What You Need to Know About Buying a Car Out of State

Home/Blog//What You Need to Know About Buying a Car Out of State

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.

By | 2018-08-13T21:36:11+00:00 August 13th, 2018|Car Buying|42 Comments

42 Comments

  1. Alex Jennings May 27, 2015 at 8:24 am - Reply

    I’ve been hesitant about buying cars from people who live in other states. I’m not sure of all of the registration requirements, but I’m sure they’re somewhat similar. As you mentioned in your article, “A new vehicle [in California] is defined as any vehicle with fewer than 7,500 miles on the odometer when it was purchased.” Does that mean cars with greater than 7,500 miles don’t have to pass smog laws?

    Alex Jennings |

    • John California September 5, 2015 at 9:41 am - Reply

      My understanding is that any vehicle needs to pass smog to be registered in California. But California will NOT register a car from out of state with less than 7500 miles that is not California certified. The CA DMV website has info.

  2. Matt Keegan June 11, 2015 at 8:59 am - Reply

    Alex, California’s smog laws are rather complicated. Visit the following link to determine whether a particular vehicle you own or are considering requires a smog check: https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/vr/smogfaq

  3. Douglas Brown July 8, 2015 at 2:18 pm - Reply

    A friend of just recently moved away to another state, and said that the process for having his vehicle inspected was a lot different than previously. He did not go into a lot of detail about what exactly that meant, but it is important to know that if moving states. The worst thing to have happen is to go to the DMV (at all) and then have to wait, only to find out that you needed a new inspection. This happened to us and it was not fun!

  4. bryan flake July 17, 2015 at 3:25 pm - Reply

    Different states have different rules about things like auto emissions and so forth. I am wondering if different states have varying rules about car parts and their qualities. If I want to get a used auto part because it is cheaper, I feel like the standard of quality of that part should be the same across all state borders.

  5. kelly August 26, 2015 at 3:21 pm - Reply

    so my question is driving a vehicle, purchased in georgia and driven to Colorado. already checked Reg. requirements, my question is what do I put on the vehicle between Georgia and Colorado plate wise… I am flying into Atlanta on saturday and driving out on sunday so no chance to go to DMV. will I be fine?

    • Greg March 5, 2016 at 11:38 am - Reply

      So what did you end up having to do?To get the car from GA to CO?

      I’m curious, because I’m looking at a car in IL & trying to figure out how to get it back to CO,

      Thanks,
      Greg

      • Lola April 10, 2016 at 6:45 pm - Reply

        Did you figure this out? I also am looking for a car in IL and I live in Cali. It’s a new car and no Lexus dealers are willing to broker the deal with an out of state Lexus dealer. Trying to figure out what to do that won’t cost me an arm and a leg

  6. jacob reitzin November 19, 2015 at 2:53 am - Reply

    Does anyone know if i can purchase a vehicle that i am not a resident in and then sell it in the same state, even though i am not a resident of that state? cheers,

  7. Olivia Sherwin January 8, 2016 at 2:34 pm - Reply

    This is some great information, and I appreciate your point that a car purchased in another state needs to be registered in yours. I bought a car a couple of months ago, but I’m now moving to a different state. I’ll definitely look into having it registered in the new state right away so it gets done before the thirty day limit. Thanks for the great post!

  8. venessa January 14, 2016 at 8:23 pm - Reply

    If i bought a car in arkansaw would i have to pay ssles tax of the purchsse price or can i just resistrate it in cal

  9. Josh Kim February 8, 2016 at 10:19 pm - Reply

    Hello everyone! Currently I am holding California driver license but staying in North Dakota college dorm. I am planning to buy a used car from Minnesota. What would I need to do? I am really confused here because there are 3 states involved in this. Do I need to change my license? or car? Please help me!

  10. Tommy Hart March 26, 2016 at 4:50 pm - Reply

    I help customers registers cars in California from out of state. It is not to terribly difficult to register a vehicle from out of state in California. Emission is the main issue. If you have more than 7500 miles on the car then emissions does not apply.

    • Bobby October 1, 2016 at 5:02 pm - Reply

      I just bought a 1999 vehicle with 92,000 miles and it does not have the “California” qualification on the label.

      Since it is not new and it’s over 7500 miles, would you think it can be registered in California?

      Really appreciate whatever you know on the topic.

      Thanks!

    • Sam November 23, 2016 at 9:30 am - Reply

      What about purchasing a vehicle in California and registering it in another state? I’m doing g travel nursing in Cali, but want to purchase here and register in GA where I own a home

      • Bobbie July 3, 2017 at 1:37 pm - Reply

        Fyi to anyone thinking of moving to Ga or registering, there is now an ad valorum tax charged when you register your vehicle! It used to be an annual tax paid on the vehicle’s value upon renewing registration, but now it is a 7% (thru 2018) tax, one time only. So buying out of state to get a good deal becomes less of a good deal with that new tax. sucks!!

    • Kris Olko December 17, 2016 at 1:57 pm - Reply

      Hi Tommy,
      Just to be clear, if I buy a diesel truck with 27,000 miles from Michigan, I can register it in CA? How do I know that the vehicle will pass its smog?

    • Bob Cox January 5, 2017 at 3:14 am - Reply

      Tommy,
      I am thinking about purchasing a 2005 vehicle with more than 7500 miles on it in Chicago and I live in Orange County Cali. How big of hassel will this be in regards to emissions/smog? Thanks

    • Kevin Cronin January 12, 2017 at 6:08 pm - Reply

      I just purchased a 2008 Honda Element that was last registered in California. But, I bought the car in Phoenix Arizona where it has been stored for almost two years. It has over 100, 000 miles on it. If I go to the DMV in L.A. where I live. Can I register the car with the California title as an out of state car I will be bringing back to California, without a smog certificate? I read you help people in Cali who buy cars out of state get them registered in Cali. Can you help me with this problem and how much are your services?

    • Clay February 25, 2017 at 11:50 am - Reply

      Tommy,

      I live in NY State and want to purchase a preowned vehicle from a dealer in California, but register and operate it in NY State. They said I have to pay CA sales taxes. Does this sound correct? Thanks in advance

  11. James Bergman April 6, 2016 at 10:32 am - Reply

    The biggest surprise that I had when buying a car from out of state was that I had to re-title the car. I bought the car from my older brother so that I could have a car for college. Unfortunately we had to go through some extra steps because the original title had been lost. So, when I finally got the title I thought that was it and I just needed to register the car. Wrong, I had to get a whole new title for my state. So, be careful when buying out of state that you plan for the cost of possibly getting a new title.

  12. Del Jennings April 12, 2016 at 3:44 pm - Reply

    I got a Carfax that reported “Structural Damage” can you please define what that would indicate, frame damage, or unibody damage or just a fender bender? I had a pre purchase inspection done by the Audi dealer and they cannot tell me, please advise. Thank you

    • CAR FOX April 12, 2016 at 6:14 pm - Reply

      Hi Del,

      Structural damage is described as damage to any part of the main structure, or any component that is designed to provide structural integrity. Additional parts that are bolted on are not considered part of the vehicle’s structure.

      Hope this helps – You can read more about structural damage by clicking the link below:

      http://www.carfax.com/blog/structural-damage-101/

  13. Steve August 19, 2016 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    If I move from Georgia to California and bring my car with me (a 2007 Lexus), will I be able to sell the car in California a year later? Or in order to sell it Cali will I need to upgrade it so meets CA emissions standards and will that be very expensive? (Say over $500)

    • manny September 19, 2016 at 8:52 pm - Reply

      If you do not want to upgrade it to meet the CA emissions, you will be better off selling the vehicle unless you get an exemption from the DMV to register it as your vehicle for normal use by you. CA is very strict in that respect as when I came from NY with a vehicle with NY license, I sold it because of the CA Emission requirements.

  14. J Charos September 7, 2016 at 8:59 pm - Reply

    You would think by now there would be some type of federal standard and you wouldn’t have to go thru all of this baloney and extra cost.

    • M. Tallman August 14, 2017 at 11:38 pm - Reply

      There ARE federal standards for the emissions requirements – it’s just that CA and a few other states have chosen to impose even stricter standards within their borders.
      As far as titles and transfers and taxes and registrations, those are individual state matters. And yes, if the states wanted to give that licensing power to the feds, they could ask their citizens for permission to do that (extremely unlikely), and even if they did, there would still be the issue of differing sales tax rates between the states, and that won’t be changing either. Some states have zero sales tax and others have exorbitant sales tax – It’s doubtful that the feds would even want to get in the middle of that paperwork without taking a substantial cut.

  15. Tiffany October 3, 2016 at 6:05 pm - Reply

    If I purchased a vehicle in GA and want to bring it to my current state KY is there any special requirements I need to do ?

  16. Daniel January 17, 2017 at 10:23 am - Reply

    I bought a car with an out of state title and the California DMV won’t allow me to register it under my name, the previous owners had moved here and were able to get the California plates, even tho they too had lost the title, what do I do ?

  17. Blake Lawrence March 1, 2017 at 8:38 am - Reply

    I bought a car in Colorado and am driving it to Oregon. In Colorado the owner keeps the plates after the sale. So do I need to get temporary tags? Or can I drive the car to Oregon with insurance alone? Thank you!

  18. Michelle March 28, 2017 at 8:11 pm - Reply

    I want to go to Arizona to buy a car and drive back to Colorado what do I need to do in order for me to register my car in Colorado?

  19. crystal March 29, 2017 at 5:46 pm - Reply

    hi there,

    i’m buying a car in dallas, texas and will be driving it back to philadelphia, pennsylvania. i am registering it in philadelphia so will it be illegal if i drive it back without insurance and registration?

    • Santi April 6, 2017 at 1:19 pm - Reply

      Firstly, I think you need some sort of basic insurance to buy the car from the dealer in the first place. Else the cannot legally sell the car to you.

      Secondly, the car would have dealer tags which are valid for about 30-60 days. They’re proof that the car has been temporarily registered. So, I think you can drive it back legally.

      Just ensure you have proper insurance, though!

  20. Mike July 8, 2017 at 4:54 pm - Reply

    I am buying a 1973 MGB in Oregon with Oregon plates and title. I will immediately be bringing that MGB into California. I realize I’ll have to pay California sales tax, title and registration fees. My question is: Does the California smog exempt exception for 1975 model year cars and older apply to me? In other words, do I need a California smog certificate because the car is an out of state car? I realize it would be smog exempt if it had California plates.

  21. christie July 18, 2017 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    my daughter, currently in the military, will be buying a car in Montana from a dealer in Montana and the car she currently drives there, which she will be trading in, is insured in Indiana, if her current insurance doesn’t cover Montana does she have a grace period before she has to get insurance in Montana and will the car she buys be covered somehow when she drives it off the lot

  22. Phil October 25, 2017 at 5:26 pm - Reply

    I just purchased a certified used car out of state from a reputable dealer, and I’m having it shipped to me. it was financed through a national bank, and the car will have title and registration from a third state where I own property and live part of the year. Everything went fairly smoothly. The bank checks cleared. I procured insurance etc. However, the dealership is dragging their feet on the actual shipping of the car. How long, after the dealership receives full payment, should I patiently wait for the dealership to ship said automobile? Thank you.

  23. Nancy May 4, 2018 at 9:28 pm - Reply

    I bought a honda in AZ and traded a Toyota that I bought in WA (where my residence is)..how do I get my WA tabs without physically going there for a year?

  24. Kim August 12, 2018 at 10:54 am - Reply

    Im plannning to buy car in WV and I reside in PA. Do I need to pay the tax difference between the 2 states & fees? What do I need to do ? Please help. Thanks. Kim-

  25. Shah August 16, 2018 at 3:17 am - Reply

    Hi there. I live in Missouri and in my county we have both safety AND emission/smog test for cars. If I purchase a brand new car from another state, and drive it to Missouri, the car does not have to undergo these tests, right?

  26. Patricia A Bogenrief August 18, 2018 at 6:31 pm - Reply

    We are “snowbirds” who spend 5 months in Florida, where we own a lot in an RV resort where we live while in Florida. Our house and residence is in Minnesota. We want to purchase a new car in Florida and garage it there for the 7 months we are at our home. We plan to eventually move to Florida when older so want to title and register the new car in Florida. We know we will need to insure it in Florida but as we will retain our Minnesota residency until we make a physical move to Florida will this plan be a problem?

  27. Sledge Fyfe III September 7, 2018 at 4:08 am - Reply

    I am attempting to purchase a vehicle in California but I am a resident of Florida. I am told that I will have to pay sales tax in Cal. Will I also have to pay sales tax in Florida where I will register the vehicle?

  28. Adrian October 5, 2018 at 11:03 pm - Reply

    Im a Montana resident but im working in Wisconsin at the moment. If i buy a new Tacoma in WI and register it in MT will i still have to pay the WI sales tax?

Leave A Comment