Ask the DMV: How do I buy a car from another state?

By: George Valverde, California Department of Motor Vehicles
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Q: I am a California resident, but would like to purchase a new vehicle in Oregon. What do I need to know before purchasing a vehicle from out-of-state? A: If you are a California resident and acquire a new car, truck, or motorcycle from another state, it must be certified to meet California’s smog laws in order to be registered here. This includes certain diesel-powered vehicles. California considers any vehicle with less than 7,500 odometer miles at the time of purchase or trade by a California resident or business to be a new vehicle, regardless of year model. This holds true whether or not the vehicle has been registered in another state. When purchasing the vehicle, be sure to check its emissions label for a statement that the vehicle meets California emissions requirements. A smog certificate does not substitute for this requirement. The California Department of Motor Vehicles cannot accept an application to register a vehicle in California that does not qualify for registration. There are very limited exemptions to the emissions label requirement: 1. The vehicle is inherited or awarded in a divorce, dissolution, or legal separation. 2. The vehicle was purchased to replace a California-registered vehicle that was stolen, wrecked, or broke down beyond reasonable repair while out of state. 3. You were a resident of, or on active military duty in the state where the vehicle was last registered. For more information, visit Q: I was recently given a motorized scooter for my birthday. Do I need a special license to drive it, or will my driver license suffice? A: You do not need a special license to drive your new motorized scooter. According to CVC 12804.9 (5) (B), any class driver license grants the authority to operate a motorized scooter. Additional information may be found in the Motorcycle Handbook 2010, page 3. Also, according to the California Vehicle Code, a motorized scooter does not require registration, license plates to be displayed or insurance. For more information about motorized scooters, please visit the DMV website at, and click on the Publications tab, and then click on the Link to California Motorcycle Handbook. Page three will provide you with more information. Q: I am purchasing a used car from a private seller who is a dealer. The car has dealer plates. The seller says that because he is a dealer, he will handle all the transfer documents and I should receive them from the DMV in two weeks. Is this a legal procedure? I’m not real comfortable with this transaction because normally when purchasing a car, the pink slip is signed over to the new owner. A: Dealers have specific requirements regarding the paperwork used when selling a vehicle. The dealer and purchaser must complete and sign a purchase contract listing the purchase price, sales tax, and all associated fees charged by the dealer. The dealer must also complete a Report of Sale which is included with the transfer documents when submitted to the DMV. Since I assume the dealer will remove the dealer plates, the dealer will tape a copy of the Report of Sale on the inside of the windshield as a temporary operating permit. If you have concerns, you may wish to see the person’s dealer license and note the information for your records regarding the dealerships name and dealer license number listed on the license. You may verify the validity of the dealer’s license on the DMV’s website, If you still have concerns, have the dealer meet you at your local DMV office to receive payment and complete/submit the transfer documents at that time. You may also request that the ownership certificate be provided to you so that you can personally submit the transfer application to the DMV. You can obtain additional information on this subject by visiting the DMV’s Web page at George Valverde is the director of the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Do you have questions about general driving related requirements like registration or insurance? Are you unclear about laws and restrictions related to driving? The California DMV has answers at And now, you can submit any DMV-related questions at