Buying a Car in the District of Columbia

The District of Columbia has some typical vehicle purchasing regulations and some unusual ones. Check out the details we have collected for you here in order to help make your buying experience in the district as easy and straightforward as possible.

1. Title Information

Vehicles in the District of Columbia are required to be titled and registered at all times. If you are buying a new vehicle from a dealer without a loan, the dealer will submit the paperwork and you will get your loan in the mail. If you have a “lien” (a loan) on the vehicle, you will need to submit a title request to the lienholder. They will then submit the title to the Washington, D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office. The same is true for leased vehicles — the dealer submits the paperwork directly.

If you have bought a previously owned vehicle, you need to make certain that the previous owner signs the title over to you. The vehicle may also need to be inspected before you can successfully register the car in your name. Vehicles must be inspected every two years.

2. Insurance Information

The District of Columbia requires insurance for every vehicle that is registered there. You must have such insurance before you can buy a new vehicle in the district or transfer the title of a previously owned vehicle.

The District of Columbia has some of the highest insurance minimums of any place in the United States. The minimum requirements are $25,000 per person uninsured motorist bodily injury ($50,000 per accident), $25,000 per person third party liability ($50,000 per accident), $10,000 property damage liability and $5,000 uninsured motorist property damage.

You are required to keep an insurance card with your vehicle at all times, and District of Columbia police check rigorously for such as part of any traffic stop. Any canceled insurance policy is also reported to the DMV. So be careful and make certain you have your insurance correctly covered.

3. Emission Information

In the District of Columbia, an emissions test is part of the biannual inspection that is required for vehicles before they can be registered. Because of the small size of the district, all inspections are done at one specific location. Vehicles that are brand-new and still have their Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin do not require inspection for the first two years.

4. Lemon Law Information

The District of Columbia’s Lemon Law works only for new cars, and it covers them for two years or 18,000 miles, whichever comes first. In order for the law to apply to a particular vehicle, the vehicle must either have a problem that has not been repaired in four attempts or have been out of service for repairs for a total of 30 days. There is also a provision that allows the law to apply if there has been one unsuccessful attempt to repair a major safety-related defect in the vehicle. If the law applies, the owner can demand either a refund or a replacement.

5. Special Information

Because the District of Columbia is home to many government offices and universities and is quite small, there are some unusual allowances for titles and parking permits for vehicles. Vehicle purchasers who are students, Congressional members or staff, military personnel on duty, diplomats or presidential appointees can apply for a reciprocity permit that alters the rules on whether a vehicle must be registered and titled within the district.

Parking permits are also a big deal in the district, as parking is extremely limited. Only specific residency and professions allow for permit parking. So if you are buying a vehicle in the District of Columbia, make sure you check out what you can and cannot do regarding parking permits.