Buying a car in another state can be a bit more a hassle than buying a vehicle locally. For whatever reason you might be considering this, let's look at some things to consider when buying a car out of state.
Why buy a car out of state?
Well, the answer to this first question is not so simple. The truth is it will be more difficult than buying a car in-state. So just make sure you want to deal with the extra trouble it will take. That being said, there are some good reasons to buy a vehicle out of state.
There is a chance you may be looking for a specific used car. Let's say you want a very particular car like a 1968 Corvette. That being the case, some cars you just simply have to buy where they are at. You may also find a used car that is just too good a bargain to pass up. Whatever the case, it may be worth the extra effort to go out of state to buy that car you found.
Conversely, you may be getting a new car that would require you to go out of state. This could happen for several reasons; one could be due to availability or perhaps you live near the border of two states and dealers have better prices in the state you don't happen to live. Granted, these are less common issues for new cars than if you're seeking a specific vintage car, but there are instances where these situations might be the case. If you're seeking an upper-end luxury or performance car, it's possible there is limited availability and you might consider yourself lucky to find the vehicle at any dealership – regardless of location. Or you may just want a very specific set of options on your new car that only a few dealerships have in inventory. Whatever your reasons, there are a few things you should be aware of before making your purchase.
Check your state requirements
You will find that states don't agree on what constitutes a vehicle fit for driving on the road. Take off-road vehicles with missing doors, for instance. One state's deathtrap is evidently another state's extreme off-road experience. In some states, it is perfectly legal to not have a car door between you and the rest of the world. Others require you to have a door or at least a mirror where the door should be.
A more likely problem with state requirements will be emissions. Keep in mind – emission standards are set by the state. Well, more specifically one state – California. Here's the reason. Emission standards are set by the U.S. federal government. However, California received a special dispensation years ago due to the amount of vehicle-caused air pollution in Los Angeles to make their emission laws far stricter.
Not wanting to pick favorites, the federal government lets states either choose the federal standard or the California standard. Well, the totally accurate truth of the matter is more complex, but that is the gist of the two standards system. The important point is if you're bringing a car from a state on the federal system to one on the California system, your car may not be allowed to run on the road. So do your research in advance to make sure this won't be an issue.
Investigate your car
If you're buying a car new from a dealer, you won't need to do as much research on the individual vehicle for the purposes of legality. For that matter, if it's a new car, it won't have any history to view anyways. This is not so with a used vehicle. The odometer won't tell you even half the story about the car your considering purchasing. So you should start with a thorough check of the vehicle's history and its current shape.
Your first order of business should be getting a vehicle history report. Companies like Carfax will run a check on your chosen car. This will give you an excellent idea of the vehicle's ownership history, whether it has been in any accidents, any recalls on the vehicle, service records, and warranty information as well as much more data.
With a history report done, the next step would be to have the vehicle inspected. Now that you know the history, it only makes sense to understand what shape it is in currently. Use a reputable inspection service of your own choosing. Never let the owner of the car suggest someone. You need a third party with only your own best interests in mind.
Lastly, double-check and ensure that the current owner has all the needed documentation to complete the sale. Remember, you're buying a car out of state. If the seller is missing any paperwork this could prove costly for you. You may have to make the trip again a second time or be forced to stay overnight while the owner gets needed documentation from their local DMV.
Test drive the car
Assuming everything checks out with the vehicle's history and it seems in currently good order – your next step is test driving the car yourself. This applies whether the car is used or new. In the case of a used car, it's good to get a feel for how the car actually drives. Even if it runs smoothly idling, taking the car for a reasonably long drive might make other issues more obvious. Perhaps it has more subtle issues like a broken radio or poor air conditioning. Or it may run rough at highway speeds.
The test drive is your chance to catch these problems before it is too late and the sale is complete. Used cars don't usually come with warranties. Being thorough might help you avoid your worst nightmare – your new purchase coming home on the back of a tow truck.
On the other hand, test driving a new car is also useful – if for different reasons. If you're new to the make, model, year, etc.,. of a new car – keep in mind you only like looking at the vehicle so far. A car is a significant investment and you want to avoid owner's remorse before it's too late. Make sure you have ample time to drive the vehicle to be certain it's the one you really want.
Tax and registration
Once you purchase your car, you'll likely have some work to do before bringing your car home. Buying a car out of state may require some time spent online or at the local DMV. Firstly, you'll probably be owing to some taxes. Those are usually paid in the state where you register your newly purchased vehicle. If either the state where you purchased your car or your home state has no sales tax, it might save you money to register it in the tax-free state. Just check your local DMV in your home state first to make sure you're not legally obligated to register the vehicle in a particular state.
Also, you may need to apply for a temporary registration in the purchasing state to legally drive your new car home. If you're buying a new car from a dealership, they'll likely take care of all this. But if you're buying a car from a private seller, it will likely fall to you to make sure you're keeping the car legally compliant with state regulations. Also, keep in mind that a license plate does not come with a vehicle. This isn't an issue with a new car purchase that comes with a dealer temporary tag. You'll need to check the state rules though on what to do if you purchase a vehicle and need to drive it home before getting new license plates.
Don't drive off without insurance
Here is a friendly reminder. As soon as a vehicle is paid for and the title is transferred, it is your vehicle with all the inherent responsibilities that come with it. One thing you must do is maintain current insurance coverage on your vehicle. So make sure you've properly insured your vehicle before you drive away in it. That being said, some insurance companies will cover you in a newly purchased vehicle for a short grace period. If you want to take this route, contact your insurer and find out if they'll cover you automatically. Regardless, if the vehicle you bought is significantly more expensive than the car you currently insure, you will want to get separate insurance before getting behind the wheel depending on your level of coverage. You don't want to risk wrecking a car and having insufficient insurance to cover replacing the new vehicle.
Having your car shipped home
One option that can save you a bit of hassle is to have your car shipped home for you. This is probably a bad idea with used car unless you intend to go out and buy the car then have it shipped. You don't want to skip that initial test drive and personal inspection of the vehicle and it'll be extremely difficult to handle buying the car from home from a private seller if you're not buying form a dealership.
While it is becoming considerably safer to purchase online, a new car out of state can still mean a lack of test drive. You can alleviate this a bit by test driving a similar car at a local dealership if they're available. There is also is the cost of shipment. If you go through a dealership, they may have a flat fee for shipping. If you're going through a private seller, you'll probably need to arrange the shipper yourself and likely pay by the mile.
What to do when you get home
You finished buying a car out of state – congratulations on your new (even if only to you) car! Don't think you're done yet. It's now time to get your new vehicle all legal and set in your home state. First stop is your DMV.
Make sure you have everything you need for the DMV:
- Car title
- Title application
- Odometer statement
- VIN verification
- Proof of insurance
- Bill of sale
Having these all at the ready will save you time at the DMV and maybe even save you an extra trip. A dealer will help ensure you have everything you need to get the car registered. But if you're out of state, they may be limited to how much they can do for you. So it's up to you to make sure you have everything in hand to get your car registered.
Still interested in buying a car out of state?
Great! Just remember what you covered here as you get started. You will need to make sure the car will be legal in your state and get a report on the vehicle's history. Assuming the history checks out, check with your local DMV to make sure what requirements you'll have when you bring your vehicle home. You should be able to get this information online.
Speaking of requirements, find out if you'll need to have insurance at the time of vehicle purchase. You'll want everything ready before you head out of state to buy your car. You also might want to have an inspector lined up already near to where you'll be buying your car.
After the inspector gives the car a thumbs up, test drive your car. You will want to make sure you find no mechanical problems, make sure the vehicle performs as you thought it would and to be sure it's definitely the car you want. Because once you sign for the car and money changes hands, it's yours – for better or worse.
The next step is getting your car back to your home state. Make sure you satisfy whatever state requirements there are to legally drive your new vehicle home. This means some kind of insurance in hand and temporary tag requirements satisfied. Finally, there is just that one last trip to your local DMV to register your new car. Again, make sure you have all the paperwork we covered earlier or that last trip could become several trips.
That's the general process for buying a car out of state – either new or used. Make sure to do all the preliminary work before leaving town, keep track of all your paperwork, try and have patience at your local DMV and enjoy that new car.