Whether choosing the paint color on a brand-new hatchback or haggling with a dealer over the price of a pre-owned SUV, buying a car can be exhilarating. However, once the deal is closed, it’s time to take care of some new-car housekeeping.
- Check on the title. A title is a document that establishes ownership. When purchasing from a dealership, it will likely handle the title transfer process for you. (Note: If you’ve taken out a loan for the vehicle, the lender is typically in first position on the title. The lender usually keeps the title on file until the loan is repaid.) If you bought the car from a private party with cash, check with your state's department of motor vehicles (DMV) about how to handle the title transfer. If the seller signs the title over to you at the time of sale, make sure 1) the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the title matches the one on the car and 2) no lien holder (person or organization with an ownership claim) is listed on the title or, if there is, the lien holder has also signed off.
- Contact your insurance agent. You’ll need proof of insurance to register the car. Be sure to meet your state’s minimum requirements for bodily injury, property damage, personal injury and uninsured motorist coverage. Consider a higher level of coverage for more financial protection.
- Go through emissions testing, if required. Many states and the District of Columbia require emissions testing for certain vehicles (new cars are generally exempt). Contact your DMV to find out if an emissions test is required.
- Register the vehicle. Usually, if you bought the car from a dealership, it will take care of the registration process for you. Otherwise, you’ll need to register it in person at your local DMV, online or by mail, depending on your state’s procedure. You’ll likely need to provide proof of ownership (the title or previous registration), your driver’s license, the odometer reading, evidence of insurance and payment for the registration fee.
- Mount new plates. If you’ve received new license plates and/or tags, affix them to the vehicle within the timeframe required by your state.
- Read the manual. Make sure you know the basics before you drive the car, such as how to turn on the headlights, directional signals and windshield wipers. Keep the manual handy (the glove compartment is a good place).
- Check fluids and filters. A new car should be good to go when you drive it off the lot. With a used vehicle, check for proper fluid levels and clean filters.
- Buckle up and drive. Once you’ve become familiar with your new vehicle and checked all the safety features, enjoy it and drive safely!
Find Your State's Motor Vehicle Office
USA.gov, the U.S. government’s official web portal, provides links to each state’s division of motor vehicles, where you can find information on motor vehicle titles, registration and emissions testing requirements.