Everything You Need To Know To Buy A Car Out Of State


Purchasing a vehicle out of state might be a great way to get a good deal or find the perfect car that local dealers don't seem to have, but it can be a huge headache if you don't know how to do it properly.

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There are any number of reasons you may want to buy a car out of state. It could be as simple as local dealerships having low stock and buyers wanting more options. Maybe you know exactly what you want, but the nearest dealership that has what you need is one state over. You could also get a better deal if you buy a car from another state, depending on supply and demand. Then there is the pre-owned car market; buying a used car out of state is pretty common, especially if you live in a state where a specific type of car like a used Ram 1500 Lone Star may not be readily available. Hydrogen-powered cars like the Honda Clarity Fuel Cell, for example, are pretty much limited to California. If any of this sounds familiar, you'll probably want to know how to buy a car out of state.

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How To Buy A Car Out Of State

Thanks to modern technology, the whole process is a lot simpler than it once was. In fact, you don't even need to restrict yourself to shopping in neighboring states. Once you go online and see the sheer number of options, you'll be daunted for a completed different reason. Luckily, if you're buying a car in another state from a dealership, things are a lot simpler. The consultant will likely know what you need to do, especially if the states are adjacent. They may even be willing to do a lot of the legwork for you and streamline the various administrative tasks.

However, if you're buying a used car in another state from a private seller, you will really need to do your research and make sure you get everything right. Otherwise, you could spend a lot of money and get nothing for your effort but regret. Be very wary of scams so check out our guide to buying a car sight unseen.

Steps To Buying A New Or Used Car Out Of State

Regardless of whether you are purchasing a vehicle out of state from a dealer or a private seller, it still helps to know everything that needs to be done. While each region has its own specific laws and regulations, here are the most commons step to take when buying a new or used car out of state:

Find the car you really want

With access to the internet, the world is your oyster. You can cruise local and international dealerships, or even check out used cars that have been privately listed. It's never been easier to find the car of your dreams.

Get a vehicle history

Once you've picked a car from the inevitably long lists available, you need to make sure it is what the seller says it is. For this, you will need to do some homework. Obtaining an official vehicle history, maintenance records, or service history is highly recommended. Be sure to run a VIN number check. This can be done online through sites like AutoCheck or Carfax. An in-depth report will let you know if the car is worth your money or even real, as well as any issues that you should be aware of. The last thing you want is to lay down money for a vehicle that's actually been stolen or totaled in an accident, just for it to be illegally rebuilt for sale.

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Get an inspection

A history report is all well and good, but you should never buy a car unseen. If the seller or dealer is close enough, you can go see the vehicle yourself. However, if it's further afield, you may want to ask someone you trust to take a look. Another good idea would be to hire a mechanic in the area to do an inspection for you. They may spot a problem that a layperson would miss, and it could save you a lot of money or help you negotiate a better price. This is even more important if you're buying classic or vintage cars - take an expert along to make sure you're not being done in.

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Make sure the car meets all the regulations in your state

This is all too easy to forget, but every state has its own laws regarding what classifies a roadworthy car. Something to pay particularly close attention to is emissions regulations and safety requirements. Some states require that you do a safety and emissions inspection every two years. Check the website for your local Department of Motor Vehicles and familiarize yourself with the various requirements. It wouldn't do you any good to buy a car from a different state only to realize you can't actually use it in your state.

Negotiate the price

No price is final. Whether the person selling the car is a private owner or a dealer, there is always some wiggle room. If you need to travel to collect the vehicle, add that into the calculations. If you are shipping, you can factor that into the cost, too. Also, try to ensure that there is an exit clause in the event that the car you arrive to pick up is not the car you agreed to buy, if you have decided to take the risk and buy a vehicle without seeing it yourself.

Insure the car and pay the sales tax

These are more of those pesky expenses. You'll need to have car insurance to drive it anyway, so you may as well get it over with. Sales tax is also unavoidable. Even if you buy from a state that doesn't have the tax, you'll need to pay it when moving cars to another state that does have sales tax. This is a necessary evil to get the car licensed.

Get the title

Once all the levies and fees have been sorted and the purchase concluded, you'll need to get the title from the owner or dealer. This will be necessary to license and register the vehicle back home. This, along with the bill of sale, should be enough to drive home with, but you may need to get a temporary registration permit. This is something you will need to check with both your local DMV and the DMV for that state you are buying from.

License the vehicle

The final step when buying a car out of state is to license and register in your home state. Again, the exact process will differ from state to state, so you will have to consult your DMV. The car may have to pass yet another inspection before it is deemed roadworthy and eligible for a local title.

Is It Worth Buying A Car From Another State?

So, knowing how to buy a car out of state shows you just how much of a hassle it can be. It naturally follows that you'll begin to wonder if it's worth the effort. Here are some of the pros and cons to help you decide:

Pros and Cons

  • A lot more options to find the perfect car
  • You may have no choice if you're after a particularly rare or collector's car
  • More options means better deals as the supply and demand calculation changes
  • It's a huge drain on time to do all the research about the different laws and such
  • The cost of travel or shipping may be more than what you actually save
  • The car you find may not even be legal for your state

There is definitely an argument to be made both for or against taking this step. Your personal reasons will likely be the deciding factor. Your budget and the availability of the car you wish to own may push you to look at the larger market, and we hope that this guide on how to buy a car from another state will help.

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How do I register a car bought out of state?

This is not as daunting as it may seem, though each state will have different requirements and paperwork. Generally speaking, the title of the car, the bill of sale, and your proof of identification should be all you need to go down to your local DMV and get the car registered under your name in the new state. You will have to pay the associated registration fees, though.

What is the cheapest state to buy a car in?

This depends on various factors, but the first thing to look at is the average price of used cars in the various states. Currently, Indiana leads the pack with an average price of around $22k. The remaining top five cheapest states are all also in the east: Ohio, Connecticut, Virginia, and Kentucky. So, if you live in the mid-west, you may be able to save some money by shopping in these states.

Can you avoid sales tax when buying a car out of state?

Buying a car from a state with no sales tax does not exempt you from paying it. This is because sales tax is paid when you register the vehicle in your home state and is calculated by said state. Read more about vehicle taxes when buying a car here.

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