Buying a used car in Washington is a terrific way to save some money, but do you know how much sales tax you’ll pay? Because some areas have higher rates than others, local Washington tax rates can have a serious impact on your bottom line.
The statewide rate for used car sales tax in the state of Washington is 6.5% of the vehicle’s purchase price. On top of that, you will pay the motor vehicle sales/lease tax, which is an additional 0.3% on the sale of motor vehicles. After adding local (city and county) taxes, the average combined car sales tax in the state is 8.84%.
Here’s the lowdown on Washington's vehicle sales taxes.
How is Used Car Sales Tax Calculated in Washington?
When you purchase a car in the state of Washington, you have to pay the motor vehicle sales/lease tax, also known as the motor vehicle surtax. This tax amounts to three-tenths of one percent (0.3%) of the motor vehicle purchase price. It applies to all retail sales, leases, and transfers of motor vehicles.
Vehicle’s Purchase Price vs Fair Market Value
You may think you can outsmart the government by negotiating a low "official" purchase price and paying the rest in a side transaction. But the Washington Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is onto you. If you’re buying the car from a private party, you must declare the car's fair market value to the DMV and pay the appropriate amount of sales tax based on that value.
If the DMV suspects that the purchase price of the vehicle was artificially decreased, they will calculate sales tax based on the car’s fair market value. The DMV establishes what the car is worth on the open market by referring to Price Digests or other reliable sources of information about used car prices. If the DMV concludes that the car's fair market value is greater than the selling price, the sales tax can be assessed based on the fair market value.
If you bought a car for less than its fair market value and think it's really worth less than the average fair market value, you can make your case for a lower value by submitting a verified appraisal or an affidavit from the seller.
Keep in mind that the Department of Revenue may evaluate and audit buyer and seller declarations on the value of used vehicles sold. Sometimes, an audit can result in additional taxes, interest, and fines.
Do You Pay Taxes When You Buy a Car From a Private Seller in Washington?
The used car sales tax rate for the state of Washington is 6.5% of the car’s selling price, whether you buy from a private seller or a dealer. The tax law does not discriminate between the two.
Cities and counties collect additional taxes on car leases and purchases, and the rates can range from 0.5% to 3.5%, depending on where you live. That can bring the total amount of sales tax in Washington State to between 7.3% and 10.6%, with the average combined rate of 8.84%.
If you want to register and pay taxes in cities like Goldendale and Lyle, you’ll be facing the state’s lowest rates (7.5%). Residents of Lynnwood and Bothell aren’t so lucky, as their car taxes are the highest in the Evergreen State (10.6%).
Here are the combined vehicle sales taxes for some cities in Washington State:
In addition to the sales tax, other fees are involved with purchasing a used car, such as registration fees, title fees, and documentation fees. These will be collected by the Washington Department of Motor Vehicles. Here’s what that’ll cost you:
- Registration fee: $50
- Plate transfer fee: $10
- Vehicle title fee: $26
Check the Washington Department of Revenue’s website for additional information on sales and use tax responsibilities.
How to Pay Washington Vehicle Sales Tax
How to Pay Washington Vehicle Sales Tax
Here's how to pay car sales tax in Washington after you’ve purchased a used car from a private seller:
- You and the seller each complete the Vehicle/Vessel Bill of Sale. When you buy the car on PrivateAuto, we provide an official Washington bill of sale and prompt both of you to sign it in our app at the appropriate stage of the transaction process.
- Calculate the amount of sales tax due depending on the tax rate for your city and county. The Washington sales tax on cars is 6.5%. To determine the sales tax, multiply the vehicle's price by 0.0650. For example, if you paid $10,000 for a car, the sales tax would be $650. If you live in a city or county where additional sales tax is levied, add the local tax rate to get your total tax rate, then divide that rate by 100 and multiply the car's purchase price by the resulting figure. Determine the amount of sales tax you owe based on the vehicle’s purchase price. (If it’s a gift, the tax amount is zero.) Calculating how much your car will cost after taxes can be a nuisance, but our sales tax calculator might come in handy.
- Sign the Vehicle Title Application in front of a notary public or a licensing agent.
- Submit your forms and payments. You can submit documentation to the local office or online.
- If needed, also submit an affidavit of Loss/Release of Interest or Odometer Disclosure Statement.
- Get payment proof from the Washington Department of Motor Vehicles.
- Get your new registration and title. Once you've paid the sales tax and turned in the necessary paperwork, 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 also get new license plates.
If you buy a car in a state that levies no sales or use tax and plan to register it in Washington, you must pay taxes in Washington state.
How to Avoid Paying Sales Tax on a Car in Washington?
There’s no way around it—property taxes, income taxes, sales taxes, and other taxes are part of life. You are required by law to pay sales taxes on used cars in Washington or any other state. However, you may qualify for an exemption.
Washington Car Sales Tax Exemptions
Vehicles received as gifts are generally exempt from taxation. Here are some tax exemptions for used vehicle purchases, as listed on the Washington Vehicle Registration website:
- If someone gifted you the vehicle and you can provide proof that the person who donated the vehicle to you paid sales or use tax on it, you should be exempt.
- If you purchase a motor vehicle while on active military duty, you may avoid paying car sales tax. Read more about this here.
Many people think buying from car dealers is a magical solution to avoid all the hassle (and perhaps a tax here and there). In fact, you pay more when you go to a dealer. Dealerships charge a "documentation fee" above and beyond the taxes you pay to the state. The average documentation fee in the state of Washington is $150.
Avoid documentation fees and get lower prices when you buy used cars from private sellers right here on PrivateAuto.
Buy and Sell Used Cars on PrivateAuto
Conduct private car transactions easily and safely with PrivateAuto. Our innovative platform connects buyers and sellers and gives them all the tools to complete the deal, from in-app financing to secure messaging to integrated payments.
PrivateAuto allows you to negotiate the price you want, schedule the test drive meetup, and pay for the car—all within our app without compromising your personal information.
Whether you want to shop used vehicles for sale or are trying to sell your used car for top dollar, PrivateAuto will help you get the deal done.
Here’s how you can sell your car in Washington with a few simple steps:
- Gather necessary documentation
You’ll need your vehicle title and other documentation. Have all the paperwork you need to sell your car privately, so you’re not scrambling to find it at the moment of completing a sale.
2. Register on PrivateAuto and get verified
To make PrivateAuto a safe place for everyone, we require email, phone, and driver’s license verification, including facial recognition.
3. List your car
Easily create your PrivateAuto listing with our step-by-step guide. Bonus: we include a window brochure with a QR code scannable to your listing.
4. Set your terms
It’s your car, so you drive the deal! You can control where, when, and who you meet. Decide whether to accept only ID-verified buyers, or buyers with verified funds. Don’t waste your time with buyers who aren’t verified according to your preferences.
5. Vet incoming offers
Manage offers in one place with the ability to accept, reject, or counter offers within the app. Listing on multiple sites? Filter all communications through PrivateAuto by sharing your listing link on all platforms. Your personal info is protected: no more giving out your phone number or email address. All communication happens in our app.
6. Choose a buyer
When you find an offer you like, accept it and proceed to the next step with that buyer.
7. Schedule a meeting
The buyer will want to look at your car. No more back-and-forth texts. You never have to give out your phone number. Rather, use our handy scheduling feature to schedule test drives and coordinate a time and place for meetings. (Oh, and you’ll be able to finalize the transaction instantly at the first meeting, FYI.)
8. E-sign documents
After the buyer is satisfied with your 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.
9. Get paid, instantly
Before PrivateAuto, receiving funds was the most stressful part of the entire selling process, especially for any used car sale 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 receive funds instantaneously with PrivateAuto Pay, our innovative banking integration. Guaranteed funds for transactions large and small.
10. Transfer title
When you sell your vehicle, fill out the necessary information on the back of the Certificate of Title and sign in order to transfer ownership of the vehicle to the new owner.
WA Used Car Sales Tax FAQ
How quickly can you get your title?
Typically, it takes between 8 and 10 weeks to get your title. If you need it faster than that, you can visit or mail your forms and fees to a Quick Title office. They’ll get your title finished sooner and charge an extra $50 for title fees.
What if a vehicle is less valuable than the average market value?
The buyer may supply the following information to prove that a vehicle is worth less than its average fair market value:
- A repair estimate provided by a registered mechanic.
- An appraisal conducted by a licensed dealer.
- Evidence from a different value source (other than Price Digests), such as the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) or Kelley Blue Book, indicating a lower average retail value for the car. The purchase price will be accepted if it is within 20% of the alternate source's value.
- A completed Department of Revenue Buyer and Seller Declaration Regarding Value of Usage Vehicle Form specifying the sale price and car condition. The form must be signed by both the buyer and the seller.
Do non-residents pay sales tax in Washington state?
When you buy a used car, you pay sales tax on it based on where you register it, not where you purchased it. Check out the following scenarios.
- You live in California and you buy a car remotely in Washington because you found a screaming deal. You take the car back to California, register it, and pay California car sales tax based on your city and county of residence.
- You’re a resident of Idaho planning to move to Washington. You buy a used car, register it in Idaho, and shortly thereafter move to Washington and update the registration. You will not pay Washington sales tax because you’ve already paid it in Idaho.
- You’re a resident of Oregon and you buy a used car in Washington. You take it back to Oregon and register it there. Because Oregon does not have car sales tax, you owe no tax.
You should always talk to a tax lawyer about the tax effects of buying a car, moving to a different state, or making any other major financial decision. The information in this article is our best understanding of tax rules and does not constitute tax advice.
Washington has some other non-resident exemptions, which you can see here.
What is a quick title and how do I get one?
A quick title is an immediate title transfer transaction. You get the certificate of ownership of the vehicle or vessel much quicker than a standard title. The quick title cannot be issued for snowmobiles, insurance- or wrecker-destroyed vehicles and boats, or vehicles or boats reported as stolen.
The cost of a quick title for vehicles in the state of Washington is $85.50. If you’re not in a hurry, save some money and get the standard title at any local vehicle licensing office.
Is proof of insurance required to register a car in Washington?
If you have a car that needs to be registered in Washington state, you must have proof of insurance with at least the following minimum coverage:
- $25,000 to cover another person's injury or death
- $50,000 to cover numerous people's injuries or deaths
- $10,000 to pay property damage caused by another party
If you are found driving without insurance while on the road, you could face a fine of $550 or more. If you are involved in an accident, you may be held liable for any damages, and your license may be suspended.
Do I have to pay fuel excise taxes in WA?
Retail sales tax does not apply to motor vehicle fuel sales (but special fuel taxes may be levied). In addition to sales taxes, both the state of Washington and the federal government levy excise taxes on gasoline and other fuel products. The sale of motor vehicle fuel is reported on the excise tax return under the retail sales tax lines.
Which state has the cheapest car tax?
Each state in the US has its own taxes and fees for purchasing a car. Some states offer tax exemptions for certain types of motor vehicles.
States such as Oklahoma, North Carolina, Colorado, and Alabama charge less than 3.5% in sales taxes on used cars.
Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon don’t charge sales tax when you purchase a motor vehicle. So, if you really want to avoid car sales tax, you might consider moving to one of these states.
Do you need two plates in Washington?
The State of Washington requires cars to have two license plates: one in the front and one in the rear. (Some states require front license plates in addition to rear plates, while other states only require rear license plates.)
Unlike cars, motorcycles in Washington need a rear license plate only.