By Anthony Santiago - Editor-in-Chief

July 24, 2022
How Do You Drive a Used Car Home Without Plates

How Do You Drive a Used Car Home Without Plates

In the United States in most states, license plates are required on the road. This means that every car must display its state-issued plate number on the front and back of the vehicle.

But why do we care about license plates? Well, because they help law enforcement officers identify vehicles involved in crimes. They also help insurance companies determine who is responsible for accidents. And finally, they help us track down stolen vehicles.

License plates are a great way to make sure everyone obeys traffic laws and helps police catch criminals. However, you might be wondering how you can drive your new car home from a private seller without license plates.

Let's cover the bases...

Is It Ever Okay to Drive A Car Without License Plates?

Driving without license plates is legal in California. But in all other states, you are required to have at least one or both plates on the vehicle. 

TIP: I have temporarily used a current plate from another car just to be able to get the car home. But I don't recommend doing so for an extended amount of time. It's just not worth the risk.

Truth be told, unless someone actually pulls you over and asks why you're driving without plates, you'll probably never get pulled over. So having plates on a car will help avoid that issue. 

Note: Criminals have a tendency to use stolen plates on stolen cars so law enforcement will require you to provide proof of ownership. 

If you are ever pulled over, you will need to have the title with you in order to explain why you don't have the plates yet. You can provide details that you are getting the car smog tested in California but it's best that you limit the amount you are driving if you don't have valid plates on the car. 

The ONLY time you can “technically” drive a car without registration or license plates

The DMV says it doesn't care what you do with your car once you turn it over to another person. But there are some rules you need to follow.

  1. First, you cannot drive away with no insurance or a valid driver's license. You must get insurance before you take possession of your new "used" car. 
  2. Second, you must obtain a bill of sale.
  3. Third, you must register the vehicle within 30 days of taking possession of it. If you don't comply with those three requirements, you're breaking the law.
How Do You Drive a Used Car Home Without Plates - get insurance

Get Insured Before Driving Away

Car accidents happen every day. They're not just limited to teenagers driving drunk; they also include older drivers who make mistakes. In order to protect yourself, you must get insurance on your new car before driving away. I suggest getting full coverage initially then you can remove it once you decide what you need. 

Obtain a Bill of Sale

A bill of sale is a document showing that you legally purchased your car from someone else. This document confirms that you transferred legal ownership of the vehicle from the owner. You must have the title in order to have proof of ownership. 

However, if you purchased without a title, we will cover how to obtain a new title using various methods. Again to ensure that you're following the law, you must obtain a copy of the bill of sale from the seller.

Register Your Car with the DMV within 30 days

You must register your vehicle within 30 days of transferring ownership. Failure to do so could lead to fines up to $1000. Once registered, you'll receive official plates or tags that allow you to drive the car publicly on the roads.

US State Law Regarding Driving a New Car Home Without Plates

For all states, the law prevents drivers from moving cars without proper license plates. As mentioned previously, you are required to have a form of tags or plates on any vehicle on the road. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting pulled over.

This includes those who are driving across state lines or even international borders. However, there are exceptions to the rule. Some states allow drivers who are traveling within a state border or country to take off license plates.

How Do You Drive a Used Car Home Without Plates - purchase a new car

How Long Can You Drive a New Car Without Plates

It depends really on where you purchased your car from.

You Purchase Car from a Licensed Vehicle Dealer

A temporary registration permit is required when purchasing a vehicle. This document allows you to drive the car for up to 30 days without needing to register it. If you sell the car within 30 days, you must register it. 

If you don't renew your temporary registration permit, you'll need to buy new license plates. You might be able to do this online or at a DMV office. Please check with your local DMV office. 

To avoid having to purchase new plates, you should keep track of your old ones.  Plates are tied to the ownership and not specific to the car. However, most of the time, you will want to have new plates for a new car.

You Purchase Car from a Private Party Seller 

If you purchased the car privately, you can drive it for up to one day without a license plate. If you drive the car within 24 hours of buying it, you must provide proof of ownership such as a title. This could include a bill of sale, a receipt, or a copy of your driver’s license or state ID.

Sometimes furnishing the title can prevent a traffic violation. Some states require a person to furnish the title of a vehicle before allowing him/her to operate the vehicle. If you are stopped by the law enforcement officer, he/she may ask for the title. If you furnish the title, the officer may let you go without issuing a citation.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, driving without a license plate is illegal in almost every state. However, if you're caught doing it, you won't face any serious penalties. In fact, you might even receive a warning instead of a ticket. So if you want to avoid having to pay fines or deal with traffic tickets, you might want to keep your eyes peeled for cars without license plates.

Most importantly, please be sure you have insurance, the title and a valid driver's license before taking your new car home.  Drive safe!

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Anthony Santiago - Editor-in-Chief

About the author

I am a passionate car enthusiast who likes to help people save money and avoid headaches when it comes to cars. I believe that everyone can find the right car at the right price. I share my tips and experience so you can learn quickly and maximize your next SUV, truck or car purchase.

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