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  • Buying and Selling FAQs in Washington

    Would you please explain to me Washington's use tax?

    WA Buying and Selling FAQs

    A use tax is charged in the absence of a sales tax. For example, when you purchase a used vehicle from an individual, there is no sales tax involved, so the state instead charges a use tax. But unlike a sales tax, which is based on purchase price, a use tax is based on a vehicle's fair market value.

    In addition to use tax, you'll be responsible for:

    • Buying a new car insurance policy.
    • Paying a Washington Department of Licensing (DOL) vehicle registration fee.
    • Paying a title transfer fee.
    • Paying for a emissions test/vehicle inspection.

    For more information about some of the fees that may apply to your vehicle purchase, please contact the Washington Department of Licensing (DOL).

    Whenever you a buying a used car, you should think about purchasing a vehicle history report/vin check. For more information, please visit our Vehicle History Reports page.


    In regards to the use tax, how is a vehicle's fair market value determined?

    The Department of Licensing (DOL) relies upon National Market Reports (NMR) to determine fair market value.


    Can I challenge the determined fair market value, if I'm convinced my vehicle is worth less?

    Sure. To do so, provide the Washington Department of Licensing (DOL) with one or more of the following:

    • An estimate in repairs as determined by a mechanic. You can't guess this on your own. You must employ a certified mechanic to create the estimate.
    • An appraisal written by a registered dealer.
    • Photocopied evidence of another market value-setting source listing your vehicle at a lower value. Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, and the National Auto Dealers Association (NADA) are all considered legitimate sources.

    If I'm importing a car into Washington, is it true I must have the undercarriage cleaned before shipping?

    Yes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that all undercarriages be thoroughly cleaned before shipping cars between states and into this country, so as to safeguard against transporting any dangerous pests and invasive species.

    Invasive species, such as the European starling found in parts of Washington, are not native to the area and can decimate an ecosystem, wipe out native species, and destroy crops. The zebra mussel is a good example of why imported vehicles need to be thoroughly clean. It was introduced and spread by latching onto the hulls of boats and parts of trailers, traveling as stowaways to new bodies of water.

    Invasive species can take a toll not only on the environment, but on the economy too. So, clean your imported vehicles.


    What documentation will I need if I'm importing a vehicle into Washington?

    You'll need the following:

    • The shipper's or carrier's original bill of lading.
    • The bill of sale.
    • Foreign registration documents.
    • A letter from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirming that the vehicle adheres to all U.S. emission standards.

    Or, if all of the above seems like too much work, hire an Independent Commercial Importer (ICI) to import your vehicle. Be willing to pay, however. ICIs are extremely expensive.

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