Don't Sell Your Used Car Illegally; It Could Get Ticketed or Towed

Some Governments Have Special Requirements or Ban Used Car For Sale Signs

Check your local and state laws before putting a For Sale sign in your used car window. You could get slapped with a big ticket or have your car towed. Graphic © Keith Griffin

When it comes time to sell your used car, one option you need to be leery of is posting a “For Sale” sign in your used car. In some parts of the country, that could get cost you a ticket – or, even worse – your car could be towed. It’s a problem in Wisconsin and Virginia.

The city of Milwaukee is now charging residents $40 for a permit to sell a used cars on public property – i.e. parked on city streets.

The Commonwealth of Virginia prohibits for sale signs in vehicles, too.

Selling a Used Car in Milwaukee

Let’s look first at the Milwaukee ordinance (which is available by going to Milwaukee Code of Ordinances and scrolling down to 101 Traffic Code). You’re going to want to look for “101-29. Vehicles For Sale On Public Property.” Basically, the city of Milwaukee is now charging residents $40 for a permit to sell used cars on public property – i.e. parked on city streets.

And it’s not simple to get this permit, either. A Milwaukee resident needs to go to the local department of public works. The public works department has to inspect the vehicle and make sure the vehicle identification number has not been altered.

There’s a HUGE consequence if you don’t get that permit. Your car is going to be towed and you are going to forced to pay about $125 to get your car back from the impound lot – just because you were trying to sell your used car with a for sale sign in the window.

The ordinance also doesn’t delineate between Milwaukee vehicles parked with a “for sale” sign and Green Bay cars parked with a sign in the window.

Selling a Used Car in Virginia

I was tipped off by a reader that there is a similar ordinance in Fairfax County, Virginia. Basically, you can’t “park a vehicle along any roadway or alley and place a for sale/rent sign in its window.” The consequences aren’t as severe.

Your car won’t be towed, but you can face a $50 ticket.

For those of you into the technical wording of the law, it states:
Section 82-5-19. Parking for certain purposes prohibited.
(a) It shall be unlawful for any person:
(1) To park or place any automobile, truck, trailer or other vehicle upon or in any street, alley or parkway for the purpose of selling or offering the same for sale or rent;
(2) To attach or place any sign or lettering upon any automobile, truck, trailer or other vehicle parked in or upon any public street, alley or parkway indicating that such vehicle is offered for sale or for rent.

Now, I’m not an attorney, nor can I be used as a source of legal advice, but after almost 30 years in journalism (and four years in politics), I can read my way around a legal statute. I read what the applicable statute: 46.2-1508.2: Display, parking, selling, advertising sale of certain used motor vehicles prohibited. (Here is the text of the law.) It says a car must be parked for 48 hours and then a warning must be placed on the vehicle. Only then can it be ticketed.

The consequences

The reader who told me about her experience parks her car on the street in front of her Fairfax County home.

She said it had been sitting with the For Sale sign in the window for about three weeks when she got the ticket in Alexandria. Nobody in her neighborhood told her it was illegal probably because nobody knew! Plus she never received any type of warning from a police officer or zoning official. It’s entirely possible, though, and I couldn’t determine if Fairfax County has an exception to the state law in its ordinance.

As Jaime points out in her email, “So far EVERYONE I've talked to within my ‘mom's circles’ had NO idea about this. Virginia (at least Alexandria where I am) is a mix of military and other people who are in and out of various states that would probably have no reason to know this law at all.”

The county might argue that the information is available on its website. I give Fairfax County credit for having an excellent website but even though the information is there, police officers still need to issue warnings before handing out $50 tickets for this violation.

Education is as important as enforcement in situations like this.