Buying a car out of state can be a good way to get hold of a model that’s thin on the ground in your area, or to pick up a bargain, but be prepared for some extra steps as you go about making a purchase. Principally, you’ll need to title and register the vehicle in your home state, pay your sales tax there, and check with your state’s department of motor vehicles before you buy for other requirements including emission standards and safety inspections. You’ll also want to plan ahead to ensure the vehicle meets your own needs, represents a solid buy and is worth the journey.
Title and registration
Dealerships will typically help by providing both the title and temporary registration to get you home, after which you must pay to get the vehicle titled and registered in the state in which you live. There’s often a set number of days, which could be as few as 30, to get this done. If you’re buying from a private party, you should ask for the title and a record of the sale, but will then have to arrange the paperwork yourself. Whoever you’re buying from, also know that title standards vary from state to state, so a car that doesn’t need a salvage title in one state, for example, may require it in another.
Paying the sales tax
Sales tax must be paid in your home state and dealerships usually provide assistance with this, too, sending on the payment to the relevant agency. While you don’t have to pay sales tax twice, you may have to meet the difference if the state where you bought the car has a lower sales tax than your own. There could also be local taxes to pay. When buying from an individual seller, you’ll pay the tax when the car in registered.
Checking emission standards
Check what the emissions requirements are with your state’s DMV, and contact the dealer to see whether the car you’re interested in complies. California has the most stringent rules, set by the California Air Resources Board, and these have been adopted by 13 other states,* plus the Direct of Columbia. If your vehicle is purchased in one of these CARB states, it will be fine for all states. Conversely, if you live in a CARB state, make sure the vehicle is still suitable as some cars are made for non-CARB states only. There are exceptions, however. A car from a non-CARB state with more than 7,500 miles can be registered in California if it passes the smog test. If you’re viewing a car in person, you can check whether it’s California-compliant by locating the emissions plaque, usually on the underside of the hood or in the door jamb.
Many states will require the vehicle to pass a safety inspection before you can receive your new title and registration. When buying a used car, it’s always recommended to get a mechanic to thoroughly inspect the vehicle for any unseen issues before you buy.
Unless you’re planning to transport the vehicle, arrange auto insurance so you can drive it home. Insurance is another requirement for titling and registration on your return. If you’re financing the vehicle, you’ll need collision insurance.
Don’t forget the basics
While buying a car in another state requires some additional effort, it’s important to remember the fundamentals to make a sound purchase.
Budget what you can afford – Look at your overall budget to work out what you could comfortably pay for a car. If you’re intending to get financing, use auto loan calculators to see what you may be able to afford as a total loan amount and monthly payment, while accounting for any trade-in allowance and down payment.
Research the vehicle thoroughly – Read expert and consumer reviews to make sure the vehicle is right for your wants, needs and future plans. Check the market value and compare it to what the seller is asking to get an idea of how much you may be willing to pay.
Get a vehicle history report – A “must” when buying a used car, a vehicle history report from companies like Carfax and AutoCheck will tell you about its service history, any accidents and repairs, its title status, and is a valuable precursor to a vehicle inspection. Be particularly aware of salvage, flood and lemon law titles which could signal the car has encountered major issues.
Test drive – Think about driving a similar model closer to home to make sure you like it, then test drive your chosen model at the dealership to be certain it’s in good shape and definitely the vehicle you want to buy.
Negotiate the deal – Having worked out what you can afford to pay for a car and checked its market value, you’ll be in a stronger position to negotiate on price and close the deal.
Make financing easy with preapproval
Another way to enjoy more control in the car-buying process and lighten the load when buying out of state is to get preapproved for a loan before you travel. Applying with online lender RoadLoans takes only a few minutes and you’ll receive an instant decision. If approved, we’ll send you multiple offers for your consideration. Make your selection, download your loan packet and take it with you to the dealership already knowing that your financing is arranged. Preapproval from RoadLoans offers peace of mind and empowers you to shop with the confidence of a cash buyer.
Apply for a car loan and get an instant decision.
*Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.