It can sometimes pay to broaden your horizons and shop for a car or truck that’s located in another state. You might find a better deal on a given new or used car outside your metropolitan area. Or it may be the only way to locate a hard-to-find model, especially an older vintage car. You might also be looking for a new or used model with a combination of colors and features that’s not available locally. Just beware that buying a car out of state can sometimes be more challenging than buying locally.
Can I Buy a Car Out Of State?
There’s nothing to stop a buyer from crossing state borders to buy either a new or a used car, though there are a few things to consider.
For starters, shopping for an out-of-state vehicle takes more time and effort, and it can involve additional peril. You never want to buy a car or truck sight unseen. It’s always best to travel to wherever the vehicle is located to make sure it’s as advertised, and to give the car or truck a test drive before signing a bill of sale. Even better, take the time to have a used vehicle inspected by a local mechanic who can evaluate its mechanical condition and warn of any possible problems down the road.
You’ll receive a signed title from the seller that names you as the current owner, but you will have to register the vehicle in your own state once you get it home. If you buy a car from a dealership, they may give you a temporary registration sticker. Otherwise be prepared to be stopped by law enforcement on the way home for not having a license plate. It’s a good idea to contact your insurance company immediately upon purchasing an out-of-state car to be sure you’re covered for the ride home.
In Most States
Depending on your state’s regulations you’ll have a certain number of days to register the title at your local DMV and pay a set fee. You’ll probably have to show proof of insurance (most states require minimum liability coverage) at this time, as well. You’ll also need various forms of identification to have a car titled in your name. These typically include a government-issued photo ID (your driver’s license will do), along with a utility or tax bill that shows proof of address.
If you’ve bought a car from a dealership they will likely collect sales tax and pass it along to the proper agency in your state. You might have to pay the difference if that state’s sales tax is lower than yours, however. You may also have to pay any applicable local sales taxes. If you’re buying a used car from a private party, you’ll almost certainly have to pay taxes on the transaction price when it’s registered.
Be aware that you’ll likely have to get an emissions test or smog check beforehand, which will delay the registration process. A test may be required only in certain counties, and newer or low-mileage cars may be exempt from testing, depending on local regulations. It pays to check with your state DMV’s website beforehand to see what’s required. It’s also wise to have the seller show proof that the vehicle has passed its last emissions test to avoid any surprises later on.
Where Is It Cheapest To Buy A Car?
Local supply and demand are key elements in determining a vehicle’s transaction price, whether new or used. Among new models, be aware that manufacturers’ cash rebates and other incentives can vary by region to help address these issues. We’ve seen incentives on some models differ by $1,500 or more depending on where they’re being offered. Check the “local offers” sections on automakers’ websites to see how big a rebate they’re giving in various parts of the country. It may be worth a long drive to garner a richer rebate or zero percent financing if it’s being offered where you live.
What’s more, prices for specific types of used vehicles can vary by region. For example, convertibles tend to be in greater demand and command more money in warmer climates than colder ones. Conversely, four-wheel-drive trucks and SUVs tend to be more valuable in northern states than in the south.
How To Buy A Car In Another State
If you find a better deal or an otherwise hard-to-find model in another state, whether new or used, you’ll need to take a day trip to handle the transaction yourself. Again, it’s important that you meet the owner and give the car a thorough test drive. This can be an easier undertaking if you’re looking for a specific new vehicle that you can’t find near where you live. That’s because you can usually have the closest dealership for a given brand search other dealers’ inventories and have the vehicle shipped locally for purchase.
That said, be wary of out-of-town used-car classified listings that involve a third-party agent using a funds transfer service. There’s a good chance the vehicle will never be delivered and you’ll never hear from the “seller” again. Another growing problem is with vehicle “cloning.” Here, thieves obtain a legitimate vehicle identification number (VIN) from a car matching the year, make, model and color of a stolen vehicle and swap or duplicate the identifying digits. And watch out for something called “title washing.” This is where con artists illegally remove “salvage” or “flood” designations from vehicle documents to make wrecks look like problem-free models, at least on paper.
This is why you should only consider buying a used vehicle after obtaining a CARFAX Vehicle History Report, which can confirm the number of owners and the odometer reading. A Carfax Report may also indicate if the car has been in a wreck, flooded or salvaged.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in May 2015. It has been completely updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.