Car Paperwork Terms
Here are many car paperwork terms with definitions you should know about before
buying or selling a car...
Insurance Card: Some states, like California and Hawaii, require you to have car paperwork
proving that you carry car insurance. If you ever get stopped by the Police then they will ask for this along with
your registration and drivers license. If you don’t have one then you could be liable for a very stiff fine plus
they will impound your car on the spot.
Registration: In the U.S. this is usually an annual fee (a tax) that is paid to the state for
the use of your car. You’re supposed to keep this in your car at all times. It shows all the particulars of your
car like make, model, year, VIN, weight and the registered owners name and address.
Safety Check: Some states (like Hawaii) require you to take your vehicle to a state certified
Safety Check outlet (usually a service station) once a year and have it inspected to make sure that all the things
that supposedly make a vehicle safe to drive are functioning correctly. These include things like: Condition of
your tires, brakes, all lights, horn, intact body panels, etc. Its not a bad idea for places like Hawaii where a
relatively new car can literally fall apart in front of your eyes due to the rust. The challenge is finding a place
that doesn’t impose arbitrary standards for this type of car paperwork.
Service Documentation: The car paperwork showing repair descriptions, parts and costs, and all
maintenance done for your vehicle. You should always keep these papers so you will have a history of your vehicle
and know whats been done and when you need to do it next. This type of car paperwork is also great for re-sale
value because you can show potential buyers its history and that goes a lot farther than just telling them since
they don’t know who the heck you are.
Smog Certificate: Some states like California require you to have your car go through a smog
check every two years for the purpose of making sure that your car isn’t belching out too much filthy exhaust. This
Smog Certificate is also required every time you sell a vehicle. The burden is usually on the seller to provide
this to the buyer, but thats negotiable. I would be very careful about buying any car where the seller does not
provide a Smog Certificate because in California your car can be considered a “Gross Polluter” by the state if it
doesn’t pass and the repairs to bring it up to state standards could cost you more than the car is worth.
Certain commercial vehicles, diesels and cars over 25 years old are exempt. You need to check with your states DMV
department before buying to see if this car paperwork is required.
Title: Also known as the “Certificate Of Ownership” or “Pink Slip”, etc. This is a paper
document given by the state government (in the U.S.) that has all the identifying numbers like: Make, Model, Year,
VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), odometer reading, owners name and address shown thoughout your car paperwork.
If you financed your car then the Title will be held by the Lien Holder. A Lien Holder is the bank or whoever gave
you the loan until you’ve paid off the loan.
Vehicle History Report: This is optional, but for only $20.00 you can make sure the used car
you are interested in buying has a clear title and see all of its past history with a used vehicle history
Vehicle Identification Number: Also known as the “VIN” or “VIN Number” or “VIN #”. It’s a
unique number given by the cars manufacturer that is stamped on the vehicle on the top of the dashboard on the
drivers side. You need to read it from the outside of the car looking through the windshield. You will also see the
VIN listed on all your car paperwork.