If you’re wondering, “Can I buy a car in another state?”, the short answer is yes. But be sure to read on for a more nuanced discussion.

Buying A Car in Another State

Woman receiving new car keys
Woman receiving new car keys

Given all the upheaval in the availability of new cars, not to mention pricing, those in the market for their next vehicle may have wondered, “Can I buy a car in another state?” It certainly opens up the sheer number of options to consider as you broaden your search geographically. And if that radius puts your next vehicle in another state, the short answer to the above question is a yes, it is legal to buy a car in another state.

Along with more options to choose from, this approach can help you find better deals as costs can fluctuate from one region to the next based on simple supply and demand. A convertible is more sought after in Florida than Montana for example. Additionally, new car rebates and incentives can vary widely by region offering the promise of money saved by looking further afield.

Whether you are looking for the latest and greatest 2023 models, have your sights set on a certified pre-owned vehicle, or are looking to save big money by exploring the used car market, the following steps to buying a car out of state should help you decide if it’s worth the effort.

Check the DMV for Local Regulations

Department of Motor Vehicles
Department of Motor Vehicles

Before you consider buying a vehicle out of state, it’s worth spending some time perusing your local department of motor vehicles website. Regulations can vary widely from one state to the next, so the sections on registration, titling, and taxes will provide important information as you move through this process. Typically, there are also FAQ portions that speak to buying an out-of-state car.

Shopping for a Car Online

Salesman and buyer discussing a vehicle
Salesman and buyer discussing a vehicle

The fun part of buying any vehicle, out of state or not, is going shopping for it. There is certainly no shortage of avenues for this, from dealership websites to Facebook Marketplace and of course the listings here at CarsForSale.com, which make it easy to filter by distance, make, model, year, budget, and a whole lot more.

Review the Vehicle History Report

Saleswoman showing vehicle information
Saleswoman showing vehicle information

Once you’ve located a vehicle you’d like to purchase, be sure to obtain a vehicle history report. Working off the VIN, this report acts as an initial filter for any red flags that you’ll want to consider before going further. That can include liens on the car, accident history, and more. You can learn more about how to best utilize vehicle history reports here.

Get Written Confirmation the Car Will Be There

Salesperson and car buyer shaking hands
Salesperson and car buyer shaking hands

Whether you’re planning to physically go pick up the car, or have it shipped, be sure to have the seller – whether it’s a private party or a dealership – confirm in writing that the vehicle isn’t going anywhere. Seems obvious, but if you’re traveling a long distance to obtain your new ride, there would be nothing worse than finding out it was already sold.

Have a Qualified Mechanic Inspect the Vehicle

Inspecting a vehicle
Inspecting a vehicle

Mainly applicable to used cars, especially from private sellers, it’s critical that you have the vehicle carefully inspected before agreeing to buy it. This entails having a qualified mechanic go over the car top-to-bottom to ensure everything is working as it should. Of course, you should perform your own examination of the car with a checklist like the one we detail here.

Make Sure to Properly Insure the Car

Car insurance form
Car insurance form

Once you’ve decided you’ll be purchasing a new, or used, vehicle, take a few minutes to call your auto insurance provider and find out what you’ll need to do in order to properly insure the car. Some carriers require coverage for the vehicle before you buy it, while others give a grace period before it’s officially added to the policy.

If you’re paying for your new ride with a loan, the lender may have specific insurance requirements to fund that loan so it pays to find out ahead of time and avoid surprises down the road.

Getting Your New Car Home

Vehicles being transported
Vehicles being transported

Depending on how you buy your next car dictates how you get it home across state lines. If you purchase from a private seller, you’ll need the title signed over to you and a bill of sale naming you as the owner since you will be driving it home without a license plate.

If you buy the car from a dealership, they can typically help by providing a temporary license plate and in some cases, a temporary registration card. All of this is important to have in the event you get pulled over. Of course, you can always pay to have your car shipped via truck directly to your home as another option.

Safety and Emissions Test

Vehicle emissions test
Vehicle emissions test

This varies by state, but normally your car will need to pass some form of safety and emissions test. The emissions component is especially important if you live in California. The state has very stringent emissions protocols so before you even buy the car, verify it will pass this test. Certain vehicles are made to be only 49-state emissions certified, which is something you can often determine by finding a factory sticker on the door jamb or in the engine bay.

Taxes, Title, and Registration

Vehicle paperwork
Vehicle paperwork

With your safety and emissions certificates, sales paperwork, proof of address, and photo ID in hand, it’s time to head to your local DMV (though check first to verify specifics on what information they require). Sales tax will need to be paid in the state you’re registering the car, title documents will need to be converted from the former state into your home state, and of course you will need registration documents. This can normally all be handled at the DMV office but can be complex, so as noted at the beginning of this article, it’s worth reading up on your state’s policies ahead of time.

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Niel Stender

Niel Stender grew up doing replacement work on his 1990 Cherokee and 1989 Starion, so it’s not surprising that he would put his mechanical engineering degree from the University of New Hampshire to use in the car world as a vehicle dynamics engineer. Now engineering sentence structures, his writing infuses his auto experience with his time in marketing and his sales experience. Writing about cars for close to a decade now, he focuses on some of the more technical mechanical systems that are found under the hood and throughout a vehicle.

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