The rules for vehicle registration after purchase vary by state, and in some cases, even by county or local DMV office. Most states allow you to drive a new car for at least a few days before it needs to have license plates or temporary plates. 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.
State Laws for Driving Cars Without Plates After Purchase
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 plates must be attached and visible on all vehicles.
However, when you purchase a car (new or used), it may not have plates yet — or it 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. See the table below for vehicle registration laws by state — we’ve also linked to each state’s DMV website, to the most appropriate page, if available, so you can find more specific information.
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 applying for new plates. Keep in mind that 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 seller, 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
- Proof of insurance
- Emissions test or vehicle inspection report, if required
It’s also a good idea to contact your local DMV about the requirements in your state before purchasing a car from a private party. If you need to insure your car after purchasing it, we explain how to get car insurance quickly.
All 50 states require vehicles to be registered and titled. To prove registration, your vehicle must display a license plate or 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 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. Be sure to get all necessary inspections, if required by your state, before registering your car.