Consumer Education

Buying a Vehicle

Buying a car is one of the biggest investments most of us make and the process can often be overwhelming. DHSMV is committed to helping consumers know what to look for, what to ask and what rights they have.

New Cars

Buying from a Licensed Dealer
Florida’s motor vehicle laws protect you, when buying from a licensed Florida dealer. When a licensed dealer places an ad, the advertisement must disclose all charges you are expected to pay, except sales tax, tag and title fees, which the dealer must collect up front from the purchaser. Florida law requires the dealer to apply for title and registration in the name of the purchaser within 30 calendar days from date of delivery.

New Vehicle Warranty
New cars carry a manufacturer’s warranty, which will vary in months and/or miles. Some dealers offer extended warranties sold by the manufacturer or an insurance company. The Florida Department of Financial Services regulates warranties that insurance companies offer. Read all warranties to find out what it covers, for how long, who will honor the warranty and what you must do to keep it in effect. Click here for more information.

Florida’s New Car Lemon Law
Florida’s Lemon Law applies only to new or demonstrator motor vehicles or new or demonstrator recreational vehicles sold or long-term leased in the state. When consumers buy or lease a new or demonstrator motor vehicle, they must receive the Consumer Guide to the Florida Lemon Law from the dealer or lessor. To obtain a guide, or to speak with someone about the Lemon Law, consumers in Florida may call the Lemon Law Hotline at (800) 321-5366 or (850) 488-2221 for consumers outside of Florida between the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Eastern Time). Click here for more information on the Lemon Law.

Used Cars

With the average price of a new car increasing every year, it is not surprising that the fastest growing segment of the auto industry is the used car market. Keep in mind that motor vehicle laws and warranties differ for used cars and buyers do not have the same protections as they do for new cars. Remember, there is no Lemon Law for used cars in Florida.

Warranty or AS-IS
Federal law requires all dealers to post a Buyers Guide in the window of each vehicle they offer for sale. The Buyers Guide notifies the buyer whether the vehicle is being sold with a warranty or AS-IS with no warranty of any kind. If purchasing an AS-IS vehicle, be aware that all repairs will be your responsibility. Once you drive the vehicle from the dealership, it belongs to you despite any problems the vehicle may have.

The bottom line is that you should read warranties carefully, especially the fine print. Be sure to obtain copies of the documents you sign and ensure that any other papers you sign match what you agreed to. Remember, there is no warranty or agreement unless it is in writing and signed by all parties. Get any promises made in writing.

Private Individuals
When purchasing a vehicle from a private individual, there are no warranties of any kind. It is strictly buyer beware. When buying a used motor vehicle from anyone other than a licensed reputable dealer, protect yourself by following these tips:

  • Check the vehicle identification number (VIN) to ensure it appears the same on the title certificate as it does on the vehicle.
  • Visit our Motor Vehicle Information Check and verify the vehicle information with the VIN number.
  • Check the vehicle’s doors and ignition locks to ensure they have not been tampered.
  • Check windows for signs of break-ins, such as tool marks, chipped glass, windows that do not properly close or have the original glass. Check windows for an etched VIN, which should match the public VIN.
  • Check the vehicle’s title certificate for evidence of erasures or other signs of tampering. Is the vehicle titled in the seller’s name?
  • Verify the seller’s information on their driver license to ensure it matches the name on the title certificate.
  • Remember, an advertised price will not include sales tax or tag and title fees. Expect to pay the fees to the county tax collector’s office when you transfer ownership.

Sealing The Deal

You Sign, You Buy — The Contract
Read and understand the purchase contract before you sign. Many consumers mistakenly believe they have three days to cancel the purchase contract. There is no cooling off period under Florida law.

The contract should include the following information about your purchase:

  • Whether you are buying the car with a warranty or AS-IS.
  • Date your vehicle will be delivered.
  • Other conditions of sale. Get all promises in writing on the contract.
  • Itemized list of costs including tax, title and registration fees.

Signing the Contract
Under no circumstances should you sign any blank forms. Obtain copies of all signed paperwork involved in the sale at the time of preparation. Do not lose control of your trade vehicle’s title.
In many cases, once a deposit is made, if the customer changes his/her mind and decides not to purchase the vehicle, the decision can result in a lost deposit. Make sure that your receipt and or contract specify a refundable deposit. Be sure that you understand all the terms of the contract.

Contracts are often written pending credit approval. The purchaser usually deposits a credit application fee and leaves with the vehicle, and the dealer begins processing the credit application. If the lending institution denies the credit application, the dealer may process the application with another lending institution but at a higher interest rate. Again, ensure that you get everything (agreed interest rate and terms, and terms if denied credit) in writing. If you have any questions about whether a dealership has a license to finance vehicles, check with the Florida Office of Financial Regulation.

After purchasing the car, have the seller write a receipt marked Paid in Full. The receipt should include the make, model and vehicle identification number of the car, the seller’s name, the buyer’s name and the amount paid.

Tax, Tag and Title
Dealers can charge only the actual amount of fees paid for tax, tag and title transfer. Generally, the tax, tag and title fees are not included in the contract. However, some dealers will charge a processing or handling fee. If they do, they must disclose it separately. Again, make sure you understand all the terms of the contract.

A licensed dealer is required to apply for a tag and title within 30 days, during which you will be issued a temporary paper tag. If a dealer issues a second temporary tag, you should start asking questions. If the dealer issues a third temporary tag, you should immediately fax or mail this form to your regional Division of Motorist Services’ office, as this is a violation of Florida Statutes.

Be sure you have proof of insurance. Florida law requires all vehicles licensed within the state to have insurance. Without this proof, the dealer cannot complete the transfer of title and registration into the consumer’s name.

Proof of Ownership
As the buyer, you should ask to see the title after you have agreed on terms and prices. Florida has been a title state since 1923, but the motor vehicle laws in other states or countries may require different documentation as proof of ownership. If the seller does not have a valid title, check with your local tax collector’s office or regional office for specific instructions. It is important that you compare the VIN on the vehicle to the VIN on the title. They must match.

The owner will complete the Transfer of Title by Seller section on the front of the title certificate and give it to the buyer. The buyer must complete an Application for Certificate of Title with/without Registration form, attach this to the title, and take it to their local tax collector’s office to transfer the title into their name.

Recording the Mileage
Space for the odometer disclosure reading is included on Florida titles. The odometer reading at the time of purchase will be required on your title application. Both the buyer and seller must acknowledge odometer disclosures on title transactions. Vehicles 10 model years old or older are exempt.

Removing the Plates
When motor vehicles are sold, the seller must remove the license plate from the vehicle. The seller may then transfer this plate to a new or replacement vehicle.

Applying for Title
Once the front of the title certificate is completed, the buyer must take it to a local tax collector’s office to register the vehicle and apply for a title. This must be done within 30 calendar days to avoid a late transfer penalty fee. If you borrowed money to buy the car, the Division of Motorist Services will issue the title in your name reflecting a lien. After the buyer pays off the loan, the lien holder must mark the lien “satisfied.” The Division of Motorist Services also requires the lien holder to send a Satisfaction of Lien to the division. The lien holder must complete and file a satisfaction notice within 10 days of pay off.

If you are titling your vehicle in another state, you will need to contact that state for proper titling procedures. You may purchase a Temporary Tag at your local tax collector’s office that will be valid for 30 days so that you may legally drive the vehicle to that state. You must pay Florida Sales Tax when purchasing the temporary tag.

Meeting Insurance Requirements
When applying for a vehicle registration (license plate) you must show proof that you have PIP (Personal Injury Protection) and PDL (Personal Damage Liability) insurance with a Florida insurance company for the vehicle. The exception is Florida residents on active military duty stationed outside the state of Florida.

License Plates and Registrations
Tax collector offices in all 67 counties issue license plates and registrations certificates. The registration taxes are based on the weight of your vehicle. If you have a valid license plate, you may request to have it transferred to your new vehicle. Personalized and specialty license plates are available for additional fees.

The operator must possess the registration certificate for a motor vehicle while the vehicle is in use. The state requires most owners to renew their registrations during the 90 days prior to the owner’s birthday. Exceptions will be noted on the registration certificate.

Fees and Taxes
Florida law requires fees from the buyer for registering and titling a vehicle in Florida. The buyer also must pay sales tax and use tax. The local tax collector’s office can help you determine what fees are required.

VIN Inspection
If the vehicle was not titled previously in Florida, the owner must complete a Vehicle Identification Number and Odometer Verification. The form requires verification by the owner and one of the following:

  • Florida DHSMV Compliance Examiner/Officer
  • Licensed Florida Motor Vehicle Dealer
  • Florida Notary Public
  • Police Officer

Duplicate Title
If you have lost or misplaced your title, you may apply for a duplicate at any county tax collector’s office. Bring proper identification and your current registration. The tax collector’s office may ask you to verify that you want the duplicate sent to a different address.

Buying A Vehicle On The Internet

One out of every four cars bought today is found on the Internet. Unfortunately, vehicles listed online could have hidden problems such as odometer rollbacks, flood damage or non-working air bags and are sold to unaware consumers. If you are buying a vehicle online take advantage of the following tips.

  • Do Your Homework
    If the vehicle is titled in Florida, you can access Motor Vehicle Check on the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ website to see if there are any outstanding liens or the vehicle has been branded as salvage or a flood vehicle. Best of all this service is free. There are several commercial motor vehicle history reports that can provide useful information about whether the car has been in a crash and was reported to authorities. You can also find out whether the vehicle was ever reported as stolen, salvaged, damaged, or flooded.If the seller is a motor vehicle dealer in the state of Florida, you can contact the Division of Motor Vehicles at (850) 617-3171 to determine if the dealer is licensed and in good standing.
  • Ensure that you receive the title
    Florida law requires that Florida dealers apply for title and registration on behalf of the buyer within 30 days of delivery of the vehicle. The Division of Motor Vehicles licenses and regulates Florida dealers and helps to resolve any disputes concerning motor vehicle sales and warranty work. For assistance and local office addresses and phone numbers or to file a complaint click here or call (850) 617-3171.
  • If you feel like you have been a victim of fraud…
    If, in the process of purchasing a vehicle online, you feel you have been a victim of fraud, you should contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
  • Finally…
    If you purchase an automobile online from an out-of-state vendor, you must pay the sales tax. Florida has very specific rules regarding internet purchases. The “use tax” applies to “items purchased outside Florida, including another country, which are brought or delivered into this state and would have been taxed if purchased in Florida.” If you have questions about the “use tax” and how it may apply to your online purchase, follow this link to the Florida Department of Revenue for more information.

Additional Resources

Florida Attorney General Lemon Law

Motor Vehicle Check

DHSMV Complaint Form

National Automobile Dealers Association Web site

Odometer Fraud Brochure

Car Buyer’s Guide Brochure

Buying or Selling a Car