Buy an Out of State Car

You're browsing cars for sale online when you stumble on your dream car – at a fraction of the price for similar cars in your area. The only problem is the car is 4 states away. While buying a car out-of-state does require a little extra legwork than if you buy a car at a dealer down the street, the process is typically fairly straightforward.


Completing the Purchase

  1. Evaluate differences in state inspection requirements. Many states require cars to be inspected before they can be registered.[1] These inspection requirements can vary tremendously between states. A car that is registered in another state may not pass inspection in your home state.[2]
    • If you're buying from a dealer, they typically will check the car and make sure it will pass inspection in your home state. However, you may have to ask them to do this, and they may charge you an extra fee.
    • If you're buying from an individual, you're responsible for making sure you'll be able to register the car once you get it home. If you find you'll need to make repairs on the car so it will pass inspection in your home state, renegotiate with the current owner for a lower price.
  2. Get the car inspected before you finalize the purchase. Especially if you're planning to travel a long distance to pick up an out-of-state car, you want to make sure you know what you're getting before you go to all that effort and expense.[3]
    • If you're buying the car from a dealer, they should provide you with inspection documents and information when you buy the car. If they don't volunteer to do this, they may be willing to do it for an additional fee.
    • If you're buying the car from an individual, arrange for a local mechanic to inspect the car and send you the report before you make the trip to pick up the car. You may want to have the current owner take the car to a dealer that specializes in the car's make, particularly if you're buying a rare or collectible vehicle.
  3. Sign a written bill of sale. If you buy a car from your next-door neighbor, you may be just fine with a hand-shake deal. However, if you're buying a car from out-of-state, all terms of the sale should be in writing to avoid any hassles later.[4]
    • The bill of sale should state the vehicle being sold specifically, including the make, model, year, and VIN of the car.
    • You can download blank bill of sale forms online to use for this purpose.[5] Some states will also take a handwritten bill of sale, as long as it contains the correct language stating that the current owner is selling the car to you for the agreed-upon price, and describes the car fully.
  4. Transfer the title appropriately.[6] It isn't necessary for you to get a new title to show that you own the car. As long as the back of the title is filled out correctly to transfer ownership to you, the document proves that you are the rightful owner of the car.[7]
    • The current owner of the car should sign the back of the title in the space provided. If the title lists more than one owner, have everyone listed sign the title, just to be on the safe side.
    • When buying from a dealer, they'll normally take care of the title transfer for you. Get documentation that they're handling the title transfer to your home state, so you can provide this if necessary.
  5. Keep records if you pay taxes in the other state. If you buy your car through a dealer, the dealer may take care of sales taxes in your state for you. They typically have computer programs designed for this person. However, you want to make sure you have proof of that to show when you register the car, so you don't end up paying taxes twice.[8]
    • When you buy a car, you're responsible for paying taxes in the state where you register it. For that reason, you shouldn't have to worry about paying any taxes in the state where you buy the car if you're buying the car from an individual person.

Getting Your New Car Home

  1. Arrange for the car to be shipped to you. Many car shipping companies allow individuals to contract with them to have a car shipped from one state to another. While this typically costs between $800 and $2,000 (depending on distance), it may be less expensive than buying a plane ticket to go pick up the car yourself.[9]
    • Contact a local dealership in your area for assistance. Small used-car dealerships may be willing to help you get your car shipped for a slightly lower rate.
  2. Insure the car before you go pick it up. If you're planning on flying or driving to pick up the car and drive it back home, make sure the car is insured before you get on the road. That way you won't have to worry about it if you run into problems.[10]
    • It's best to go ahead and insure the car before you leave. If the sale falls through and you end up not taking the car home with you for whatever reason, you'll only be out a couple of days of insurance.
    • Print up your insurance cards before you leave so you have them with you to place in the glove compartment of the car.
  3. Apply for temporary registration if necessary. In some states, you'll need to apply for a temporary registration before you go pick up an out-of-state car, if you plan to drive it back home after completing the purchase.[11]
    • To find out for sure, call your local DMV or vehicle registration office and ask if temporary registration is required when you buy an out-of-state car.
    • Your temporary registration and tag may be valid for 30 days, or it may only be valid for a couple of weeks. Check the dates and make sure. If it's only going to be valid for a couple of weeks, make sure it lines up with your travel dates.
  4. Ask the previous owner if you can use their plates. If you plan to drive the car back home, you can drive the car with the previous owner's registration and plates as long as you have their permission to do so. This saves you the risk of driving a car without plates.[12]
    • If you're buying the car from a dealership, they'll typically provide you with temporary tags so you can drive the car back home. Once you get to your home state, you'll replace the temporary tags with local tags when you register your vehicle.
    • If the previous owner won't allow you to drive on their plates, it's worth going to a smaller used-car dealership and asking if they'd be willing to help you out with temporary tags so you can get the car back home.

Registering Your New Car

  1. Get your car inspected in your home state. In many states, your car must pass a safety inspection before it can be registered.[13] Each state has its own standards for inspection, so you'll need a new inspection even if it already passed inspection in the other state.[14]
    • Check inspection requirements before you go to get your car (or before it's delivered to you) and make an appointment if necessary.
    • You typically only have 30 days after your car arrives in your home state to get it registered, so get any necessary inspections completed as soon as possible. If repairs are required to pass inspection, you'll need time to get those done.
  2. Comply with local emissions requirements. Emissions can be one of the most difficult things about buying a car out of state. This is particularly true if you live in California, which has the strictest emissions standards in the country.[15]
    • If an emissions inspection is required to register your car, make an appointment if necessary and get this done as soon as possible after your car arrives in your home state.
  3. Pay taxes if you haven't already. If you bought your car from an out-of-state dealer, the dealer may have already figured your taxes and paid them for you. However, if you bought the car from an individual, you likely need to pay sales or use tax in your state before you can register your car or get a new title issued with your name on it.[16]
    • Keep the paperwork and proof of payment if you bought the car from a dealer who took money from you for taxes. If there's a problem with the processing of that payment, you may need to contact the dealer.
  4. Gather required documents to register your car. To register your new car in your home state, you'll need the title, bill of sale, inspection reports, and proof of insurance for the vehicle. You'll also need to bring your driver's license. You may also need to provide proof of address or other identification.[17]
    • If you're required to pay taxes before you apply for registration, you'll also need proof that the taxes have been paid.
  5. Complete your registration form. The registration form requires information about yourself and the vehicle. Typically you'll need to know the make, model, and year of the vehicle, as well as its current mileage. The application also may ask for the car's VIN. Gather this information before you start filling out the form.[18]
    • You'll have to pay a registration fee to register your out-of-state car. Registration fees vary widely from state to state. Expect to pay extra if you want a custom or specialty license plate.
  6. Get license plates for your new car. If you ordered standard license plates for your car, you'll typically get them when you turn in your registration form and pay the required registration fees. If you chose specialty or custom plates, you'll get a temporary tag to use.[19]
    • Some specialty plates may be available immediately. Others will arrive in the mail in 2 to 3 weeks. Custom plates typically take 2 to 3 weeks to arrive, and are usually mailed to you.


Quick Summary