Elementary procedural question about buying/selling a used car between individuals

I’m trying to sell my old beater of a car. She’s old and she ain’t pretty but she runs and runs. The insurance has expired and I want to unload her before the penalities get an higher.

I’ve posted an ad on Craigslist and got a couple of nibbles. I’ve never sold a car before and I have two questions about the particulars.

I’m in New York State. My car is parked on a city street. Say a buyer looks it over, likes what he/she sees and agrees to buy it. He/she hands over the cash. According to what I’ve read on the DMV website I should do the following: fill out and sign the title and give it to the new owner, fill out the DMV-issued sales affidavit and give it to the new owner, get and give a mutually signed bill of sale, remove (and then turn in) my old plates and registration sticker.


Okay, so now I’ve got these questions:

  1. The new owner now owns a car that has no plates or registration sticker that’s parked on a street curb. This is not legal. What does he/she do? Or did he/she get that stuff beforehand and bring it with him/her? But according to my reading of the DMV site, you can’t get plates and registration without having title first. Am I missing something?

  2. What about my inspection sticker – leave it on or strip it at the point of sale?

Thanks all, in advance.

The inspection sticker, AFAIK, does not speak to ownership of the car, but rather to its mechanical condition. It certainly doesn’t impose any obligations or risks on you, in the hands of the new owner (unless you forged it or something). I’d leave it on (and, if I were the buyer, I’d be p.o.'d if you insisted on stripping it while it still had some time to run).

The way I’d heard it from my friends, the transfer of title and car took place in the CT DMV parking lot. Temporary paper plates (heh) are issued before the new owner gets metal ones in the mail. Dunno what happens if someone notices a plateless car in the parking lot. But it is at least a workaround.

I’ve driven a car with no plates to the DMV to get a new plate several times. I was pulled over once, and showed the nice officer my bill of sale, etc. and that was that, no problem.

The new owner will need the title to get the new registration and plates. When I’ve transferred ownership of cars, I left my plates on until the new owner came back (the same day or the next ) with the new plates. Or the new owner may already have plates- you can transfer the registration and plates from one car to another.

I’ve done various things to handle the situation with the plates when I’ve sold vehicles to private parties:

  1. The buyer showed up with plates of their own, which they had borrowed from another vehicle they owned. They drove home with the borrowed plates, and then took care of the DMV registration on their own. (FWIW, two buyers of my vehicles took this route.) I personally would rather not do this if I were buying a used car, as I don’t think you’re actually supposed to do this.

  2. On another occasion, the buyer left the car in my driveway while they went to the DMV to register it under their name and get plates. I left my plates on until they got back.

  3. The last time I sold a vehicle, after transferring the title and getting a cashier’s check from the buyer, I drove the vehicle to the buyer’s house, parked the car in his driveway, and removed my plates there.

This has been very helpful. Thanks.

I’m happy to report I’ve found a likely buyer who will be bringing his own plates to the sale.

But now I’ve got a bunch more questions – ones about how the sale actually unfolds. I’ve started a new thread in IMHO. I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on the topic. Thanks.

Something else to consider. Once you have your money & your signed papers, what do you care how the buyer deals with getting his plates?

I’d be curious too, but ultimately that’s 100% his problem and any solution from fully legal to not at all legal is fine with me as long as the SWAT team doesn’t bust him in my driveway & shoot up my house in the process.

I grew up in CA, where the plates stay with the vehicle when sold. I was amazed to learn other states leave the plates with the original owner. It’s apparently a common method & it seems to work, but it sure seemed like a silly idea. Note this was decades before personalized plates were invented. Once those came out, the idea of keeping the plates when you selll the car made a lot more sense.

In NH, at least, you can get temporary plates without a title or bill of sale.

I recently bought a truck in MA, so the dealer couldn’t give me dealer plates. I went to a NH DMV office with a sales agreement which stated I had put a deposit on a specific vehicle, and got a paper plate good for 10 days.