State Regulations in Massachusetts

Next to your home and mortgage, buying a car is likely going to be the biggest purchase you ever make. So it's important to make sure you are as educated as possible about the buying process―and the immediate post-buying process―as possible.

Massachusetts has a long history of being a pro-consumer state. This is good news for anyone planning to purchase and register a vehicle in Massachusetts. The state has strong consumer laws protecting auto buyers and has made a strong effort to educate them as well.

You might not be so happy if you're planning to sell a vehicle in Massachusetts, since the consumer laws are so strict. However, at least everything is all spelled out.

Below you'll find a guide to how and where Massachusetts can help you make good decisions when buying a car and what happens if despite all your efforts, the car turns out to be a lemon. You'll also see how the state regulates dealer sales and the responsibilities any dealer or private seller has to you, the customer.

Buying a New Car

Buying a new car is a personal decision that's going to force you to take into account your wants and needs and how they fit in with your ability to pay for them. There's only so much the state legislature and Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) can do to help you with this.

But here's a guide to some resources:

  • Massachusetts has a strong Lemon Law that strictly regulates new and used car sales. It requires dealers to make sure that any vehicle sold passes inspection 7 days of the sale.
  • The state also has pro-consumer motor vehicle legislation pending. It is looking to expand its regulation over car dealers, with special attention being paid to clarity in advertising and purchase-and-sale and loan agreements. Also, before the State Legislature is a bill that will give serious tax breaks to hybrid-vehicle owners and allow them special driving and parking privileges.
  • The Massachusetts Attorney General carefully watches car sales and regularly puts out helpful consumer protection notices.
  • Massachusetts registration and titling laws are detailed in the Massachusetts Driver's Manual, which is another helpful resource overall.

Selling a New Car

Only licensed dealers can sell new cars in Massachusetts. Dealers are carefully regulated by state law.

Buying a Used Car

When buying a used car, you always need to be careful you're not paying someone to take problems off their hands. You need to be especially well-educated about the buying process and the lemon law, in case the purchase doesn't work out to your satisfaction.

Selling a Used Car

There are no handy guides to selling, like the buying guides listed above. But if you're planning to sell a used vehicle in Massachusetts, the best advice is to be honest. If you're a dealer, the state regulates so carefully that it's just good customer policy. Selling via a private sale? Here are a few things to be aware of:

  • The Used Vehicle Warranty Law: You, the seller, are required by law to inform buyers about any known defects that impair the safety or substantially impair the use of the vehicle. This law applies to any vehicle being sold for use on the road, no matter its age or condition. If the buyer can prove a defect exists and that you, the seller, didn't disclose it, the buyer can cancel the sale and request a refund.
  • The Lemon Aid Law: You are required to make sure the vehicle you are selling can pass state inspection. If the vehicle fails inspection within the first 7 days after the sale, the buyer can return it to you and request a refund.
  • Odometer Rollbacks: Illegal, plain and simple. Get caught and you can be fined, as well as have the sale canceled.

Otherwise, just make sure you're well aware of the laws around registration and titling, as well as the blue book value of the vehicle you're selling.

When You Need to Have a Title or Registration

If you plan to buy a used car that is newer than a 1980 model, you must have the title to transfer ownership and register the vehicle. DO NOT purchase a vehicle that does not have a title. Also, the Massachusetts Consumer Commission recommends against using dealer plates until a title is available or driving on dealer plates until the title is available. Remember, no title means no transfer of ownership or registration for any car 1980 or newer.

If the car is with a model year of 1980 and older, purchased before November 26, 1990, you can register it without a title. You will need to have a bill of sale. Get the bill of sale notarized if you can. You also need a copy of the last current registration for the vehicle. Don't buy a car with a model year of 1980 and older, purchased before November 26, 1990 without a registration.

Before a sale takes place, the car's current owner (the seller) should apply to the RMV for a duplicate title or a duplicate registration, if the documents cannot be located.

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