Owning a Car in the U.S.

If you are like the majority of students attending the University, you may want to have your own car. There is no question that having a car would be extremely convenient and would permit you to take trips that otherwise would be impossible.

A New or Used Car?

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 loss. Since the major loss in value takes place in the first year of new car ownership, we do not recommend that international students who will be in the United States a relatively short time buy a new car.

Buying a Used Car

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 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.

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 are found daily in the newspaper; you can also find car ads for your zip code at online E-Auto retailers), or, second, to buy from an established automobile dealer.

Although you may save money buying directly from an 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 will 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 major rusting problems.
  • Once you've found a vehicle, before purchase, use KBB.com to validate the purchase value and Carfax.com to check its history (includes accidents, salvages, etc.)
  • Check the guarantee; make sure you know what is and what is not covered and compare dealers' guarantees.
  • Bargain; don't assume the listed price is the one you must pay.
  • Once you have found one or more cars that interest you and are in your price range, 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. Don't buy from a dealer with a large complaint record.

Renting/Leasing a Car


Another option you should 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 country license and an international 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).

Prices vary considerably depending on the dealer, the size of the car, and whether the car is new or used. Don't forget that the cost of gas (after the first tankful is used up) is your responsibility. Also, there may be an additional charge for mileage.

If you have a US driver’s license, it is very convenient to book 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 around the city and at the airport as well.

Rates for airport pick-up tend to be lower. Some companies will offer a free service to pick you up from your location (Enterprise, for example), but, generally, this offer does not extend to offices located at the airport.

Listing of Major Car Rental Companies


Syracuse University offers a 24/7 access to Zipcars parked right on campus to students, faculties and staffs. Membership is $35/year plus you get $35 in free driving to use during your first month. Simply reserve online, let yourself in with your Zipcard and drive.

Hourly and daily rates always include gas and insurance.

For more information on how you can rent a Zipcar, hourly/daily reservation rates, please visit:http://www.zipcar.com/su/

To find cars around syracuse campus, please visit:

Leasing a Car

One final option open to you is to lease a car for one or two years, provided that you have an international driver's license. However, we do not recommend this method. Any savings through leasing will be offset by higher insurance rates insisted upon by the leaser.

In this arrangement, available through many car dealers and leasing companies in Syracuse, you lease the car for an extended period of time and pay a monthly fee that covers the car and its licensing.

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, but you may also purchase the insurance the same way you would if you owned the car yourself. Since you are not a permanent resident of the United States, you may be asked to pay all or part of the total year's fee in advance.

The cost of leasing will vary depending on the dealer, the size of the car, your credit rating, and whether the car is new or used. Most leases will run for a minimum period of two years. The cost will run from $130 to $250 and up per month (not including accident insurance or a security deposit).

Steps to Follow After Buying a Car

Assumes the Puchase of a Used Car for Cash (Not with a Lien)

Step 1: Obtain a Car Title

When you purchase a vehicle, make sure to obtain a proof of ownership.

If you purchase a car from an automobile dealer, they have to provide you with a 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.

  • Obtain the signed copy of the title from the owner
  • Make sure the owner does not have a lien on the car (owe money). The front of the title will specify if there is a lien. If the owner does not have the title, it is probably held by a lending institution.
  • Pay no money before the title is signed
  • Obtain a receipt for the purchase

Step 2 : Obtain Insurance in New York State

Every motor vehicle registered in New York State (NYS) must have at least liability insurance. This type of insurance is used for accident-related payments to someone other than yourself. Auto insurance can be costly.

If you are a male and under 25 years of age, your insurance will cost more than for other 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. While contacting a particular insurance company, inquire if it is authorized to do business in New York State.

Necessary Documents

In order to purchase an auto insurance policy, insurance companies require that you present the following:

  • Driver's license. The company will request driver's license numbers for everyone you want listed on your car insurance documents.
  • 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 dashboard inside the car.
  • Payment information/ Deposit

Requirements for US/ international driver’s license and Social Security Number vary from company to company. In general, car insurance companies require you to present a valid American driver’s license and a SS number. It is better to obtain a US driver’s license for the purpose of saving on your auto insurance rates (known as “premiums”).

A Social Security number is required by credit-based companies in order to verify the information you provide on your auto insurance policy application.

Step 3: Register Your Car with New York State

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 office is: 620 Erie Boulevard West (6 blocks west of Salina street).

Things to bring to the DMV office:

  • Proof of ownership (car TITLE)
  • Proof of your identity and date of birth

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 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 a 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 Form MV-50 will serve as a proof to the DMV that the tax has already been collected.

  • Give you a car registration certificate

Registration fee varies by the weight of the car

Insurance Company Information

This information is provided as an example of what some auto insurance companies require. This is in no way a recommendation for the company. You should call several companies to compare rates to see which one suits you best.

  • VIN #
  • SSN may be required
  • US driver’s license
  • Either SSN OR New York state ID are required
Syracuse agent
(315) 474-1081
  • International driver’s license may be accepted (proof of driving record required)
  • SSN is preferred, but this requirement may be waived
Rochester office
  • VIN# or car registration
  • US Driver’s license
  • No SSN is needed
  • Geico does not insure vehicles in the states of MA,NJ
  • US Driver’s license
  • SSN is required
Syracuse agent
(315) 468-4931
  • US Driver’s license: you need to have had a DL for at least 1 year to apply (New York state policy)
  • No SSN is needed
  • US Driver’s license
  • Vehicle title or registration
  • SSN is required
Syracuse agent
(315) 475-1226
(315) 446-0111

Types of Insurance Coverage

1. REQUIRED Insurance Coverage

  • Bodily Injury Liability by NYS law requires the minimum coverage of: $25,000 per person, $50,000 for bodily injury to all persons
  • Property Liability by NYS law requires the minimum coverage of: $10,000 per accident
  • Personal Injury Protection (called No-Fault). It refers to medical insurance for yourself and passengers in your own car, but it also includes coverage for loss of wages and services. The minimum protection is $50,000 per person. Your insurance company will pay for this.

2. OPTIONAL Insurance Coverage

  • Collision - any accident that occurs to your auto (i.e., while parked, collision, etc.)
  • Comprehensive - any loss other than collision (i.e., fire, theft, vandalism, etc.)

IMPORTANT NOTICE: In New York State, your liability insurance coverage must remain in effect while the registration is valid, even if the vehicle is not used (except motorcycles).

Your registration will be suspended if you have a lapse of insurance.
It can occur, for example, between the date of canceling your current insurance and the effective date of the new insurance if you change companies. If the lapse in the insurance coverage exceeds 90 days, your driver’s license will also be suspended.

For more information on insurance-related regulations, visit the Insurance section of the NYS DMV website


  • Driving while intoxicated (“DWI”) is a very serious crime in New York State.
  • In New York State, you must have a “hands-free device” to use your cell phone in the car.
  • You must always wear your seat belt—it's the Law!

To obtain additional information you should go to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
It is located at 620 Erie Blvd. West (6 blocks from Salina Street), or call 1-800-CALL-DMV (1-800-225-5368). They are open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Or you can visit the New York State DMV website.