Paperwork When Buying a Car in Washington DC

Paperwork Required to Buy a Car in Washington, D.C.

When you buy a car in Washington, D.C., you'll need to do some paperwork to register and title the car in your name.

If you buy a car from a dealer, they’ll usually take care of this paperwork for you.

However, if you buy from a private seller, be sure to get the necessary paperwork from them and complete the forms and certifications required by the Washington, D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) so that the car is legally yours and appropriately registered.

Paperwork for WA, D.C. Car Buyers

The paperwork you need when you buy a car in Washington, D.C. differs slightly depending on who you buy your car from, a dealer or a private seller.

Buying from a Dealer

When you buy a car from a dealer, they tend to handle the paperwork for you. Make sure the dealer:

  • Gives you the car title.
  • Collects excise tax.
  • Is registering the car on your behalf.
  • Gives you temporary tags.

Also be sure to get car insurance or change your insurance to cover the car you’ve bought.

Buying from a Private Seller

When you buy a car from a private seller, you will be taking care of most of the paperwork yourself. You will need:

  • The vehicle title from the seller.
  • Verification of the odometer reading (recorded on the back of the title or on the inspection certificate).
  • A bill of sale from the seller for your records.
  • A vehicle inspection, if the inspection is not current.
  • Car insurance coverage for the car.

All of the paperwork listed above is needed to title and register the car in your name.

Transfer a Washington, D.C. Title

In order to transfer the title, you’ll need to go in person to your local D.C. DMV office with:

  • The title, signed by BOTH you and the seller.
  • The bill of sale.
  • Your D.C. driver’s license or ID.
  • Proof of odometer reading, which can be certified on:
    • The back of the vehicle title.
    • A vehicle inspection.
    • A dealer reassignment form.
  • Payment for the $26 title transfer fee.

NOTE: If you are financing the car, you will also need a copy of your lien or lease agreement.

See Title Transfers in Washington, D.C. for additional details.

Title and Registration Together

If your car has been inspected, you can title and register the car at the same time.

If your car needs an inspection, you can apply for a title and temporary registration when you title your car.

See the section “Washington, D.C. Vehicle Registration” below for more information.

Lost Titles

If the title certificate is missing, the seller must get a duplicate title before selling the car to you. The title is proof of ownership, so you should NOT buy a car that doesn’t have a title.

WA, D.C. Vehicle Registration

The first step in registering your car is to make sure it has been properly inspected if it does not have a current, valid inspection.

You can get a temporary registration to give you time to get the vehicle inspected.

To register the car, visit your local D.C. DMV office with:

  • The title certificate.
  • The bill of sale.
  • Certification of the odometer reading on:
    • The title.
    • The inspection.
    • A dealer reassignment form.
  • Proof of inspection.
  • Your D.C. driver’s license.
  • Your license plates, if you are transferring plates from your old car. To transfer plates:
    • The old car and new car must be registered in the same name.
    • The license plate CANNOT be expired.
  • Payment for the registration fee, which varies by vehicle weight.

For more information about registering your car, see our page Register a Car in Washington, D.C.

Vehicle History Reports

A vehicle history report uses the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) to track the history of the car and let you know about any significant damage or important details of the car’s history, such as accidents or floods the car may have been in.

The vehicle history report allows you to confirm the information the seller gives you and avoid sellers who are dishonest or unaware of past problems that could cost you money later.

Washington, D.C. Lemon Law

The Washington, D.C. lemon law does NOT cover used vehicles, as it is only applicable to the original owner of a car.

For more information, see our page, Lemon Law in Washington, D.C.

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