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WashingtonLawHelp.orgWashington LawHelp

How to be a Savvy Car Owner

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded

How to protect yourself from unnecessary expenses and legal problems from owning a car. #0320EN


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Always keep your address current with the Department of Licensing.

It is your responsibility to make sure that the Department of Licensing (DOL) has your current address.

DOL is only required to send you notice to the last known address it has for you. If DOL does not have your current address, you may miss important notices about your driver license and vehicle, such as a notice of impoundment or a parking ticket.

Always keep your vehicle tabs current.

It is a traffic infraction to drive with expired tabs. If you do not pay the fine for the ticket, your driver license could be suspended.

*It is a crime to drive on a suspended license.

Properly transfer title when you sell or gift your vehicle.

You must file a Report of Sale (also known as a Bill of Sale) with the Department of Licensing within FIVE (5) calendar days of the transfer. If you do not, you remain liable for all costs related to towing, accidents, etc.

  • You should file the Bill of Sale as soon as possible even if it has been more than five days. It is important to file it late rather than not at all.

  • Read Reporting the Sale or Transfer of a Car.

Always have car insurance. 

If you are in an accident and do not have insurance, you will get an expensive ticket for failure to have insurance. You might also get your driver license suspended if the accident was all or even partly your fault and you cannot pay for the damages done to the other vehicle and driver. If your driver license is suspended, it will be hard to go to work or look for work.

The only way to get your driver license reinstated is to show proof that you now have insurance AND to do one of these:

  • Pay off the amount of damages owed

  • Enter into a payment plan agreed to by both you and the other driver or their insurance company 

  • Ask for a hearing at the Department of Licensing. Show you do not owe the damages because you were not at fault for the accident 

  • File for Chapter 7 bankruptcy

Do not miss any payments if you are buying a car. 

Even one missed payment can cause the lender to repossess your car. It does not matter if you have good reason for not making a payment, such as being sick or losing your job.

Get repairs made.

Get referrals from family or friends before going to an auto repair shop. If a repair costs more than $100, you are entitled to a written estimate if you have face-to-face contact with someone in the shop. You must then authorize the repair shop to perform the repair. 

Be careful. The repair shop may call you about additional repairs. They may ask you to waive (give up) your right to a written estimate. You may not want to do this. Ask them to show or return the damaged parts to you before you agree to an expensive repair. Make sure you really need the repair.


This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.
This information is current as of April 2019.

© 2019 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014

(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial use only.)


Last Review and Update: Apr 26, 2019