State Regulations in Washington

Buying or selling a vehicle can be made easier and less risky if you follow the guidelines and tips of the Washington Department of Licensing (DOL).

These helpful hints can give you insight on how to go about purchasing a car, important things to remember, the responsibilities of both buyers and sellers in terms of registration and titling, and informing the DOL of the transaction.

Watch Out for Curbstoners

First off, the Washington DOL warns the state's motorists that some unlicensed dealers known as "curbstoners" advertise and sell cars from the street curb by posing as private sellers. Transactions with these unlicensed car sellers are not protected the way sales with licensed dealers are.

Curbstoners are known for rolling back odometers, selling salvage vehicles without disclosing their status, and other forms of consumer fraud. Buyers who think they might be dealing with a curbstoner are asked to contact the DOL.

Questions to Ask the Seller

If you're going to buy a used car from a private seller, the DOL reminds you to ask questions about the vehicle, such as the following:

  • How long has the current owner had it?
  • What was the mileage the last time it was sold?
  • What kind of driving has the car been used for?
  • Has the car been in any accidents or needed repairs?
  • Why is current owner selling?
  • Is the title accurate and up-to-date?
  • Are there any features or functions that need repair or attention?

The DOL also recommends that car buyers check the major systems of a vehicle before purchasing it, including the following:

  • Lights, including signals, reverse lights, brake lights, and headlights
  • Doors and windows
  • Seatbelts
  • Brakes
  • Radiator and cooling system
  • Oil

How to Transfer the Title

When conducting a car transaction in Washington, keep in mind you will need the following to transfer the title of the vehicle:

In the case of a lost title, an Affidavit of Loss/Release of Interest (Form TD-420-040) must be signed in the presence of a notary public or county auditor.

Buyers must transfer the title into their name within 15 days of buying the vehicle or face a fine of up to $125.

Buying or Selling a Car Without a Title

A title is imperative. You can't complete an official sales transaction without one. If you're the current owner and you can't find the title to the vehicle you wish to sell, you must visit a vehicle licensing office and complete an Affidavit in Lieu of Title form (this cannot be downloaded). Be sure to bring ample proof supporting your ownership claim.

Be prepared to wait. Processing takes up to 8 weeks, so you'll want to initiate this process well before you plan to sell the car.

Buying or Selling a Car Without Registration

Unlike the title, a vehicle's registration certificate (or lack thereof) has no bearing on a sale. Neither the seller nor the buyer needs the registration in hand to consummate a sales transaction.


Affidavit of Loss/Release of Interest
Notify the WA Department of Licensing that title, registration, tabs, decals, OR license plates have been lost, stolen, OR destroyed. Releases you from that vehicle's interest.
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