Let the Buyer be Aware

"It's important to learn about a vehicle before you spend money for its purchase. The information in this publication may help you choose the vehicle that best meets your needs."

Buying from a Dealer

In New York State, every automotive dealer must register with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). A registered dealer must obey certain state and federal laws that protect your purchase of a new or used car, truck, or other motor vehicle, including one sold as "salvage." New vehicles are also protected by manufacturer's warranty.  You can search for registered Automotive Dealers by using the “Find a DMV-regulated Business” service.

When you buy a used vehicle, the dealer must certify, in writing, that it is "in condition and repair to render, under normal use, satisfactory and adequate service upon the public highway at the time of delivery." The dealer certification covers the entire vehicle except items that would be obvious to the customer before the sale, such as torn upholstery, missing hubcaps, etc. The vehicle also must have all safety equipment and emissions controls required by state and federal laws for the vehicle's model year.

A dealer also must:

  • have the vehicle inspected before selling it to a retail customer, even if the vehicle is new. The inspection must be done within 30 days of the date of sale and before you take delivery. The dealer may charge you the inspection fee.
  • provide service or repairs under the manufacturer's warranty if the dealer is franchised by that manufacturer. Warranty service also may be available from other dealers franchised by the manufacturer.
  • indicate, in writing, on the bill of sale whether a vehicle sold to a retail buyer is new, used, reconstructed, rebuilt salvage, or originally not manufactured to U.S. standards (see Title Branding).
  • provide the buyer completed odometer and damage disclosure statements:

    • For motor vehicles that are 10 model years old or newer, the seller must complete the odometer disclosure statement on the back of the title certificate. For vehicles older than 10 model years, odometer disclosure is not required.
    • The damage disclosure statement on the back of the title certificate must be completed regardless of the vehicle’s age. 

Note: The DMV will not register or grant title to a salvaged vehicle without a completed salvage disclosure statement. In addition, the DMV must examine each vehicle branded or identified by the seller as "Rebuilt Salvage" for stolen parts before the vehicle can be registered or titled.

  • complete and sign an odometer disclosure statement if the vehicle is 10 model years old or newer. This statement is on the Retail Certificate of Sale (MV-50). The buyer also must acknowledge and sign the odometer statement. 
  • indicate on the sales contract when a passenger car had been used primarily as a police car, taxicab, driver education or rental car.

If a lien is being recorded or the dealer issued number plates, the dealer MUST handle the registration for you. The dealer may charge you up to $75 for this service, plus the actual fees for the vehicle's Certificate of Title (MV-999), registration, and license plates. As a customer courtesy, a registered dealer may submit your completed Vehicle Registration/Title Application (MV-82) to the DMV. The dealer also may provide a temporary certificate of  registration and, if needed, new license plates.

Buying From a Private Seller

One advantage of buying a vehicle from a private seller is the possibility of lower cost compared to buying from a dealer. However, there are disadvantages.

  • A private seller does not have to follow important regulations that a dealer must obey. In addition, a private seller rarely offers a warranty. If you have a complaint about the vehicle or purchase, you are on your own to resolve the problem with the seller, or in taking legal action. You cannot file a complaint with the DMV or other consumer assistance agencies if you buy a defective vehicle in a private sale.
  • If you buy a vehicle 8 model years old or newer, the DMV will NOT register or issue you a new title certificate unless the seller has completed, and you have signed, the damage disclosure statement on the reverse of the vehicle's Certificate of Title (MV-999) or have attached a completed damage disclosure on an Odometer and Damage Disclosure Statement (MV-103). This statement indicates whether or not the vehicle's new title certificate should be branded "Rebuilt Salvage" (see Title Branding). An Odometer and Damage Disclosure Statement (MV-103) is available at any motor vehicle office. 
  • For motor vehicles that are 10 model years old or newer, the seller must complete the odometer disclosure statement on the back of the title certificate. For vehicles older than 10 model years, odometer disclosure is not required.
  • The damage disclosure statement on the back of the title certificate must be completed  regardless of the vehicle’s age. 



Title Branding

If a vehicle has been rebuilt, originally not manufactured to U.S. standards, or reconstructed, a branding notice must be printed in capital letters on the front of the New York State title certificate. A dealer must inform a customer, in writing, if a branded vehicle is being shown or sold to a retail customer. This may be a notice placed on the dealer's bill of sale or handed to the customer.

You can also find a printed notice on the front of the title certificate if a vehicle previously had been returned to the manufacturer, its agent, or dealer because it did not conform to warranty. It also will be printed on the title after a final determination of a court finding or settlement under the state's Lemon Law. This notice will read:


The brands below may be printed on a New York State Certificate of Title (MV-999) for 1973 and newer vehicles:


A vehicle with this label has been rebuilt after being wrecked, destroyed or damaged in excess of 75 percent of its retail value at the time of loss, or originally had entered New York State under a branded out-of-state title. Previous branding includes Salvage, Rebuilt Salvage, Salvage Restored, Junk, Parts Only, Water Damage, or other description. The Rebuilt Salvage branding will remain on the title for as long as the vehicle exists, no matter how many improvements are made to the vehicle.


A vehicle with this label was not originally manufactured in compliance with United States emissions or safety standards, or both.


A vehicle with this label has been repaired or constructed with a glider kit, but not one manufactured in two or more stages. A glider kit includes all components of a vehicle except the power train. It is generally used to rebuild heavy trucks or tractors that have been extensively damaged. Passenger cars built from custom kits are not considered reconstructed vehicles.

Reported Mileage

Vehicles over 10 model years old are exempt from mileage disclosure.

For all other titled vehicles, the odometer mileage reported during the vehicle's most recent transfer of ownership is printed on the front of its New York State Certificate of Title (MV-999). If the odometer had passed its maximum reading at the time of sale, the description "EXCEEDS MECHANICAL LIMITS" will be printed below the reported mileage. If the actual mileage is unknown because the odometer is broken, or has been repaired or replaced, the front of the title will be printed with "NOT ACTUAL MILEAGE, WARNING ODOMETER DISCREPANCY."

Choosing a Vehicle

Vehicle price is not controlled by any government agency. Take time to choose a vehicle that meets your needs and budget. Before you buy a vehicle, compare prices by checking newspaper ads and visit a number of dealers and/or private sellers. Then take it for a test drive. If you are knowledgeable, examine the engine, transmission, drive axles, steering and suspension, brakes and electrical system. If you do not know what to look for, it may be wise to pay a professional automotive technician to examine the vehicle.

Before you buy from a dealer, find out about dealer or manufacturer warranties, what they cover, and for how long. Ask if the dealer performs service or subcontracts to a repair shop. Be sure all agreements, guarantees and warranties are in writing.

What to look for

  • Examine the vehicle in bright daylight. Look carefully at the body for signs of collision damage or rust. Check the paint and vinyl top, sides, or trim for signs of wear or damage. Check all lights, lenses and mirrors for cracks or other damage.
  • Look inside the vehicle for signs of wear or damage that may reduce its value, such as splits or holes in the upholstery. Make sure all seat belts are in place, and in good working condition. Look under the rugs or mats for dampness or water damage, which could mean there are body leaks.
  • Open the trunk or rear hatch and check for leaks. Examine the spare tire, taking it out if necessary. Make sure the jack and lug wrench are there.
  • Examine the engine compartment for signs of rusted metal around fenders, oil leaks, or excessive dirt on the engine. These can be signs of high mileage. Look at and feel rubber parts such as fan belts and radiator hoses. If they are hard, cracked or too soft, they should be replaced.
  • Make sure the exhaust emissions control systems are intact and working.
  • Start the vehicle when the engine is cold and listen to make sure it runs smoothly when cold. While the engine warms, check the dash gauges and all inside and outside lights. Make sure the heater, defrosters, air conditioner, windshield washer and wipers work properly.
  • If the vehicle is properly registered, you may choose to take it for a test drive. The engine should accelerate smoothly, and the transmission should shift without hesitation, roughness or loud noises. Drive the vehicle on a straight, flat surface, and let go of the steering wheel for a moment to see if the front wheels follow a straight track without pulling to either side. When braking, there should be no unusual noise, vibration, or pulling to either side.
  • Your test drive should include stop-and-go driving on local streets and driving at highway speeds, over a variety of surfaces and several hills. Note how well the vehicle runs and handles. Also, check to see if the engine overheats.
  • If you are satisfied after the test drive, have the vehicle raised on a lift or jacks. Examine the condition of the brakes, tires, front and rear suspension, exhaust system and catalytic converter. Look for oil or fluid leaks underneath.

Taking Delivery

If you decide the vehicle is in good condition and worth the price, be sure the seller has the proper ownership and transfer documents. Ask the seller, and examine the title certificate, for information about unsatisfied liens (bank loans, etc.). Carefully examine all documents before you pay for the vehicle. In a private sale, have the seller make out a bill of sale in addition to the ownership and sales tax documents.

Proofs of Vehicle Ownership

For a new vehicle purchased from a New York State registered dealer - the proof of ownership is a Manufacturer's Certificate of Origin (MCO) and the dealer's "Certificate of Sale" (MV-50).

For a used vehicle purchased from a New York State registered dealer - the proof of ownership is the Certificate of Title (MV-999), or a transferable registration for 1972 and older models, signed over to the dealer, and the dealer's Certificate of Sale (MV-50) showing ownership transfer to you. The dealer must complete, and you must acknowledge by signing, the appropriate odometer and damage disclosure statements.

For a used vehicle bought from a private seller - the proof of ownership is the Certificate of Title (MV-999), or a transferable registration for 1972 or older models, signed over to you. The seller must complete, and you must acknowledge by signing, the appropriate odometer and damage disclosure statements.

  • Be sure the private seller completes the seller's section of the form Statement of Transaction - Sale or Gift of Motor Vehicle (DTF-802), available at motor vehicle offices or at the DMV web site. This form certifies the purchase price and determines the sales tax you must pay when registering the vehicle. If the form is not filled out by the seller, you will be charged sales tax based on the vehicle's current fair market value.
  • Before you accept the title certificate from the seller, check the front of the title for the names and addresses of lien holders. A lien indicates the current owner owes money on a loan for the vehicle. If a lien is listed on the title, ask the seller to give you the proof the lien has been paid - in most cases, it will be an official lien release from the lender. If proof is not provided, the lien holder could repossess the vehicle from you.

 A motor vehicle office will not accept a title certificate if the appropriate odometer or damage disclosure statement is not completed, or if any information on the title is altered, erased, or crossed out, including any name or signature.

If you have a concern or question about the title, registration, sales tax or proof of ownership, contact the DMV Call Center or any motor vehicle office before you buy the vehicle.

Trading In or Selling Your Vehicle

Before you trade in or sell your old vehicle, be sure to remove the license plates and the windshield registration sticker, which shows your plate number. This will help prevent you from being charged with parking tickets that do not belong to you.

Turn in the plates to a motor vehicle office unless you are transferring them to a replacement vehicle. Always turn in your plates before you cancel liability insurance or before the insurance lapses. If you do not, your registration will be suspended, and your driver license could be suspended as well.

When transferring the vehicle's title certificate to a new owner, you must fill out the appropriate odometer and damage disclosure statements, and sign your name at "Seller's Signature." Then enter the seller's information on the sales tax form Statement of Transaction - Sale or Gift of Motor Vehicle (DTF-802), available at any motor vehicle office and the DMV internet site.

Department of Motor Vehicles Consumer Assistance

If you have a complaint about your vehicle, bring it to the attention of the dealership management right away. Keep a record of all contacts with the dealer about the vehicle and any repairs or adjustments made. Keep copies of all work orders and invoices as proof of your attempts to resolve the problem.

If you cannot resolve the problem with the dealer, write to: Bureau of Consumer and Facility Services, PO Box 2700-ESP, Albany, NY 12220-0700, or phone (518) 474-8943 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. weekdays.

If your complaint concerns a repair, you must file it with the Department of Motor Vehicles within 90 days or 3,000 miles of the repair, whichever comes first. If your complaint does not fall within its jurisdiction, DMV will refer you to the proper agency.

Lemon Laws

New York State's new and used car lemon laws provide legal remedies for consumers who buy or lease cars. If a car does not live up to the written warranty and cannot be repaired - or if it has not been repaired correctly after a reasonable number of attempts - the consumer could receive a refund or replacement car.

For information and assistance concerning the Lemon Laws, contact:

Office of the Attorney General
Albany, NY 12224
Telephone: 1-800-771-7755 or 1-518-474-5481
or any regional office of the Attorney General.

You may also contact:
Department of State, Division of Consumer Protection
Consumer Assistance Unit
99 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY 12231-0001
Telephone: 1-800-697-1220 or 1-518-474-8583.



Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor
Theresa L. Egan, Executive Deputy Commissioner

C-18 (12/99)  Edited for the Internet 6/14



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