Getting Around: Guidelines for Owning a Car
in the United States
For many students owning a car brings many advantages. There are also significant responsibilities and obligations. As an international student you need to be sure you learn about the US federal laws and the state laws that govern driving, and owning a car before you start driving on the road.
You also need to consider all the costs associated with owning a motor vehicle (car purchase, maintenance and repair, fuel costs, parking passes, auto insurance and New York State Department of Motor Vehicle fees). You will also want to find a good auto shop to service your motor vehicle, and plan for what you will do if you car breaks down when you are away from home.
These are some of the things to consider as you plan a car purchase. We hope you find the information in this booklet useful.
Topics You Need to Learn About:
NYS Laws Governing Owning a Car?
New York State has an excellent website that explains the driving laws governing persons living in New York State. Here is the web link for the New York State Department of Motor Vehicle (NYS DMV): http://www.dmv.ny.gov/license.htm
There are laws that protect persons in New York State when they buy a new or used car. You can learn all about these laws on the web site for the NYS Attorney General. Here is the web link for the NYS Attorney General: http://www.ag.ny.gov/find-attorney
Buying A New or Used Car? Which choice is best for you?
Although a new car will most likely give you fewer problems than a used one, it will also prove to be far more expensive. If you buy a new car and sell it 12 months later, you can expect to face a rather substantial financial loss. It is generally not recommended that you buy a new car if you will be in the United States a relatively short time. Also, there will be a major loss in a car's financial value as soon as you drive the car off the dealer's lot.
Buying a Used Car - Research is the first step
While there is always some risk in buying a used car, its value decreases far less than that of a new car over the same period. However, if you are fortunate to find a good one, you will have dependable transportation.
Review the latest auto issues of Consumer Reports (usually published in April). You will find the magazine in the periodical section of the public library. In this issue you will find a section on "Good Bets in Used Cars" which not only includes a list of better used car buys (listed by price range and size), but also a list of models to avoid. You can also access some of the information online at: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/index.htm?EXTKEY=SP67CR0&source=DG
First you need to consider your personal budget. Do you have enough money to pay for the car, maintain the car, purchase the required auto insurance? Begin to look for a car in the price range you can afford. You have two options: first, to buy directly from an individual owner (ads can be found daily in the local newspaper, Press & Sun Bulletin); you can also find car ads for your zip code at online E-Auto retailers, such as http://www.cars.com) or, buy from an established automobile dealer.
Although you may save money buying directly from the owner, we would suggest that you consider purchasing your car from a reputable dealer who will give you a full guarantee on the car. Thus, if anything goes wrong, the dealer may repair it potentially at a minimal cost to you.
Several Additional Suggestions
- When buying from an individual, pay no cash until you have obtained a title.
- Try to find a car that has had a special rubberized undercoating treatment available in this part of the United States. During the winter, salt is put on the roads to melt the snow, and cars that are not treated tend to have problems with the body of the car rusting
- Take any car you are considering buying to a trusted mechanic or auto diagnostic service before you make a final decision. If the car does have some problems, ask the mechanic the approximate cost of repairing any defects. Minor problems, which can easily be repaired, can be used to negotiate a lower price but a car with major problems should be avoided.
- Check the guarantee, make sure you know what is and what is not covered and compare dealers' guarantees.
- Discuss the price with the seller. Do not assume the listed price is the price you are required to pay.
- Once you have found one or more cars that interest you, call the Better Business Bureau and ask them for information about the dependability of the automobile dealerships with which you are dealing. The Better Business Bureau keeps a record of consumer complaints and this information can be helpful. You can reach the Better Business Bureau at 1-800-828-5000. Be very cautious about buying a motor vehicle from a dealer with a significant record of complaints.
- There is a very popular web site, http://www.carfax.com , which provides vehicle history information using the unique 17-character vehicle identification number (VIN) found on vehicle dashboards and title documents. The information may include Title information, including salvaged or junked titles, Flood damage history, Total loss accident history, Odometer readings, State emissions inspection results, Number of owners, Service records, and Lien activity. This is a membership-required web site which demands a membership fee of $20-30.
- Be very careful and avoid buying a flood-damaged car. Be advised that there was a huge flood in the Binghamton area in June 2006.
Another choice to consider is renting a car for the specific period you plan to travel. While this will not allow you to have a car available at all times, it will provide you with transportation when you need it and may cost far less in the long run. Cars may be rented by the day, week, or month from companies that are listed in the yellow telephone pages under "Automobile Rental and Leasing."
In order to rent a car as a foreign visitor you will:
- Need an international driver's license or a driver's license from your home country and an International Driving Permit
- Be asked to pay in advance a portion, if not all, of the anticipated costs
- Be required to pay with cash, with a check from a United States bank, or with a major credit card. Most companies will require a major credit card. Your check will have to be approved by the office from which you are renting the car. Costs of car rental vary from city to city and from company to company and will be based on the size of the car you rent and the time you will keep it. A modest additional charge will cover your insurance
- Need to be 25 years or older (21 for some dealers)
- On a day-to-day rental, a car will cost (without insurance) $14 and up for a used car and $40 and up for a new car. A month's rental of a car will average around $575 (not including insurance or a security deposit). For a smaller car, prices will range between $300 and $600 per month (not including insurance or a security deposit).
Prices vary considerably depending on the dealer, the size of the car, and whether
the car is new or used. Remember the cost of gas (after the first tank of gas is used
up) is your responsibility. Also, there is usually an additional charge for mileage
If you have a US driver's license, it is very convenient to arrange a rental car by phone or online by going to the company's website. You will have to choose a pick-up location.
Most companies have offices in the main cities of a region and at large airports as well. (Several rental car companies are located around the Greater Binghamton area and at the Greater Binghamton Airport. You can check the Broome County Phone Book, or the company's website to learn a company's location.)
Rates for airport pick-up of a rental car tend to be lower. Some companies will offer a free service to pick you up from your location (Enterprise, for example), but, generally, the free pick up service is not available from car rental offices located at an airport.
Most companies also participate in "one-way" rentals in which a vehicle can be rented
in one city and returned to the company's office in a different city. Some one-way
rentals are assessed a one-time drop charge or mileage charge in addition to the rental
Listing of Major Car Rental Companies
||(607) 729-6001 2534 Airport Rd, Johnson City, NY 13790|
||(607) 798-8361 2534 Airport Rd, Johnson City, NY 13790|
||(607) 797-0900 3217 Stewart Rd, Vestal, NY 13850|
||(607) 729-2406 2520 Vestal Pkwy E, Vestal, NY 13850|
"Connect by Hertz" Now “Hertz on Demand! Available at Binghamton University
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Leasing a Car
One final option is to lease a car for one or two years. You will need to have an international driver's license or a NYS driver's license. Check with the car dealer to learn what they require.
The cost of leasing will vary depending on:
- The dealer
- The model of the car
- Your credit rating
- If the car is a new or a used car
- Level of auto insurance coverage required by the company leasing you the car
Most leases will run for a minimum period of two years.
Leasing a car is not necessarily the best choice. When you compare the costs of purchasing a car to leasing a car it may appear that leasing will cost you less money. However, those costs may not be realized if the company leasing you the car insists on greater auto insurance coverage than you wish to purchase if you were buying the car.
When you lease a new car, you generally receive a new car guarantee covering major parts and labor. Accident (liability) insurance is not usually included in this fee. You will need to check with the car dealer, about the level of auto insurance coverage.
Please note: since you are not a permanent resident of the United States, you may be asked to pay all or part of the leasing fee in advance.
When you purchase a vehicle, make sure to obtain proof of ownership, the Title of Ownership. The person from whom you purchased the car should be able to give you the Title at the time you finalize the purchase.
If you purchase a used car from an automobile dealer, they have to provide you with the Title, the proof of ownership. Most NYS automobile dealers send the application for your state vehicle registration and title certificate to the DMV (they may charge a fee for this service).
If you purchase a used car from an individual, the proof of ownership is the Title Certificate that the previous owner has to sign in order to transfer the ownership to you.
- Obtain the signed copy of the Title Certificate from the owner
- Make sure the owner does not have a lien on the car (A lien means the present owner owes money on a car loan they used to purchase the car). The front of the title will specify if there is a lien. If the owner does not have the Title Certificate, ownership of the car is probably held by a lending institution.
- Pay no money to the seller before the Title Certificate is signed over to you
- Obtain a written receipt for the purchase of the car from the seller
Arranging for Auto Insurance : A Legal Requirement When You Own a Car
The owner of a motor vehicle registered in New York State (NYS) must purchase auto insurance coverage for the motor vehicle before you can drive the vehicle. You must also register the vehicle with NYS DMV before you can drive the vehicle.
This law applies to both US citizens, and citizens of other countries. When you purchase a motor vehicle, the previous owner of the vehicle cannot transfer their auto insurance policy to you. You need to purchase auto insurance for the vehicle yourself.
The level of auto insurance coverage you purchase must include at least liability insurance. All motor vehicles regardless of type (motorcycle, car, truck, van) must be insured. Liability insurance is used for accident-related payments to someone other than yourself. Auto insurance can be costly. All drivers of the motor vehicle must be listed on the auto insurance policy, even if the driver is not a frequent driver of that vehicle.
Certain categories of drivers are required to have auto insurance that costs more than auto insurance for other drivers:
- If you are a male and under 25 years of age, your insurance will cost more than the fee for other drivers of an older age/sex categories
- If you are a "new" driver (holding your license for less than 3 years), you must pay a 20% surcharge on your base insurance rate.
Be sure you are dealing with a reputable insurance company. To check on an insurance
company's reputation check the information on the insurance company in the latest
Annual Report of the NYS Consumer Protection Board related to auto insurance. Here
is the website where you can download the reports: http://www.ins.state.ny.us/puborder.htm
Questions to ask the insurance agent before you buy auto insurance:
- Is your company authorized to do business in New York State
- If a friend (brother, roommate, anyone but you) borrows my car, does their name need to be listed on my auto insurance policy
- Do I need to have a US driver's license to purchase auto insurance?
- Will the auto insurance company charge a higher fee (premium) if I use an international driving permit and my home country driver's license
- Driver's license . The company will request driver's license numbers for everyone listed on your car
insurance policy as a driver of the motor vehicle. In general, car insurance companies
require you to present a valid US driver's license.Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). A car's vehicle identification number is the identifying 17-digit code for
your SPECIFIC automobile. You can find the VIN on your vehicle registration card and
on current car insurance documents. Sometimes you can find the VIN on the driver's
side windshield or dashboard inside the car.
- Some auto insurance companies charge a higher fee (premium) if you use an international driving permit and your home country driver's license. It is better to obtain a US driver's license for the purpose of saving on your auto insurance rates (known as "premiums").
- Title of Ownership
- Payment for Auto Insurance
- Social Security Card: Requirements for Social Security Number vary from company to company.
- A Social Security number is required by some credit-based companies in order to verify the information you provide on your auto insurance policy application
- If you do not qualify for a Social Security Card, receive a "letter of ineligibility" from the Social Security Administration, and send it to the insurance company if it asks for it.
Information About Insurance Companies
The chart below gives examples of the documents and other information required by different auto insurance companies. You will find the same insurance coverage will cost different amounts of money at different companies. Do your research - be sure to check on the company's reputation for service after an auto accident. Inclusion in this chart is not a recommendation from the ISSS of any of these companies. The purpose of this chart is simply to give you information. It is your choice to make. You will also find the contact information of several independent insurance agents listed in the Yellow Pages of the Broome County Phone Book.
- Bodily Injury Liability: NYS law requires minimum coverage of $25,000 per person, $50,000 for bodily injury to all persons
- Property Liability: NYS law requires minimum coverage of: $10,000 per accident
- Personal Injury Protection (called No-Fault): refers to medical insurance for yourself and passengers in your own car. Coverage also includes coverage for loss of wages and services. The minimum protection is $50,000 per person
OPTIONAL Insurance Coverage: You can choose to have this level of coverage for your protection but NYS law does not require this level of coverage:
- Collision - any accident that occurs involving your auto
- Comprehensive - any loss other than collision (fire, theft, vandalism, etc
NYS DMV will suspend (cancel) your registration if you have a lapse of insurance. NYS DMV may also suspend (cancel) your driver's license. Be very careful when you change insurance coverage.
For more information on insurance-related regulations, visit this weblink: http://www.dmv.ny.gov/dmvfaqs.htm#INSURANCE
When you are driving your vehicle, you are required to have information with you on your current auto insurance policy. It is highly recommended that you keep the auto insurance information cards provided by your current auto insurance company in the glove compartment of your motor vehicle.Helpful Tips for NYS Motorists
New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) monitors the way liability insurance coverage is verified in order to reduce or prevent uninsured operation of a motor vehicle.
Anytime a vehicle is added, changed, or removed from a policy, or when issuing or canceling a policy, insurance companies are required to electronically transmit those changes to DMV.
- If you receive a suspension letter from the NYS DMV, immediately contact your agent or insurance company.
- If you cancel your auto policy because you have selected a new company or agent, make sure that the effective date of your new policy matches the cancellation date of your previous policy.
- Do not remove liability insurance from any type of motor vehicle you own or lease until you have surrendered your license plates to the NYS DMV. A lapse in coverage is subject to fine or penalty from NYS of $8.00/day or suspension of your registration and driver's license.
- The vehicle must be registered in the same name as the named insured(s) listed on the declarations page of your policy.
- If your vehicle or license plates are stolen, you need to make a police report and submit a copy of the police report to your local NYS DMV office. The NYS DMV will issue you an FS-6T form for lost or stolen plates. The effective date on the FS-6T will match the date on the police report.
- If you add, replace, or delete a vehicle from your auto insurance coverage be sure you receive a change the endorsement from the insurance company acknowledging the change to your policy.
- Check your vehicle identification number (VIN). The VIN on your vehicle, registration, ID card, and policy must be the same.
- Be sure you or your car dealer registers your new car immediately. A car dealer has 5 days to submit the registration paperwork to NYS DMV. A vehicle purchased through a private sale needs to be registered as soon as possible. The NYS DMV will not accept an insurance ID card as proof of insurance if the effective date is not current. Be sure you are not driving a car that is not registered to the NYS DMV office.
- When moving out of New York State, you need to obtain insurance in your new state as soon as possible. Only then should you surrender your New York State plates and cancel your New York State auto insurance coverage.
Register Your Car with the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles
In order to register your car with NYS, you need to visit the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) where a representative will examine your application and documents.
The address of the NYS DMV office is: 181 Clinton St. Binghamton, NY. You can check on office hours for either office by calling: 607-778-2337. Also check this web site: http://www.dmv.ny.gov/athrud.htmDocuments You Need to bring to the NYS DMV office:
- A Letter of Certification from the ISSS office attesting to your full time course registration and valid visa status
- Proof of ownership (Title Certificate)
- Proof of your identity and date of birth . NYS DMV office will accept both a driver's license issued by NYS and/or a foreign passport with a US visa and a valid form I-94 attached. See the list of documents required on page 4.
- Form MV-82 (Vehicle Registration / Title Application). This form can also be obtained at the NYS DMV office.
- Verification of insurance (Form FS-20, NYS Insurance Identification Card). You must obtain this card from the insurance agent.
- Purchase receipt
- Payment method
The Department of Motor Vehicles will:
- Charge you 8% sales tax on your purchase. If you have purchased a car from a dealer, he will have already collected the state tax from you. The dealer will give you Form MV-50, this form will serve as proof to the NYS DMV that the tax has already been collected by the dealer.
- Issue you a car registration certificate
- The registration fee charged by the NYS DMV varies by the weight of the car, for more information on this fee go to this web link: http://www.nysdmv.com/regfee.htm
Important: Any document submitted for proof of identification must be a current and valid document. The document cannot be an expired document. The NYS DMV has the authority to verify that your documents are authentic. For most applications you will need to show 6 "points" of identity.
Social Security Number: If you are not eligible for a Social Security number, you can obtain an official letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA). This "Letter of Ineligibility" is specific to NYS DMV applications and must be submitted to the NYS DMV within 30 days of issuance by the SSA. Directions to the SSA office in downtown Binghamton are attached to this handout.
Acceptable documents for
Proof of Identity.
(Expired documents are not
accepted unless indicated)
|Is this document accepted as Proof of Date of Birth?||Other
|A foreign passport with your visa and form I-94 with status code J1 or J2 and with form DS-2019. If you received an extension, you must show your original entry document, form DS-2019, your extension DS-2019 and, if appropriate, a "notice of approval from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.||3||Yes||The DS-2019 must have been issued by BU for aperiod of at least one year and must be valid for at least six more months when presented to the DMV.|
|A foreign passport with your visa and form I-94 with status code F1 or F2 and form I-20. To be accepted, the school must be located in NYS. If you received an extension, you must show your original entry document, form I-20, your extension I-20 and, if appropriate, a "notice of approval issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.||3||Yes||The I-20 must have beenissued for a period of at least one year and must be valid for at least six more months when presented to the DMV.|
|A US college photo ID card and an academic transcript.||2||No||None|
|A supermarket check-cashing card issued in the US with your name pre-printed and your signature.||1||No||None|
|A health insurance card or a medical prescription card issued in the US.||1||No||None|
|A utility bill issued in the US.||1||No||None|
|You can provide only one of these items issued by a financial institution issued in the US:
a bank statement
a cancelled check (which displays your pre-printed name)
an ATM card or a debit card (which displays your pre-printed name and your signature)
a valid major US credit card
You can also provide the following documents as proof of your identity:
Other Acceptable documents for
Proof of Identity.
|Is this document accepted as Proof of
Date of Birth?
|A US Social Security card that shows your signature.||2||No||None|
|A driver license, a learner permit, or a non-driver photo ID card issued by NYS. The photo document must be valid or expired for less than two years.||6||No||None|
DMV form MV-45 (Statement of Identity), if the applicant is under the age of 21. The form must be signed by a parent or a legal guardian, in front of a DMV representative. Proof of date of birth of applicant and Social Security Card are also required. See form MV-45 for instructions.
|A US passport||4||Yes||None|
|A Certificate of Citizenship (N-560, N-561, or N-645).||3||Yes||None|
|A Certificate of Naturalization (N-550, N-570 or N-578).||3||Yes||None|
|A foreign passport with a valid I-551 stampor a statement on the visa. The passport must be in English or translated by an embassy.||3||Yes||None|
|A Permanent Resident Card (form I-551) .||3||Yes||None|
|A US Employment Authorization Card (EAD for OPT)
|3||Yes||The I-797 EAD card must have been issued by DHS for a period of at least one year and must be valid for at least six more months when presented to the DMV.|
|A NYS interim driver license or a computer-generated learner permit, without a photo.||2||No||None|
|A photo driver license issued by another state, jurisdiction or possession of the US, or issued by a province or territory of Canada. The driver license must be valid or expired less than one year.||2||No||None|
|A US high school ID card and a report card.||2||No||None|
|A computer-printed pay stub or employee ID card issued in the US that shows your name.||1||No||None|
|A high school diploma or GED (General Education Diploma) issued in the US.||1||No||None|
|A W-2 Form that shows your Social Security Number.||1||No||None|
Dealing with Car Repairs
All cars break down at some point, or a tire goes flat, the battery fails. Many US citizens arrange for roadside assistance either through the car dealer when they buy a car or with a private company like American Automobile Association (AAA). This is a very good idea, since University staff are not available to rescue students whose cars have broken down.
You can find out about roadside assistance service from your car dealer or from AAA. The website for AAA is http://www.aaa.com
You may also want to program the phone number for a car towing service in your cell phone. You can find the phone numbers for Auto Repair businesses or a car towing service in the yellow pages of the Broome County phone book.
What You Need to Do IF You Have an Accident
Unfortunately, driving a motor vehicle means you may some day have an accident. You will want to review the information at this web link: http://www.dmv.ny.gov/dmvfaqs.htm#accident so you know what you are legally required to do if you are involved in a motor vehicle accident. The laws apply to accidents in parking lots, BU campus, on roads or any highway.
You will be asked to provide proof of identity and proof of auto insurance coverage in the event of a motor vehicle accident.
- Driving while intoxicated (DWI) is a very serious crime in New York State.
- A blood alcohol level of .08 is considered to be DWI. You can be arrested and lose your driving privileges. This web link will give you additional information: http://www.dmv.ny.gov/dmvfaqs.htm#dwi
Cell phone use:
- In New York State, you must have a "hands-free device" to use your cell phone in the car while you are driving. This law is in effect on BU campus and on all roads or highways http://www.dmv.ny.gov/dmvfaqs.htm#cell
Seat Belt Use:
- The driver and all passengers in a motor vehicle must always wear their seat belt.
- Infants and children must be in appropriately sized infant or child car seats.
- This web link will give you additional information: http://www.dmv.ny.gov/dmvfaqs.htm#carseat
If Stopped By the Police:
- Know what to do if you get pulled over by the police. Visit this weblink for more information:http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/enforce/WhatHappensEnglish.pdf
Web Pages You May Find Helpful
NYS DMV Internet Office
Driver Licenses, Learner Permits, and Non-Driver Photo ID Cards
Registration Fees and Vehicle Use Taxes for Passenger Vehicles
(Information included in this booklet is derived from a variety of sources: NYS DMV, NYS Attorney General, NYS Insurance Board, New York Central Mutual Insurance Company, Syracuse University Lillian and Emanuel Slutzker Center for International Services, SUNY Buffalo International Student Services, and NAFSA: Association of International Educators.)
Directions to the NYS DMV Offices in Broome County
All persons in F or J visa status must go to the Clinton Street office of the NYS DMV. This is the only office presently equipped with the technology required to process applications where verification of a passport identity pages is necessary.
The Binghamton branch office of the NYS DMV is located at 181 Clinton Street. Clinton Street runs parallel to Main St. in Binghamton. Clinton Street is located between Water Street and Glenwood Avenue in Binghamton. (see attached map)
If you go to the Endicott or Broome County Office Building DMV offices, DMV staff will send you to the Clinton St. office.
You can check on office hours by calling 607-778-2337. Remember office hours may change so be sure to check for the hours during the week you plan to visit the DMV office.
The DMV Office is open on Saturday mornings. You can reach the offices by taking a cab or by BC Transit bus. (OCCT blue buses do not go directly to Clinton St.) You can review bus schedules on the internet at this link: http://www.gobroomecounty.com/transit/TransitRoutes.php Speak with the bus driver to learn about transferring between bus routes.
It is against the law to drive a motor vehicle that is not registered, or not covered by auto insurance to the NYS DMV office. The NYS DMV has the legal authority to seize your vehicle and impound it (keep it). You will be ticketed for a violation of the law and you may also be fined.