Buying a Car in Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s regulations relating to vehicle purchasing are extremely typical of most states in the country. We’ve collected the important information regarding these regulations for you here, as well as provided links to more details if you need them.

1. Title Information

Wisconsin takes vehicle titles very seriously. When you buy a vehicle in Wisconsin, you have no grace period to title and register it — you must have either temporary plates or real plates within two days of purchasing the vehicle.

If you are purchasing a new or previously owned vehicle from a dealer, they will take care of the paperwork for you (but make certain that they actually do so). As of June 2012, Wisconsin has changed its laws regarding titles and “liens” (loans). If you buy a vehicle completely, you will get the title from the state. If you have a lien on the vehicle, the lienholder will get the title and you will get a Confirmation of Ownership document. When the lien is fully paid off, then the lienholder will return the title to the state, which will then issue it to you.

If you are purchasing a previously owned vehicle from a private owner, you will need the current title signed over to you, an application form for a new title, proof of identity and insurance, and money for several different fees. You can submit all of this at a Department of Motor Vehicles office.

2. Insurance Information

Wisconsin requires mandatory insurance for all drivers and all vehicles within the state. The minimum insurance requirements are $25,000 liability per person bodily damage ($50,000 per accident), $10,000 liability property damage (per accident) and $25,000 uninsured motorist per person bodily damage ($50,000 per accident).

It is important that you have insurance when you purchase your vehicle, because legally it is required at all times and the fines are significant if you are caught driving without insurance. Wisconsin also keeps track of insurance policies electronically, so you will be notified if your policy lapses.

3. Emission Information

Certain Wisconsin counties require emissions tests before renewing vehicle registrations. Those counties include Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Sheboygan, Washington and Waukesha. Vehicles registered in these counties must undergo an emissions test before every registration.

Some vehicles are exempt, including vehicles built before 1996, electric and hybrid vehicles, and vehicles that do not have the appropriate equipment to be tested by the emissions system. Most other vehicles will need to get tested at one of the state’s official testing stations.

4. Lemon Law Information

Wisconsin’s Lemon Law covers new and leased vehicles for one year after purchase/lease or the manufacturer’s warranty period, whichever is shorter. Used vehicles are not covered under the law.

In order for the law to kick in for a particular vehicle, the vehicle must either have a serious defect that is not repaired after four attempts or have been out of service for repairs for a cumulative 30 days.

If either of these conditions exists, the vehicle owner may attempt to get a refund or replacement for the vehicle. They must contact the manufacturer and, if it has an approved arbitration process, go through arbitration before attempting a lawsuit.

5. Special Information

Wisconsin has no particularly unusual regulations that impact vehicle purchases.