Buying a Car in Rhode Island

Rhode Island has a fairly large number of regulations relating to vehicle purchasing. We have brought together the most important ones here and have included links to more detailed information to help make your vehicle buying experience in the state as easy and enjoyable as possible.

1. Title Information

Rhode Island requires all vehicles to have titles. If you are purchasing a vehicle from a dealer, they should take care of the paperwork for you. If you purchase the vehicle outright, you will receive the title from the state. If you are taking out a “lien” (a loan) on the vehicle, both you and the lienholder are legally allowed to have a title until the lien is paid. At that point, you will need to submit a lien release form from the lienholder to get a new title that belongs only to you.

If you are purchasing a used vehicle, you will need the title and a Bill of Sale that proves you have bought the vehicle. Also, you will be charged sales tax on the vehicle, and you must make certain that the vehicle has been inspected. Titling and registration are done through the Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicle (DMV) offices.

In all cases, you have 30 days from the date of purchase to title and register a vehicle.

2. Insurance Information

Rhode Island requires mandatory auto insurance on all vehicles within the state, no exceptions. This insurance must be obtained for any vehicle you purchase before you can legally drive it off the dealer’s lot or out of the driveway of a private owner.

The minimum insurance requirements for the state are $25,000 liability per person bodily damage ($50,000 per accident) and $25,000 liability property damage. Of course, you can choose to have much higher amounts at a higher insurance premium.

It is in your best interest to get insurance immediately when you purchase any vehicle. The penalties for driving without insurance in Rhode Island include fines up to $500 and license suspension. Make sure you don’t let yourself get into a situation where you can incur these.

3. Emission Information

Rhode Island requires both safety and emissions inspections for most vehicles, usually on a yearly basis. If you are purchasing a new vehicle, it will be exempt for a length of time, but you are expected to have the vehicle inspected before it reaches two years old or 24,000 miles, whichever comes first. If you are purchasing an electric vehicle, it will be exempt from emissions tests but not the safety inspection. Vehicles that are over 25 years old will be tested but will not be penalized if they fail the emissions test. All other vehicles must pass both inspections each year.

If you purchase a previously owned vehicle, you are required to make certain that the vehicle has a valid Rhode Island inspection sticker. If it does not, you have only five days from the purchase to get the inspection performed. Vehicles that are 1997 models and newer are tested at official Inspection Stations, while older vehicles are inspected at special Diesel Opacity Stations.

4. Lemon Law Information

Rhode Island’s Lemon Law covers new and leased vehicles bought within the state, and it does this for one year or 15,000 miles, whichever comes first.

The law applies to a particular vehicle if the vehicle either has a defect that is not repaired after four attempts or has been out of service for repairs for 30 or more days. If either condition exists, the vehicle owner should contact the manufacturer, which is given one last chance to repair the defect. If that is unsuccessful, the owner can either file a complaint with the Attorney General, who will contact the Rhode Island Motor Vehicle Arbitration Board, or they can contact the Better Business Bureau arbitration board. If this path does not lead to an answer that the owner is satisfied with, the owner then has the right to sue the manufacturer.

5. Special Information

Rhode Island’s Lemon Law also covers used cars under different rules. A used vehicle purchased from a dealer is covered under the dealer’s warranty for the vehicle (Rhode Island makes it mandatory for dealers to provide warranties for used cars they sell). The used car section of the law does not cover purchases of previously owned vehicles from private owners.

If the used vehicle from the dealer has a defect that remains after three attempts or has been out of service for repairs for 15 cumulative days, the owner may invoke the lemon law. However, in this case, the owner must work with the manufacturer through whatever arbitration process they have or go directly to a lawsuit if the manufacturer has no such process or refuses to work with the owner.