Buying a Car in Washington

Washington stands as a typical state when it comes to regulations relating to vehicle purchasing. We’ve collected the relevant information regarding those regulations here for you, along with links for greater details, all to help you have the best vehicle purchasing experience possible in the state.

1. Title Information

Washington requires all vehicles to have titles. If you are purchasing a new or previously owned vehicle from a dealer, they will take care of the paperwork for you (but always make certain they do so). In Washington, the owner receives the title even if there is a “lien” (a loan) on the vehicle. Once you pay off the lien, the lienholder will submit a form to the state to have the lien removed.

If you are purchasing a previously owned vehicle from a private owner, you will need to make sure you have the title (signed over to you), a Bill of Sale (including the sale price for tax purposes), an emissions test report (if applicable), an odometer disclosure statement (if the vehicle is under 10 years old) and proof of insurance.

You will take all the documents to a vehicle licensing office. You can also mail them to the Department of Licensing main office. Additionally, Washington has a Quick Title office that can give you a title immediately for an extra $50.

In all cases, you have 15 days from the date of purchase to title and register your vehicle.

2. Insurance Information

Washington requires proof of financial responsibility for all vehicles registered in the state. For most drivers, this proof will be auto insurance. The minimum requirements for the state are $25,000 liability per person bodily damage ($50,000 per accident) and $10,000 liability property damage.

You can also choose to prove financial responsibility by submitting a surety bond or a certificate of deposit with the state for $60,000.

However you choose to handle it, make sure you have this taken care of before you ever step foot into your purchased vehicle. The first-offense fine for not possessing proof of financial responsibility is $450 and it goes up significantly from there.

3. Emission Information

Certain counties in Washington require emission testing. Most vehicles in Clark, King, Pierce, Snohomish and Spokane counties will require testing every two years. Vehicles under five years old or over 25 years old are exempt from the testing, as are some hybrids and all fully electric vehicles.

Testing must be done at specifically approved stations.

4. Lemon Law Information

Washington’s Lemon Law covers vehicles purchased new or leased in the state for the first 30 months after their purchase/lease. Used vehicles are also covered if they have less than 24,000 miles on the odometer and meet the rest of the eligibility criteria.

In order for the law to apply to a particular vehicle, one of the following conditions must exist:

  • The vehicle has a substantial defect that has not been repaired after four attempts.
  • The vehicle has a serious, deadly defect that has not been repaired after two attempts.
  • The vehicle has two or more serious defects within one 12-month period.
  • The vehicle is out of service for at least 30 cumulative days for repairs.

If any of these conditions exists, the vehicle owner can then request arbitration through the law and attempt to get a refund or replacement.

5. Special Information

Washington has no particularly unusual vehicle purchasing regulations that you need to be aware of.