Can You Drive a Car Without Plates After Buying It? Answers by State

Short answer: Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? It depends on where you live. The rules for vehicle registration after purchase vary by state, and in some cases by county. And, you’ll need to apply for temporary plates or a temporary permit while you wait for your official plates to arrive — typically by mail. For more details, including driving laws listed by state, see below.

Can You Drive a Car Without Plates After Buying It? State-by-State Laws Listed

All 50 states require vehicles to be registered and titled with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or local transportation agency, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. To prove registration, a license plate or license plates must be attached and visible on all vehicles.

However, when you purchase a car (new or used), the car may not have plates yet — or may have plates registered to the previous owner. Depending on where you live, you may be allowed to drive the car without plates for a few hours, days, or at least from the point of sale to your home or local DMV.

While you wait for your official plates to arrive — typically by mail — you’ll need to apply for temporary plates or a temporary permit. Temporary plates and temporary permits can only be used for a set amount of time before you’re required to have official plates affixed to the vehicle. Time frames vary by state and are listed below.

Some states also have policies that vary based on how you purchased the vehicle. Different laws may apply depending on whether you went to a dealer or made a transaction with a private seller. We’ve noted these differences in the list below as well, where available.

Alabama

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Yes, with the bill of sale paperwork.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? 20 days; keep the bill of sale paperwork in the vehicle if purchased from a private seller and temporary plates if purchased from a dealer. Temporary plates are valid for 20 days.
  • Source: Alabama Department of Revenue

Alaska

Arizona

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? If purchasing from a dealer and transferring your license plates, you will get a Temporary Registration Plate from the dealer and can drive. For a private sale, you can purchase a three-day restricted-use permit to operate the vehicle without registration; without the permit, you cannot operate the vehicle.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? 15 days; temporary plates are valid until the new registration arrives in the mail.
  • Source: Arizona Department of Transportation

Arkansas

California

Colorado

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Yes, for up to 36 hours when purchased from a non-licensed car dealer (weekend and holiday exceptions allowed).
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? 60 days; temporary plates are good for 60 days
  • Source: Colorado Division of Motor Vehicles

Connecticut

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Contact your local Connecticut DMV office for details.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? If the vehicle doesn’t have up-to-date emissions compliance, you’ll need to apply for temporary registration and get the vehicle tested within 10 days. Contact your local Connecticut DMV office to find out how long temporary plates are valid and learn about transferring your plates on the Connecticut DMV website.
  • Source: Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles

Delaware

Florida

Georgia

Hawaii

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Contact your local Hawaii DMV office for details.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? Policies vary by island, but you usually have 30 days to register, regardless of whether the vehicle is new or used.
  • Source: The State of Hawaii website

Idaho

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Contact your local Idaho DMV office for details.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? 30 days; contact your local Idaho DMV office to find out how long temporary plates are valid.
  • Source: Idaho Transportation Department

Illinois

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Yes, for up to 24 hours — but only from the point of sale to the DMV.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? 20 days; Temporary Registration Permits (TRPs) are good for 90 days
  • Source: Illinois Department of Transportation

Indiana

Iowa

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Yes, for up to 30 days as long as you keep the bill of sale or title (in your name) on hand. There is an exception if the seller’s car registration was not active at the time of purchase; driving an unregistered car is illegal in Iowa.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? 30 days
  • Source: Iowa Tax and Tags

Kansas

Kentucky

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Yes, with a temporary license plate (valid for 30 days while waiting for your permanent plate to arrive)
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? 15 days
  • Source: Commonwealth of Kentucky and the Marshall County Clerk

Louisiana

Maine

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Yes, with a transit plate (valid for up to 10 days)
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? 10 days
  • Source: Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles

Maryland

Massachusetts

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? No; it is illegal to drive a car without plates in Massachusetts, and the state does not issue temporary plates.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? Seven to 10 days, depending on your circumstances (see below). Note that for all vehicles, an inspection is also required within seven days of registration.
    • If seeking new registration, all vehicles — whether purchased from a dealer or a private individual — must be titled and registered within 10 days of purchase.
    • If you would prefer to transfer your registration from your previous vehicle, you may do so under the seven-day transfer law. You must sell or dispose of your old vehicle before affixing the plates to your new vehicle. The seven-day grace period begins on the date of disposal of your old vehicle.
  • Source: Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles

Michigan

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Yes, from the point of sale to your home within three days of purchase and with the title and proof of insurance on hand. If buying from a private individual, be sure that the seller keeps their license plate.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? 15 days; temporary plates are also good for 15 days
  • Source: Michigan Department of State and Michigan Legislature

Minnesota

Mississippi

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Only if you’ve purchased a vehicle from an authorized dealer or auto auction. Temporary drive-out tags (good for seven days) are available from dealers and at auctions.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? Typically, seven business days; if your purchase is in a different county than you live in, there is an additional 48-hour grace period (giving you a total of nine days) before you’ll be charged penalties.
  • Source: Mississippi Department of Revenue

Missouri

Montana

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Yes, with a 40-day temporary registration permit. Note that if you are buying a used vehicle from a private seller, the seller must remove their plates from the vehicle.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? 40 days
  • Source: Montana Motor Vehicle Division

Nebraska

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Only if you have a dealer-provided in-transit tag; private sellers are not allowed to issue in-transit tags.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? You must register the vehicle and pay the sales tax within 30 days of purchase.
  • Source: Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles and the Nebraska Legislature

Nevada

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Yes, with valid insurance and a movement permit
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? Varies depending on how you purchased the car:
    • From a Nevada dealer: Before the expiration date on the dealer-issued temporary placard
    • From an out-of-state dealer: Before the expiration date on your movement permit
    • From a private seller: 30 days
  • Source: Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles

New Hampshire

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Only with a 20-day temporary plate. Dealerships provide temporary plates; for private sales, the buyer can purchase a temporary plate at any DMV office.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? 20 days
  • Source: New Hampshire Department of Safety

New Jersey

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? In most cases, a new or used vehicle must be titled, registered, and insured before you drive it; however, some dealers may issue temporary tags.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? 10 days
  • Source: New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission and the New Jersey Driver Manual

New Mexico

New York

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Yes, with an in-transit permit (valid for 30 days)
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? You have 180 days from the effective date of your insurance policy to register. Note that inspection is also required whenever a vehicle’s ownership is transferred; you have 30 days to complete inspection after purchasing from a dealer, and 10 days from the date of registration if purchasing a vehicle from a private seller.
  • Source: New York Department of Motor Vehicles

North Carolina

North Dakota

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Yes, for up to five days from the date of purchase with proof of ownership (such as a dated bill of sale or title)
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? 30 days; 30-day temporary registration permits are available while you finalize your permanent registration
  • Source: North Dakota Department of Transportation

Ohio

Oklahoma

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? No; you must register the vehicle before driving it.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? 30 days; the state will apply penalties beginning on the 31st day after you assume ownership.
  • Source: Oklahoma Tax Commission FAQ

Oregon

Pennsylvania

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Yes, but only with a transferred or temporary plate
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? 90 days, but if you don’t have a plate to transfer, it’s best to get a temporary registration during this time. Temporary registration is valid for 90 days.
  • Source: Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

Rhode Island

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Yes, with temporary plates.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? The deadline depends on how you purchase the vehicle. If purchasing a car from a licensed dealer, the dealer will provide temporary plates that are valid for 20 days, and in most cases will help you submit the registration paperwork. Five-day temporary plates are available for private sales.
  • Source: Rhode Island DMV Registrations and Rhode Island DMV Temporary Plates

South Carolina

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Only with a temporary permit; driving an unregistered or unlicensed vehicle without a permit is a misdemeanor in South Carolina.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? 45 days
  • Source: South Carolina Legislature

South Dakota

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Yes, with a permit. A seller’s permit, which is good for 45 days, may be provided by the seller. If a seller’s permit is not provided, you can purchase a permit at your county treasurer’s office, which will be valid for between five and 15 days.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? 45 days
  • Source: South Dakota Department of Revenue FAQ

Tennessee

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Only with dealer drive-out tags or temporary operation permits. Contact your local Tennessee vehicle services office for more details of how long these permits last and whether your vehicle qualifies.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? Registration in Tennessee is handled by the county clerk; contact your local county clerk’s office to learn the deadline. The vehicle will be titled and registered at the same time and must pass an emissions inspection before registration.
  • Source: Tennessee Department of Revenue

Texas

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Only with a temporary transit permit, which allows you to drive home or to your local DMV. Transit permits are valid for a maximum of five days after printing.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? 30 days. Beyond transit permits, temporary permits are available for one trip, 72 hours (three days), 144 hours (six days), or 30 days.
  • Source: Texas Department of Motor Vehicles

Utah

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Only with a temporary permit, plus the title and bill of sale; temporary permits are good for 96 hours to 60 days, with the timeline determined by your unique situation.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? 60 days; temporary plates are good for 15 days
  • Source: Utah Division of Motor Vehicles

Vermont

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Only with an in-transit plate, which allows you to travel from one location to another in a newly purchased automobile. Intransit plates are valid for 10 if you are only driving the vehicle in Vermont, and for 30 days if you will be driving the vehicle to a “point B” outside of Vermont.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? 30 days. After registration, you have 15 days to get the vehicle inspected if it doesn’t already have a valid sticker. Temporary plates are good for 60 days and are not renewable.
  • Source: Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles Registrations and Vermont DMV FAQ

Virginia

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Yes, but only with a trip permit, which allows you to drive an unregistered vehicle from one location to another; trip permits are valid for three days.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? The Virginia DMV doesn’t list a specific deadline for vehicle registration, but it’s best to register your vehicle as soon as possible, especially if you are driving on a three-day trip permit. Temporary plates are good for 30 days. Your city or county may have further registration requirements; find your local office for more information.
  • Source: Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles

Washington

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Generally, no; Washington law requires that valid license plates be attached in order to operate a vehicle. However,  you do have the option to purchase a trip permit, which is valid for three consecutive days.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? 15 days. If you buy a vehicle from an authorized dealer, the dealer will handle the transfer of ownership for you. Otherwise, you’ll need to complete and submit a bill of sale and title application.
  • Source: Washington State Department of Licensing 

West Virginia

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Yes, with a temporary plate, which will expire either when the permanent marker arrives or after 60 days (whichever comes first).
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? You have 10 days to get your vehicle inspected, and you must have a valid registration card and insurance at the time of inspection, so it’s best to register as soon as possible after your purchase.
  • Source: West Virginia Department of Transportation and West Virginia Automobile & Truck Dealers Association

Wisconsin

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Yes, but you’ll need to have either a permanent or temporary plate affixed to the vehicle within two days of purchase.
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? Due to the mandatory license plate display law, you’ll need to start the registration process within two days and get temporary plates. If you’re purchasing a vehicle from a dealer, the dealer will provide temporary plates; if purchasing from a private seller, you’ll need to visit a DMV customer service center. Temporary plates are good for 90 days.
  • Source: Wisconsin Department of Transportation

Wyoming

  • Can you drive a car without plates after buying it? Yes, for up to 45 days with the title or bill of sale. (The exact number of days varies by county and whether you have the title.)
  • How long do you have to register a vehicle after purchase? You have 45 days to register the vehicle if purchased from a private seller, or 60 days if purchased from a licensed dealer. Temporary plates are good for 30, 60, or 90 days and you must pay all sales taxes within 65 days of purchase.
  • Source: Teton County, Wyoming Treasurer’s Office

Buying a Used Car Without License Plates

A licensed used car dealer will typically help you with the necessary paperwork to register the car and apply for new license plates or a license plate transfer. (You may decide to transfer the plates from your old car to the newer vehicle — as this is often cheaper than apply for new plates. Keep in mind: you should only transfer plates registered under your name — not someone else’s name; in some states, it’s illegal to operate a vehicle with someone else’s license plates.)

If you purchase a used car from a private party, you’ll likely need to make a trip to the DMV to register the vehicle, complete a title transfer, and apply for new plates or a transfer. In most instances, you’ll be issued temporary plates or a temporary permit to display while you wait for your official plates.

Registration and transfer costs vary by state. Before heading to the DMV, you’ll want to prepare to bring the following:

  • Your driver’s license
  • Title
  • Proof of insurance
  • Emissions test or vehicle inspection report, if required

It would be a good idea to contact your local DMV about the requirements in your state before purchasing a car from a private party.

In Summary

All 50 states require vehicles to be registered and titled. To prove registration, your vehicle must display a license plate or license plates. However, when you purchase a car, you may need to apply for new license plates or a license plate transfer. Many states allow you to drive a vehicle for a few hours, days, or at least from the point of sale to your home or the DMV. While you wait for your official plates, you may be issued temporary plates, which are valid for a set amount of time.

Suggested article: Need Car Insurance Now? Here’s How to Get It Fast

Leave a Comment

2 comments

  • You need to revise the last bit on Massachusetts. You can only transfer plates from another vehicle if the vehicle the plates are coming off of, has been disposed of prior to purchase of the new vehicle.

    • Thank you for bringing this to our attention, Ron! We have updated our article to include this information.