Dealer Licensing in Rhode Island

Lots of people sell their privately owned vehicles to third-party buyers, especially if they’re not looking to trade for a new car. However, if you’re planning on selling motor vehicles—whether they’re new or used—as a business, you must make it official and obtain a Rhode Island car dealer license.

Do You Need a RI Dealer License?

You need a Rhode Island car dealer license if you’re a person, firm, or corporation that is in the business of:

  • Selling or brokering the sale of more than 4 vehicles in 1 calendar year.
  • Converting or otherwise assembling, installing, or affixing a body, cab, or special equipment to a chassis OR adding to, subtracting from, or modifying a previously assembled or manufactured motor vehicle prior to the retail sale of the vehicle.

If the above criteria apply to you, you’ll need to apply for a dealer license with the Rhode Island Dealers' License and Regulations Office of the RI Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV). To do so, you must establish a place of business that meets RI dealership requirements (which we’ll go over next) and complete the multi-step process of applying for a dealer license.

Requirements for RI Car Dealerships

BEFORE you set up your car dealership, note that:

  • You must get business name and location approval from the Dealers' License and Regulations Office.
    • USED DEALERSHIPS: Dealership must have “Auto Sales” in the name.
    • Call the office at (401) 462-5733 to set up the approval process.
  • Your place of business must be for the sole purpose of dealing with motor vehicles, i.e. displaying, buying, selling, and repairing and servicing them.
  • You must be able to show proof that you own the location or have a rental lease for at least 1 year.

Once you’ve fulfilled the above requirements, you can start assembling your dealership, which must have:

  • At least:
    • 2,400 square feet of floor space* in an enclosed and heated building.
    • 2,400 square feet of display lot space.
  • An office and business telephone.
  • A service and repair shop equipped with sufficient tools for routine maintenance and repairs.
  • A sign or window lettering on the front of the premises showing the licensed business name.
    • Total size of words and letters must be at least 24 square feet, or the maximum allowed by local zoning regulations (if the regulations set restrictions to fewer than 23 square feet).
  • Your dealer’s license clearly displayed.

*NOTE: If you’re becoming licensed to deal with motorcycles, scooters, and mopeds ONLY, your building must be at least 1,200 square feet.

Apply for RI Car Dealer License

After getting approval for your business name and location, and setting up your car dealership, you can apply for a Rhode Island car dealer license.

In the multi-step process, you’ll first submit the application and all related materials and then finalize the application and receive your car dealer license.

Let’s see how all that works.

Submit Your Dealer License Application

First, you must submit:

  • A completed and notarized Application for Motor Vehicle Dealer’s License (REV 2020).
    • The application packet includes a thorough list of instructions, which you should read and refer to as you put together the rest of your application materials.
  • A financial statement written by a certified public accountant (CPA) along with an approved credit line for $50,000 from a financial institution in your dealership’s name.
  • A notarized $50,000 surety bond from your insurance company and in your dealership’s name.
  • Criminal background checks for each owner, partner, or corporate officer.
    • Rhode Island residents: Submit a Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI) background check.
    • Non- or recent RI residents: If you’re not an RI resident—or you’ve moved to Rhode Island within the last 5 years—obtain a criminal background check from the appropriate state agency in your home state or the state you lived in prior. Attach photo identification.
  • If you:
    • Rent the premises: Notarized copy of the lease agreement issued to your dealership for a minimum of 1 year. Must include the total square footage of the display lot and the main office building.
    • Own the premises: Copy of the deed.
  • Copy of the city/town license (if required) OR zoning approval from the city/town in which your dealership is located.
  • 4 pictures of the outside of the building, from all angles showing the entire office building and display lot.
  • If you’re filing as a corporation:
  • If you’re applying to be a franchise dealer, Letter(s) of Intent from the manufacturers/distributors.

Mail everything to:

Division of Motor Vehicles
Dealers' License and Regulations Office
600 New London Ave.
Cranston, RI 02920

The Dealers' License and Regulations Office will review your initial application materials, and if approved, you will be instructed to deliver a second round of items to finalize your application, which we’ll go over next.

Finalize Your Dealer License Application

Once your initial application is approved, you have 30 days to submit the following items to the Dealers' License and Regulations Office: 

  • Your assigned license and plate numbers—call Licensing Aide at (401) 462-5732 for information on obtaining these.
  • Copies of your sales tax permit and blue formscontact the Rhode Island Division of Taxation to request these forms.
  • A photo of your business sign.
  • Your business telephone number.
  • Proof of dealer plate insurance coverage.
    • Contact Financial Responsibility at (401) 462-5747 if you have questions.
  • If you’re applying for a franchise dealer license, the Dealer Agreement.
  • A check or money order made payable to “Dealer's License and Regulations Office” for the $302.50 dealer license fee.

Mail all of the above items to:

Division of Motor Vehicles
Dealers' License and Regulations Office
600 New London Ave.
Cranston, RI 02920

Additionally, you must fax a blank bill of sale form to the Dealers' License and Regulations Office at (401) 462-5789 for approval.

After you submit these items and they’re approved, a representative will contact you to schedule an appointment to finalize your application. Then, you’ll receive your Rhode Island car dealer license!

As you may have noticed, the steps to getting your RI dealer license can get a little complicated. If you need help at any time, call the Dealers' License and Regulations Office at (401) 462-5733.

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