Buying a Used Car In Massachusetts From a Private Seller

Buying a Used Car In Massachusetts From a Private Seller

When purchasing a used car from a private seller in Massachusetts, the following vehicle-buying tips will help.

Quick links

Used car buying process in Massachusetts

How to complete a Massachusetts title transfer?

Massachusetts fees for buying a used car

Best place to buy a used car in Massachusetts?

When you want to get the best used car for your price range, it’s important that you stay safe and secure. This article will help you navigate the Massachusetts car-buying process.

Oh, and, by the way, PrivateAuto has private-party used cars for sale in Massachusetts and also provides an end-to-end platform to get the deal done, from secure messaging with sellers to instant payment transfers.

Image highlighting Financing by PrivateAuto

What is the Process of Purchasing a Used Car in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, you’ll go through the following sequence to buy a car from a private seller.

  • Find a seller who is selling the car you want
  • Negotiate a price you both can agree on
  • Take the car for a test drive
  • Take care of the paperwork
  • Pay the seller
  • Have the seller sign over the vehicle title
  • Register the car in your name and pay sales taxes and fees
  • Get new license plates

Let’s go over the process in more detail.

Find a Car to Buy in Massachusetts

You’re almost always better off buying from a private seller than from a licensed Massachusetts dealer. Dealerships work by buying low and selling high to make a profit. Just cut out the middleman.

PrivateAuto has a wide selection of used cars for sale in Boston, Salem, Lynn, Peabody, and elsewhere across the state of Massachusetts. We have security and convenience features that none of our competitors have.

Take the Car for a Test Drive

When you find your dream vehicle for sale near you, and settle on a purchase price, it’s time to take the car for a test drive.

Schedule the Meetup

Other used car marketplaces leave you to organize meetups on your own. This requires exchanging personal info and having a lot of back-and-forth with the seller. With PrivateAuto, your personal info is kept private. Our handy in-app scheduler allows the two of you to arrange the perfect time and place.

Research the Car History

It’s always a good idea to research its history and take a used car for a test drive. You can get a detailed history report through a service like CarFax. Or, you can get a car history report when you buy it through PrivateAuto.

AutoCheck now partners with PrivateAuto to provide buyers with a motor vehicle information check and report. When PrivateAuto sellers opt for a Premium listing, we include the vehicle history report for your peace of mind.

Go Through an Optional Mechanical Inspection

Before purchasing the vehicle, you may want to perform a mechanical inspection on it. This is at your discretion, and is more advisable for vehicles that have higher mileage. Depending on your mechanical skill level, you can inspect it yourself at the time of the test drive. Or, you can coordinate with the seller and have it inspected by a licensed Massachusetts mechanic.

PrivateAuto gives you all the tools and technology necessary to close the deal at the test drive meeting. If you’re opting for a professional vehicle inspection, you’ll be adding at least a couple extra days onto the closing process.


Paperwork is a key part of the transaction process. Different states will have different requirements, but here are the most common documents involved in a used car transaction:

  • Title
  • Odometer statement
  • Bill of sale

Certificate of Title

Both you and the seller will fill out the Certificate of Title thoroughly. Required information includes the following:

  • Date of the sale
  • Purchase price
  • Buyer’s name, address, and signature
  • Your name, address, and signature
  • Odometer reading

Odometer Reading Statement

When you buy a vehicle that’s less than 10 years old, Federal law requires the seller to fill out the odometer reading statement (also called an odometer disclosure) on the back of the title.

Fill out the Federal Odometer Disclosure Statement if there’s no room on the title.

You can verify the accuracy of the odometer readings the seller enters on the title by taking a look at the odometer yourself. Keep in mind that there are severe penalties for sellers tampering with car odometers in order to provide inaccurate readings.

Massachusetts law prohibits both the seller and the buyer from turning back or adjusting the odometer. Odometer fraud is a criminal offense, if something is not adding up, notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The PrivateAuto app includes an odometer reading entry, where both parties (buyer and seller) confirm mileage before taking the next step.

Bill of Sale in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, a bill of sale is required if purchasing a vehicle from a private seller.

PrivateAuto includes a Massachusetts bill of sale as part of our standard in-app transaction process. At the appropriate phase in the car-buying transaction, both you and the seller will be prompted to e-sign the bill of sale within their mobile PrivateAuto app.

The whole transaction, including the bill of sale, can be completed in a few minutes when you meet for the test drive and approve the car. It’s so fast and convenient you won’t believe it. And then, you won't have to keep track of all your paperwork, you will always have the electronic bill of sale accessible in your PrivateAuto account to prove that the transaction was legitimate.

But it’s a good idea to have a record of the transaction. If you find that you need to invoke Massachusetts’ private party lemon law, a bill of sale will provide proof of purchase.

Vehicle Identification Number Verification

As a buyer, always check the vehicle identification number that the seller has written on the title. Carefully compare it to the actual VIN on the vehicle. You want to avoid having an incorrect VIN on the title when registering a used car with the State of Massachusetts

Our app has a VIN field where buyers and sellers individually confirm the VIN. This helps eliminate any errors (or the rare case of outright seller fraud).

Acquire the Emissions Certificate

Massachusetts laws require the seller to provide the buyer with a passing emissions test that hasn't been used to register or renew a vehicle registration.

Cars manufactured after the model year 2008 must go and pass an annual emissions test.

Cars that don’t require emissions testing are:

  • New cars (for up to one year of the sale or lease date)
  • Electric cars
  • Diesel cars made before 1984
  • Diesel cars older than 15 years old or made before 1997
  • Diesel cars made before 2007 with a gross car weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds

If the car that you are buying does not meet any of these criteria, find The Massachusetts Registry for Motor Vehicles, RMV, and proceed with the test.

For locations of smog check stations visit the Massachusetts RMV website.

For most cars, the fee for performing this test will be $35.

Pay For the Car

It’s time for you to pay the seller for the car. There haven’t been a lot of safe ways you can send large amounts of money in a private vehicle transaction—until PrivateAuto arrived on the scene.

Welcome to PrivateAuto Pay

Our integrated banking gateway, PrivateAuto Pay, allows you to instantaneously send any amount. The seller will get the payment in a matter of seconds, whether it's a national holiday or late at night. We charge no payment processing fee. It’s truly revolutionary.

So, if you don’t like the idea of carrying a briefcase full of money or waiting for a check to clear, you’ll love PrivateAuto Pay.

Effortless Financing Options

Oh, and if you didn't want to pay out-of-pocket for your next car, you can apply for a used car loan right within the PrivateAuto app. When approved, your profile will show that you have verified funds, making you stand out from other buyers.

When closing the deal and sending payment, our lending partner will pay the seller in full. You'll make monthly car payments to the lender. It's that easy. Wondering how much your payments will be? Our vehicle loan calculator will tell you.

Title Transfer

The essential component of the entire transaction is transferring a Massachusetts vehicle title from seller to buyer. When the seller signs the title and hands it to you, the car is officially and legally yours. There are still some steps remaining for you to take following the title transfer, but you now own the vehicle.

To transfer Massachusetts vehicle titles successfully, sellers must complete the Transfer of Title by Seller section on the front of the title certificate and include the name and address of the buyer, odometer information, the selling price, and the date sold.

Multiple Owners are Listed on the Title

If there is more than one seller listed on the title, both sellers will need to sign the document in order for the transfer of title to be legitimate.

Should You Conduct Title Research?

Before meeting with the seller, it’s always a good idea to do preliminary research on the vehicle title.

Any Massachusetts attorney will recommend using the National Insurance Crime Bureau website to research the title of a potential used vehicle purchase to protect yourself from fraud. It doesn't happen often, but sometimes sellers will attempt to mislead or outright deceive. For instance, they may try to pass off a salvage title as a clean title.

Good title research will help you check for:

  • The vehicle having been declared a total loss in an insurance claim
  • Reports of the vehicle having been stolen

Finalize with Massachusetts RMV

When the seller is out of the picture and you own the vehicle, you need to finalize the process with the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (Massachusetts RMV).

You’ll need to complete the following at your local RMV:

  1. Finalizing the transfer of title with the State of Massachusetts.
  2. Registering the car in your name and getting new registration tags
  3. Paying taxes and fees
  4. Getting new license plates

Transfer the Title in Massachusetts

After buying a used car in Massachusetts from a private seller, you’ll need to complete an Application for Certificate of Title, attach it to the title, and submit it to the RMV along with the required documentation and payment.

What is Required to Complete a Title Transfer with Massachusetts RMV?
  • A completed and signed application form for a car title
  • The assigned certificate of title from the previous to the current car owner
  • Payment for all applicable car title and registration fees
  • If the car is exempt from titling due to its age, the vehicle registration and bill of sale needs to be provided
  • Sales tax exemption form, if applicable (completed by the previous car owner)

In Massachusetts, title transfers can be done online.

License Plates and Registration

Different states have different regulations for license plates in private vehicle sales. Some states allow the plates to remain with the vehicle and pass to the buyer. Unfortunately, Massachusetts is not one of those states. When you buy a used car in Massachusetts from a private owner, Massachusetts laws mandate that the seller must remove the license plate from the car.

As the buyer, you’ll need to get new license plates from the RMV. You’ll register the car at the same time and pay applicable taxes and fees.

Massachusetts RMV offers online first-time vehicle registration.

You’ll need to submit the following:

  • Proof of insurance
  • A completed Registration and Title Application
  • Odometer disclosure statement
  • Payment for the registration fees

What Fees Are There When Buying A Used Car In Massachusetts?

The vehicle purchase price never includes the used car sales tax, registration, and title transfer fees, which the buyer will pay on top of the car itself.

Here are additional fees you'll pay beyond the purchase price when buying a used car in Massachusetts:

  • Title fee: $75
  • Massachusetts sales tax: 6.25% on the purchase price of the vehicle
  • License and registration fees: $30 to $60

PrivateAuto charges no buyer fees. The buyer is responsible for paying for the vehicle only and has no transaction-related costs on our platform.

Buying a Used Car in Massachusetts with PrivateAuto

PrivateAuto makes buying a used car hassle-free. Whether you’re looking for a Honda Civic, Toyota Camry, Jeep Grand Cherokee, or a lightly-used Toyota Rav4, you’re sure to find a great deal on the ride of your dreams.

We are the only end-to-end car-buying platform that gives you everything you need to get the deal done, from making offers to sending payments.

Browse our used cars for sale in Massachusetts.

The PrivateAuto buying process consists of just a couple of simple steps:

Register and get verified on PrivateAuto

To make PrivateAuto a safe place for everyone, we require email, phone, and driver’s license verification, including facial recognition.

PrivateAuto Identity Verification

Browse the listings on PrivateAuto

It’s easy to browse listings of used vehicles for sale on PrivateAuto. Filter by make, model, mileage, year, and other criteria to make your search simpler and faster.

Make the offer

Make offers on vehicles that catch your eye. It’s up to you whether to accept the seller’s asking price, or to offer a lower price. You can also decide whether to accept ID-verified sellers only.

Schedule a test drive

As the buyer, you will want to test drive the car. No more back-and-forth texts. You never have to give out your phone number. Rather, use our handy scheduling feature to coordinate a time and place for a test drive. (Oh, and you’ll be able to finalize the transaction instantly at the test drive location, FYI.)


After you are satisfied with the car and the two of you have agreed on a purchase price, you can easily e-sign the Bill of Sale within our app, from your phone. With our shared documents feature, you can easily locate the paperwork needed after the sale.

Pay the seller

Before PrivateAuto, receiving funds was the most stressful part of the entire purchasing process, especially for any used vehicle purchases over $5,000. There just aren’t a lot of good ways to move large amounts of money quickly and conveniently.

Those days are over! Verify and send out the funds instantaneously with PrivateAuto Pay, our innovative banking integration. Guaranteed funds for transactions large and small.

Transfer car title

When purchasing a used vehicle, you must fill out the necessary information on the title transfer document.

Looking to sell your car? Choose PrivateAuto to get the best price and transact easily and safely!

Massachusetts Car Buying FAQ

What is a temporary tag?

Paper license plates, also known as temporary tags, are issued to car buyers as a temporary registration. They are also issued for demonstration cars in dealerships, vehicle transfers, or loaned cars. Temporary license plate tags can be used for 20 days in Massachusets.

What kind of insurance does my newly-bought used car need?

Used cars, just like new cars, are required to have liability auto insurance at a minimum. Every insurance company will have different rates, so shop around.

The Massachusetts RMV doesn't require you to carry evidence of your auto insurance in your car as the information is electronically available to law enforcement.

How to protect yourself when buying a car privately?

To protect yourself when buying a car privately, we recommend the following practices:

  1. Never give out your contact information
  2. Deal with verified sellers only
  3. Have a bill of sale to legally validate the transaction
  4. Send the payment through PrivateAuto Pay

The best way to protect yourself when buying a car privately is by buying it on a secure platform that offers these features (such as PrivateAuto).

Get Started Here!

Who pays for the title transfer fee in Massachusetts?

When applying for a Massachusetts title, the buyer is responsible for paying the title transfer fee. The buyer will also pay registration fees, sales taxes, and license plate fees.

Is buying a car privately for cash a good idea?

Buying a car in Massachusetts privately for cash can be a good idea, but only if you’re buying it from a trusted seller.

Choosing a private party will get you better deals than working with a car dealership.

PrivateAuto offers the immediacy of a cash payment without risk. Our PrivateAuto Pay feature is a full banking integration; when the buyer authorizes the funds to transfer through our app, money instantly moves from their PrivateAuto account into the sellers—24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

How much is car sales tax in Massachusetts?

Car buyers pay a 6.25% sales tax on car purchases in the state of Massachusetts. See our Massachusetts used car sales tax guide for further details.


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