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Selling A Car With Expired Registration: A Complete Guide

Hanna Kielar4-minute read
February 04, 2022

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Can you sell a car with expired tags? Sometimes the world moves too fast for us to keep up with everything. People can get so caught up in preparing to sell their car that the car registration date goes by unnoticed. Selling a car with expired registration is possible, but it may be more difficult due to buyer concerns and additional fees. 

Can You Sell A Car With Expired Registration Tags?

You can sell a car with expired registration tags in some states, but it’s important to check with your Department of Motor Vehicles to see if it’s legal and what information you need to provide to a buyer at the close of the sale. Ignoring state laws and DMV guidelines will likely subject you to fines or penalties.

If someone buys a car without knowing it has an expired registration, the previous owner will need to pay any additional costs — this includes any registration fees in states that allow the sale of vehicles with expired registrations. The amount of the penalty may depend on how long ago the registration expired.

For example, in California, the penalty for late registration is only 10% if you’re less than 10 days late, but goes up to 60% after a month and 160% after 2 years. Keep in mind that this penalty is in addition to any applicable outstanding fees.

Why Vehicle Registration Matters

The two primary purposes of vehicle registration are to identify the owner and verify that the vehicle is legal to drive in the state. When you’re pulled over, the registration is used to prove that you’re not behind the wheel of a stolen vehicle, for example.

Vehicle registration is also needed to show proof of ownership at the time of sale. In addition to registration, a seller also needs the vehicle identification number (VIN), license plate number and a clear title. Titles are valid until you sell your car, so you don’t need to worry about an expired title. Need to sell your car without a title because you still owe money on the vehicle? A lien release is possible as long as you work with your bank and follow the requirements in your state.

Buying A Vehicle With Expired Registration

A private party who is considering buying a car with expired tags needs to ask the right questions to be sure they're getting a good vehicle. It’s almost impossible to determine if a vehicle is operational without taking it for a test drive, but if the car has expired tags, you could face legal consequences if pulled over, as it’s against the law to drive an unregistered car.

There may be nefarious reasons why a car isn’t registered; for example, it might be in disrepair and the owner is trying to sell it because it isn’t roadworthy. This is why many private buyers avoid purchasing unregistered cars.

How To Sell A Car With Expired Tags

If you want to avoid any potential issues, you could simply register your vehicle and pay whatever late registration fees are owed. This eliminates the problem completely and allows you to provide registration information to a buyer. If you don’t want to pay the extra fees or register a car only to sell it soon after, there are alternatives you may consider.

Temporarily Register Your Vehicle As Non-Operational

If your registration is about to expire, you may be able to obtain a non-operational title to save money on the registration, depending on the state. This can also help you avoid late registration fees for missing the deadline. However, this identifies your vehicle as not being roadworthy, and potential buyers won't be able to take it for a legal test drive. They'll also likely question why you have it registered as nonoperational.

Trade-In Your Car To A Licensed Dealer

In some cases, you can trade in a car with expired registration as long as you have a clear title. In some states, there are still late registration fees to consider, and the dealer may want to pass these costs on to you. If you’re trading your vehicle in, you may be able to negotiate around these fees to complete the sale, especially if you’re in a state that doesn’t require dealers to register the vehicles on their lot. It’s worth considering, however, that the dealer might devalue a car with expired tags, so you could get less than you’re hoping for.

Reduce The Sale Price

If you can't afford the late registration fees, buyers may be willing to pay them in exchange for lower sale prices. If you’re negotiating with an interested buyer who's cautious about your vehicle having expired tags, reducing the purchase price may give them more incentive to close the deal. However, if the buyer is already planning to give you a low-ball offer because the car isn’t registered, you may have to reduce the price even further to complete the sale.

The Bottom Line: It’s Easier To Register Your Vehicle

Registering your car before you advertise it for sale is the easiest way to provide a buyer with the necessary paperwork to transfer ownership of the vehicle. If you're considering selling your car with expired registration, be sure to check with your DMV to see if it's possible in your state and how to go about it.

Finding out how much your car is worth can help you decide whether it's best to pay any outstanding registration fees or if you should trade in the car at a dealership, obtain a non-operational title or reduce the price. 

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Hanna Kielar

Hanna Kielar is a Section Editor for Rocket Auto℠, RocketHQ℠, and Rocket Loans® with a focus on personal finance, automotive, and personal loans. She has a B.A. in Professional Writing from Michigan State University.