When buying a used car in South Carolina, prepare to pay the state’s vehicle sales tax, known as the Infrastructure Maintenance Fee, or IMF.
The IMF is 5% of the purchase price, capped at $500.
Do You Pay Taxes When You Purchase a Car From a Private Party in South Carolina?
When buying a vehicle in South Carolina, you’ll pay 5% of the vehicle’s purchase price or $500 (whichever is lower), whether you buy from a private seller or a car dealer.
South Carolina's tax law does not discriminate between private-party and dealership sales. Unless you qualify for a tax exemption (discussed below), you are required to pay tax on your vehicle purchase.
What is the Infrastructure Maintenance Fee?
According to the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, residents of South Carolina pay what's known as an Infrastructure Maintenance Fee (IMF) when they purchase a car and register it in the state.
IMF is 5% of the purchase price but can’t exceed $500. So, if your vehicle costs $9,999 or less, you'll pay 5% of its price in the IMF. If it costs $10,000 or more, your IMF will be a flat $500.
The IMF replaced vehicle sales tax on July 1, 2017, as part of a piece of legislation known as the Roads Bill. Prior to the IMF, residents paid a straight 5% of a vehicle’s purchase price, with no cap.
The IMF’s one meaningful difference for South Carolina car buyers: it limits your tax to $500. If you’re buying a $9,000 used Toyota Corolla, the change doesn’t affect you. If you’re buying a $50,000 Cadillac Escalade, that change saves you $2,000.
South Carolina Use Tax
South Carolina’s use tax is pretty much the same as the IMF, but for out-of-state vehicles. When you purchase a car in another state and register it in South Carolina, the state levies a 5% use tax (the use tax rate is the same as the IMF, with the same cap).
If you paid sales tax on the purchase of a vehicle in another state, South Carolina gives you credit for the tax paid.
South Carolina License Plate, Title, And Registration Fees
In addition to the IMF, you owe other fees when buying a car and registering it in South Carolina, such as a vehicle title fee and registration fee.
To register your vehicle at the auditor's office, you must show proof of vehicle insurance. The first time you register a passenger vehicle, it will cost you $40 plus the $15 title transfer fee.
South Carolina's standard license plate fees are included in the registration. A vanity plate costs an additional $30.
How to Pay South Carolina Vehicle Sales Tax
Here's how to pay the IMF owed after buying a vehicle from a private seller in South Carolina:
- 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 South Carolina 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:
- The original car title.
- Proof of South Carolina insurance.
- Valid driver’s licenses or IDs
- Calculate the amount of IMF due. Multiply the vehicle's purchase price by 5% (for purchases under $10,000).
- Fill out the IMF form.
- Submit payment for all taxes and fees.
- Get payment proof from the South Carolina Department of Revenue.
- Get your registration, title, and new license plates. Once you've paid the 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 in mail.
If you buy a used car from a private seller,it is recommended that both you and the seller go to a Department of Motor Vehicles branch to finish the transaction, which protects both of you.
How to Avoid Paying Sales Tax on Vehicles in South Carolina?
Motor vehicle taxes are something you just can't avoid—they are a part of our lives. You are required by law to pay the IMF on private used vehicle purchases, unless you meet an exemption in South Carolina.
South Carolina Car Sales Tax Exemptions
South Carolina Car Sales Tax Exemptions
Here are some IMF exemptions for used car purchases in South Carolina:
- The vehicle buyer is an educational or charitable organization
- The vehicle is for the local, state, or US government
- The vehicle is for a disabled individual
Is Purchasing a Car from a Dealer Better?
A lot of people mistakenly believe that buying a car from a South Carolina dealer saves money. The opposite is true: going to a South Carolina dealer costs you more money, and it's a pain—unless spending 3 hours in a South Carolina dealership is your idea of a good time.
- Dealerships charge documentation fees above and beyond all the other South Carolina 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 South Carolina is $220.
- Used car dealerships typically charge higher prices. Their business model is based on buying low and selling high to generate the spread that keeps them in business. To get the best deals, skip the middleman and go directly to private sellers.
We do admit that dealers bring a certain amount of convenience that you don’t traditionally get when you buy from a private seller. In fact, that’s why we exist. PrivateAuto gives you dealer-like convenience in the palm of your hand while allowing you to transact peer-to-peer with regular folks like yourself.
By shopping for used vehicles from private sellers on PrivateAuto, you avoid the doc fee and get lower prices.
South Carolina 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 car sales tax calculator calculates the amount of tax you must pay on a used car purchase based on your sales tax rate (5%) and the vehicle's price.
Our innovative platform connects buyers and sellers and gives them all the tools to complete the deal, from in-app vehicle financing to secure messaging to integrated payments. You can also schedule a test drive and negotiate the price without ever disclosing your personal information.
Here’s how you can sell your car in South Carolina with a few simple steps:
- Gather the required paperwork for selling a car in South Carolina
- Register on PrivateAuto and get verified
- List your car
- Set your terms
- Vet incoming offers
- Choose a buyer
- Schedule a meeting
- E-sign documents
- Get paid, instantly
- Transfer title
FAQ on Vehicle Sales Tax in South Carolina
Which state has the cheapest sales tax on car sales?
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-party car purchases. Oklahoma, North Carolina, Colorado, and Alabama charge 4.5% or less vehicle sales tax.
Does South Carolina have excise taxes?
Excise taxes are levied on specific goods or services and are typically used to fund programs or projects.
Here are some excise taxes that South Carolina includes:
- Petroleum products
Where do I register my car in South Carolina?
In South Carolina, you register your vehicle with the county auditor's office rather than the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles. The auditor's office is in charge of collecting vehicle property taxes and issuing vehicle registration certificates.
To register your vehicle at the auditor's office, bring the following documents:
- Proof of ownership
- Proof of insurance
- Proof of residency
- Vehicle identification number (VIN)
- Payment for registration fees
When do I pay vehicle sales tax in South Carolina?
You pay your vehicle taxes during the registration process. After you have paid your vehicle taxes, you will be issued a vehicle registration certificate and license plates. Your license plates must be visible on your vehicle at all times. You will receive a citation if you are caught driving without license plates.
How much are property taxes in South Carolina?
Personal property taxes in South Carolina are among the lowest in the country. South Carolina's average effective property tax rate is 0.55%, with a median annual property tax payment of $980.