Expat guide on buying a car in New York City

The USA is generally considered to be a nation of drivers and commuters as distances tend to be quite large and buying a car in several US cities is thought to be a necessity. As a result, cars in the US are generally not prohibitively expensive. However, New York City, with its excellent public transport, is one city where you can easily survive without having a car. In spite of this if you wish to purchase a car when you move to New York City you have to be cognizant of certain requirements and rules that need to be adhered to before you can become a car owner in the city.

First and foremost you have to decide on what car you want to buy. Is it to be a new car or a used car? A new car may be relatively trouble free but it will require a substantial outlay initially and if you are to be posted out of the US after your stint, you will most likely sell the car. You must be aware that at that time you will probably suffer a loss as cars depreciate quite rapidly as soon as a new model is launched. In a mature car market like the US, this happens frequently.

Also if you live in Manhattan and plan to park on the street then you must be prepared for the nicks and scrapes that your car is likely to suffer because parking on Manhattan’s tightly packed streets is a skill that is not easily mastered. You can decrease this risk if you plan to park your car at a parking garage, but even then there are no guarantees your car will not be bumped and scratched.

Buying a used car is then perhaps your best option. The value of a used car decreases less than that of a new car over the same period of time. The best way to find a used car in the city is to look through the listings on websites such as http://www.craigslist.org and http//www.ebay.com to gauge the market for used cars in New York City. You can also additionally peruse the latest consumer reports for used cars which compare various models and offer valuable advice at (http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/cars/used-cars/).

Once you have decided on the car and the model that you want, you can either buy a car directly from a private owner who has placed the classified or you can go to an established dealership which certifies used cars. A site like (http://www.autotrader.com/) offers a listing of all kinds of car dealers, new cars and certified used cars. In Manhattan many new car dealerships are located along 11th avenue on the west side of the island. Similarly Northen Boulevard in Queens is also populated with several new car dealerships. Buying a certified car from a reputable dealer makes sense as, in most instances, the dealer will give you a guarantee on your car and then if something goes wrong you can always take it back. You can even contact the Better Business Bureau (http://www.bbb.org) if you need to check on the record of the particular dealership that you have chosen.

Once you have located a dealer and a car that you want, don’t assume that you have to pay the asking price. Bargaining is an accepted norm and if you are going to pay cash for the car (it may be difficult to get a loan as an expatriate with no credit history in the US) then you should leverage this to get a further discount. Once you and the dealer have agreed on the price, you should check the guarantees offered and not part with your cash until you have received your title of ownership.

If you buy your car from a recognized dealer then it is likely that the dealer will also send the application for your state vehicle registration and title certificate to the local DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). There will be a small charge associated with this.

However, if you are buying your car from an individual, your proof of ownership is the Title Certificate that the seller has to sign in order to transfer ownership. It is imperative to check that the seller doesn’t have a lien on the car; the front of the certificate will mention this as the title will probably be in the name of a financial institution. You must not surrender your money until you have the signed copy of the title from the owner and receive a receipt for your purchase.

The owner must also complete the statements (Odometer and damage disclosure statements) that are located on the back of the NYS title certificate for a vehicle that is eight years old or newer. If the NYS title certificate was printed before 1994 there are no statements behind the certificate and in this case the previous owner has to complete the MV-103 form which is available at the DMV. When you buy a car from a private individual you have to pay all the associated taxes and fees at your local DMV. You do not need to book an appointment to do so but just go to your local DMV and take a number and wait in line for your turn.


Before you try to register your car in NYS you will need have liability insurance. Be prepared as a foreign national to pay a higher premium as you will be probably classified as a ‘new’ driver (holding a license for less than 3 years).

In order to purchase car insurance which is mandatory in New York State, you have to present the following:

  • Driver’s licenses of all the people in the family who will be driving the car. The names of all these people have to be listed on the insurance documents. In the case of a foreign nationals, a foreign driver’s license and international driving permit will suffice.
  • The Vehicle Identification Number called VIN. This 17 digit number is unique for your automobile and is available on the car’s current insurance documents.

Once you have your insurance in place you have to register your vehicle with NYS at the local DMV. The following documents have to be brought to the DMV office:

  • The proof of ownership (Car Title or Pink Slip)
  • Proof of Identity and date of birth (foreign or NYS driver license and passport with a US visa and a valid I-94.)
  • Form MV-82 (Vehicle Registration and Title application) this form can be acquired at the DMV office itself.
  • Verification of insurance (Form FS-20) which is to be obtained from the insurance agent.
  • Purchase receipt
  • Payment for sales tax and fees (NYS will estimate sales tax on the transaction at the rate of 8.375% if you have purchased your car from a dealer he would have already have collected the tax from you the Form MV-50 proves that and should be presented to the DMV).

Once all this is done you should receive your registration certificate and be ready to be a car owner in New York City.