owned by any one else.

Step 5: Submit All Paperwork to the DMV

Be sure that all paperwork has been submitted to the DMV office by either the seller or the buyer, otherwise the transfer of ownership is not complete and the former owner is still liable for all registration fees, renewals, smog compliance, parking and/or traffic violations, civil liability and criminal liability. This process may take up to 60 days to complete before a new title is issued by the DMV. Some fees may also be due before the transfer is considered complete.

If you receive any renewals or other notifications from the DMV regarding a vehicle you no longer own, notify them immediately so that the record can be corrected and so that you are not liable for the vehicle and its use. Failure to do so may result in civil or criminal actions being taken against you in the event that the vehicle is involved in an accident, parking and/or traffic violations or criminal activities, such as drug use or as a getaway car.

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