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How Much are Used Car Sales Taxes in Pennsylvania?

When buying a used car in Pennsylvania, don’t get caught off guard by the state’s vehicle sales tax. Pennsylvania has a 6% statewide sales tax on vehicle purchases.

Quick links:

How much sales tax will I pay?

How to calculate PA sales tax?

How to pay sales tax in Pennsylvania?

Do I qualify for a tax exemption?

Is it better to go to a dealer?

Pennsylvania sales tax calculator

Pennsylvania charges 6% of your vehicle's purchase price or the current market value of the car. On top of that, you may owe local taxes as well. And then there are the fees.

Keep reading to get the scoop on Pennsylvania car sales taxes and fees.

Do you Pay Taxes When you Purchase a Car From a Private Party in Pennsylvania?

When making a car purchase in Pennsylvania, you’ll pay 6% of the vehicle’s purchase price, whether you buy from a private seller or a car dealer. Pennsylvania tax law does not discriminate between the two. Unless you qualify for a tax exemption (discussed below), you have to pay tax on your vehicle purchase.

Car tax on top of a blue wooden car

In addition to the 6% state tax, you may owe local sales taxes on your vehicle purchase.

How Local Vehicle Sales Tax Works In Pennsylvania

Most of Pennsylvania doesn’t have local sales taxes on car purchases. Here are the areas that do have them:

  • Residents of Allegheny County are subject to sales tax of 7% (total tax rate)
  • Residents of the city of Philadelphia pay 8% total vehicle sales tax

The rest of the state doesn’t have local sales taxes.

Pennsylvania Local Sales Tax Examples

Let’s give a couple examples of how local sales tax could play out in Pennsylvania.

  • You're in Allegheny County, and you find a stunning Land Rover Defender for $30,000. Allegheny County’s sales tax is 1%. This means you'll owe a total sales tax of 7%—$300 in county tax ($30,000 multiplied by .01) and $1,800 ($30,000 multiplied by .06) in state tax. You owe a total tax bill of $2,100 on that Defender.
  • You're in Philadelphia and you find a Ford Bronco for $40,000; you will pay a total of $3,200—2% in city sales tax and 6% in state tax.

Understanding the Tax Basis of a Car Sale

Car sales tax is owed on the value of the car you purchased. The value is assumed to be the car’s purchase price, unless the purchase price is suspiciously low.

Some people get the brilliant idea to negotiate an artificially low sales price and then pay the difference in a side transaction. Don’t do this; the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue is way ahead of you. Their “Motor Vehicle Understated Value Program” gives them the flexibility to determine what the car is worth based on its fair market value by referring to Kelley Blue Book, NADA, or other reliable sources on used car prices.

If the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue establishes that the car's fair market value is significantly greater than its purchase price, they can opt to base your sales tax on the Kelley Blue Book or NADA assessed value.

Note that underreporting the purchase price of a vehicle in order to avoid paying sales tax is illegal.

What if I Paid Tax in Another State?

If you paid sales tax on the purchase of a vehicle in another state, Pennsylvania deducts that tax so that you are not taxed twice. There are four potential scenarios (ignoring local taxes for simplicity).

  1. You paid exactly 6% sales tax in West Virginia or one of the other states with the same 6% sales tax rate as Pennsylvania, in which case Pennsylvania will give you a pass.
  2. You paid no sales tax in another state, in which case you owe the full 6% Pennsylvania tax. Let's say you bought a used car in Delaware and didn’t pay any sales tax, given Delaware’s 0% tax rate. You’ll pay Pennsylvania’s full 6% tax rate.
  3. You paid less than 6% sales tax in another state, in which case Pennsylvania charges you the difference. Let’s say you bought a used car in New York for $25,000. New York car sales tax rates are 4%, so you paid $1000 (.04 X $25,000) in New York tax. When you go to register your car in Pennsylvania, your total tax bill will be $1,500 minus the $1000 you already paid in New York. You can expect to pay $500 to Pennsylvania.
  4. You paid more than 6% in the other state (for example, Indiana levies a 7% tax on every used vehicle purchase). We wish we could tell you Pennsylvania will give you a refund, but no. At least they won’t charge you any more tax.

How to Pay Pennsylvania Car Sales Tax

Here's how to pay the Pennsylvania sales tax owed after buying a car from a private seller:

  1. To transfer ownership of the vehicle, you and the seller must complete the necessary paperwork, including the bill of sale (when you buy a used car on PrivateAuto, we provide an official Pennsylvania bill of sale and prompt both of you to sign it in our app at the appropriate stage of the transaction process). You'll need the following documents to transfer car ownership in a private transaction:
  2. The original car title.
  3. Proof of Pennsylvania insurance.
  4. Valid driver’s licenses or IDs
  5. Calculate the amount of sales tax due.
  6. Submit payment for all taxes and fees.
  7. Get your vehicle registration, title, and new license plates. Once you've paid Pennsylvania’s sales tax and turned in the necessary documentation, you'll get your new registration and title for the car. The title and registration will show that you bought the car and that the sales tax has been paid. You will get your new license plates by mail.

How to Avoid Paying Sales Tax on Vehicles in Pennsylvania?

Motor vehicle taxes are something you just can't avoid—they are a part of our lives. Here are the only two ways we know of for you to avoid paying sales tax on a vehicle purchase.

The word tax exempt on a white piece of paper under a ripped piece of brown construction paper

License Plates, Title And Registration Fees in Pennsylvania

In addition to the state vehicle sales taxes, you owe other fees when buying a car and registering it in Pennsylvania, such as a registration fee and a vehicle title transfer fee.

To register your vehicle at the Pennsylvania county clerk's office, you must show proof of car insurance. First-time passenger vehicle registration costs $45, plus the $58 title fee.

Pennsylvania's standard license plate fee is included in the registration fee. A personalized plate costs $97.

Is Purchasing a Car from a Dealer Better?

Many people believe that buying a car from a Pennsylvania dealer will save them money. Going to a Pennsylvania dealer is more expensive and inconvenient—unless spending 3 hours in a Pennsylvania dealership is your idea of a fun time.

  • Dealerships charge documentation fees above and beyond all the other Pennsylvania taxes and fees you have to pay (the other taxes and fees are exactly the same whether you buy from a dealer or a private seller, by the way). An average documentation fee in Pennsylvania is $449.
  • Used car dealerships usually have higher prices. Their business model is based on buying low and selling high in order to generate the spread that allows them to stay in business. Skip the middleman and deal directly with private sellers to get the best deals.

We admit that dealers provide a level of convenience that you do not typically get when buying from a private seller. That is, after all, why we exist. PrivateAuto puts dealer-like convenience in the palm of your hand while also allowing you to transact with regular people like yourself.

When you shop for used vehicles from private sellers on PrivateAuto, you avoid the doc fee and get lower prices.

Pennsylvania Car Sales Tax Calculator

If you're in the market for a used vehicle, you'll want to calculate the applicable sales tax. With PrivateAuto's used car sales tax calculator, calculating sales tax has never been easier. This free online vehicle sales tax calculator calculates the amount of tax you must pay on a used car purchase based on the sales tax rate in Pennsylvania (6%) and the vehicle's price.

Buying and Selling Vehicles Online With PrivateAuto

Sell your car privately with PrivateAuto

Our innovative platform connects buyers and sellers and gives them all the tools to complete the deal, from in-app car financing to secure messaging to integrated payments via our banking gateway, PrivateAuto Pay. You can also schedule a test drive and negotiate the price without ever disclosing your personal information.

Here are the steps to selling your car in Pennsylvania.

  1. Gather the required paperwork for selling a vehicle in Pennsylvania
  2. Register on PrivateAuto and get verified
  3. List your car
  4. Set your terms
  5. Vet incoming offers
  6. Choose a buyer
  7. Schedule a meeting
  8. E-sign documents
  9. Get paid, instantly
  10. Transfer title

PA Vehicle Sales Tax FAQ
Which state has the lowest tax rate?

The states with the cheapest car tax are Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon, with a tax rate of zero. Nevada has a zero tax rate on private-party car sales, though not on dealership purchases.

With the exception of the above states, all US states charge sales tax on private sales. Oklahoma, North Dakota, North Carolina, Colorado, and Alabama charge 4.5% or less vehicle sales tax.

What is the safest method of payment when selling PA vehicles?

Typically, the safest way to receive payment when selling a car is cash. With PrivateAuto Pay, you can avoid the risks and hassle of dealing with large sums of cash and get paid instantaneously through our app with our integrated banking partner.

Person taking a five dollar bill out of a brown leather wallet

By receiving your money through our integrated banking system, both buyers and sellers can stay safe while exchanging large sums of money, as they don’t have to share their contact or banking information during the car buying process.

What is the Pennsylvania clean vehicle program?

Buying or selling a vehicle manufactured in 2008 or later falls under the Pennsylvania Clean Vehicle Program. With this program, qualifying vehicles need to be “certified by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) or be certified for sale in all 50 states.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, or PennDOT, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection work together to ensure vehicles in the state maintain emissions requirements for all 50 states.

There are many exceptions to this program, but you’re required to ensure the vehicle passes if it isn’t excluded from the program. Here are some vehicle types that don’t need to pass emissions tests as part of the clean vehicle program in Pennsylvania:

  • Vehicles with over 7,500 miles
  • Vehicles used exclusively for off-highway driving
  • Emergency vehicles
  • National security exemption vehicles
  • Vehicles transferred by court decree or inheritance

What kind of specialty license plates does Pennsylvania offer?

Pennsylvania offers many different license plate types:

  1. Passenger license plates
  2. Commercial vehicle plates
  3. Special license plates
  4. Trailer plates
  5. Motorcycle plates

License plates measure 6 by 12 inches and are made of aluminum, which is durable and resistant to rust.

You can choose from a variety of designs, including:

  • Standard registration plates
  • Special fund plates to support a specific cause or initiative
  • Specialty registration plates
  • Military license plates that offer a wide range of military designs and plate applications
  • Special organization plates to support approved organizations to advocate their cause
  • Personalized plates that allow you to make a statement or message

Do I need to fill out any tax forms when paying vehicle sales tax in Pennsylvania?

Sales tax paper on an office desk next to a pen

You are not required to complete any tax forms, but you must provide a copy of the bill of sale from the seller.

How much is the Pennsylvania license plate transfer fee?

The fee for transferring a license plate registration sticker (also known as a tag) in Pennsylvania is $51.

To transfer PA tags in person, you can go to your local DOT office. Make sure you have all of the necessary papers, as well as your certificate of title application.