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What About My Wheels?

Insurance: Massachusetts auto insurance works on a no-fault system for personal injury coverage. In most cases, this means that your insurance company is responsible for covering injuries in a collision, regardless of fault. However, you still have the right to sue for liability for damage to your vehicle. The no-fault provision usually does not apply if a collision involves an out-of-state car.

If you are insured in another state, you must have at least the minimum insurance required in Massachusetts. Massachusetts requires $10,000 to $20,000 minimum body liability, $10,000 to $20,000 uninsured motorist, $5,000 property damage and $2,000 personal injury. These are minimum insurance requirements and only cover you inside Massachusetts. While you might be tempted not to report to your insurance company that your car is in Massachusetts, this is a serious risk. If you do have a collision, the company might well find out in the process of the investigation that you hid this fact from them and refuse to pay you anything.

If you are insured in another state, you will save money (cancellation fees and the like) by insuring with the same company in Massachusetts. Otherwise, there are many local insurance companies that will provide full service. Be aware that all the rates are required by law to be the same.

In order to register a car in Massachusetts, you must have the required minimum insurance and pay an excise tax of five percent if you have owned your car for less than six months. Cars registered in Massachusetts also must pass annual auto inspections, which are performed at most service stations. Many insurance agents will handle the registration paperwork for you free of charge. This service saves you two hours of standing in line at the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV).

Registration: Official information on vehicle registration, driver’s licenses, and RMV locations can be found here.

Rules regarding out-of-state registration vary depending on which state you are from. As a rule, if you are from outside Massachusetts, you should keep your out-of-state registration.

According to state law, you must register your car within 30 days of becoming “gainfully employed” here. Graduate students receiving a stipend or having a fellowship or assistantship may fall under this category. Otherwise, you will probably be able to keep your registration unless you become a legal resident of Massachusetts. Registering to vote or getting married may affect this. You are required, however, to report your out-of-state vehicles both to the RMV, 1135 Tremont Street, 351-4500, and to the local police department. The Registry will issue you a non-resident student decal to be displayed in your windshield. This can also be done on HBS registration day in Aldrich Hall.

There are certain vehicle requirements that you will need to fulfill immediately upon establishing your residency in Massachusetts. First of all, you have to register your car.

If you are going to live in Cambridge and must park on the street, you will have to get a Cambridge parking permit. To do this, you must have your car registered in Massachusetts, have a Massachusetts license plate, and be insured in Massachusetts. The fee for this permit is only $8.

Converting Out-of-State Registrations: To register your car, you must have an authorized Massachusetts insurance agent fill out, stamp, and sign a form called the RMV1. Take this form to any full-service registry branch office along with the out-of-state title or registration (see the back of this book for a list of agents). The fees are $30 for a normal passenger registration, along with a $50 title fee.

A motorcycle reserve plate is $40. If you have owned your car less than six months, you will have to pay five percent sales tax on the dealer purchase price or NADA trade-in value, whichever is higher. Finally, within seven days of registering your car, you will need to pass safety and emissions tests, which are offered at any local garage. The fee is $15 and is payable to the garage owner.

For a Newly-Acquired Car: The auto dealer or an insurance agent must fill out a form called RMV1. It must be signed and stamped by an authorized Massachusetts insurance agent. Bring this form along with the certification of origin or previous owner’s title or bill-of-sale to a full-service registry branch. You will be charged five percent sales tax on the purchase price of dealer sale. For used cars, this tax is based on the NADA trade-in value or the purchase price, whichever is higher.

The fee is $30 for registration, a $50 title fee, plus any sales tax you owe. Finally, within seven days of registering your car, you will need to pass safety and emissions tests, offered at any local garage.

Second, you will need to obtain a Massachusetts driver’s license, which will need to be renewed every five years.

Out-of-State License Transfers: Transferring an out-of-state license requires paying required fees, showing proof of residency, clearing a background check through the National Drivers’ Registry, and filling out an application form. In addition, if you have a motorcycle designation on your driver’s license, it requires an additional fee to keep it (about $15). If your license has not expired for more than one year, you will only need to pass the eye-clearance exam. If greater than one year, you must take the written knowledge test. If it has been more than four years, you will need to take the written test along with a road/driving test.

International License Transfers: All out-of-country applications must take a full examination by passing an eye-screening test and written exam to get a learner’s permit. When you have your learner’s permit, you must make an appointment to take the road skills test. You will also need to have three identifying documents that confirm your date of birth, Massachusetts residency, signature, and Social Security number, or a letter explaining why a number cannot be obtained.

Written exams are given on a walk-in basis, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and are available in a number of languages. There is a fee of about $15, and you will need to bring cash. Each road skills test is about $20. It is $33.75 for a full license. Note: an international driver’s license cannot be converted to a Massachusetts driver’s license — you must still go through this process.

Now that you know what you have to do, where do you do it? Transferring a license or registration can only be done at a full-service Registry Branch office. The two nearest full-service branches are located at 550 Arsenal Street in Watertown and 630 Washington Street in downtown Boston. The hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The full-service branch takes cash, check, or money order, but does not take credit cards.

Parking: If you bring a car to Cambridge and expect to park it on University property, you must register with the University Parking Office. While there is no fee for the registration, you will be fined $50 or more if you do not comply. You must also register your vehicle with the University Police at 29 Garden Street. You can register with University Parking during registration-just look for the room labeled “parking.”

They are knowledgeable about all of the processes of owning a car in Massachusetts, and should be able to answer any questions that you might have. There is no fee, so avoid the heavy non-compliance fee.

Parking in Cambridge is challenging, at best. A number of streets have parking only for cars with a Cambridge Resident Parking sticker, which can be obtained by Camb
ridge Residents at the City Hall Annex on Broadway.

On-campus parking is also available for a monthly fee; many off-campus folks who use their car only for occasional road trips and grocery jaunts also tend to park in the garage. A commuter-parking pass costs approximately $300 for the academic year. This pass can also be obtained on-campus during registration.

July 2, 2001
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