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A guide to bringing a car to college

Stony Brook Medical Center is the academic medical

Stony Brook Medical Center is the academic medical center for Stony Brook University. (March 29, 2011) Credit: Jasmin Frankel

The paperwork required to own a car can be daunting if you don't know where to start.

There are some things you can't avoid in college -- pop quizzes, awkward roommate situations -- but if you prepare well enough, you can avoid some of the pitfalls that come with having your car on campus.

Bringing your wheels to school can be convenient (and suddenly make you everyone's best friend), but there are a few things you need to take care of before you're good to go. Remember, you're an adult now — living on your own, away from Mom and Dad. And you know what that means: Lots and lots of paperwork.

Title Transfer

The title shows proof of ownership. Simply put, if you have a car, you have to have a title. If you bought your car new, some dealerships will handle the title and registration process for you. If you bought a used car, you'll have to apply for a title at your local Department of Motor Vehicles (or the equivalent). The process varies from state to state, but in general you'll need a driver's license, proof of insurance, proof of ownership and purchase price (usually the bill of sale), and an odometer reading. Be prepared to fill out an application and hand over a fee, which is less than $100 in most states.

The process is different if you're fortunate enough to inherit a car from mom and dad. Check with your local DMV to see if it has a separate process for title transfer between family members. When transferring from parent to child, you'll likely be exempt from paying sales tax, which means more money to spend on "school supplies."


You may have to visit your local DMV in person to register your car.

Now that you have your title, you need to register your car. Some states require proof of ownership as well as odometer and damage-disclosure statements. These are documents where you fess up to how many miles -- and accidents -- the car has had. (The documents usually come in the way of forms with complicated letter and number names like MV-103). The best thing to do is contact your local DMV, then be prepared to wait in line or be put on hold. Be patient. Once you obtain or transfer your registration, be sure to keep it in your car at all times. The only thing worse than being pulled over is being pulled over without proper documentation in your car.

Parking and Permits

If there's one thing that colleges love to hand out more than diplomas, it's parking tickets. While you may think you were being crafty when you invented a parking spot behind that Dumpster, never underestimate the power of the university parking officer.

Most schools require you to register your car with them and apply for an on-campus parking permit. While applying for a permit may seem like a waste of time and money, it doesn't compare to moving your car every couple of hours or wasting your weekend money on parking tickets. Some schools will even place a hold on your transcripts if you have outstanding (unpaid) tickets, preventing you from registering for classes or from graduating.

As soon as you've made the decision to bring your car to campus, check your school's vehicle registration and parking policy. Some schools don't allow underclassmen to park in certain lots, or even to bring a car to campus. A number of universities allow you to apply for a parking permit online, where others will make you wait until you arrive. In general, you'll need your university ID, driver's license, vehicle registration and current housing contract.

Depending on the size of the school and parking availability, you may have to fork over a substantial fee. An on-campus 2008-09 parking permit at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., costs $477, while at Centre College in central Kentucky it will only cost you $50 to register your vehicle. Other larger schools, such as Ohio State University, the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Texas at Austin, have a variety of lots and permits. In those cases you get what you pay for; if you want a prime location or garage spot, it's going to cost you. If you're not willing to spend a month's work-study money on a slab of asphalt, check to see if your school has free or cheap permit parking on the street, or even cheap monthly parking at the stadium.

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