A Guide to Buying a Car Out of State

Trisha Miller  | 

You’re looking into buying a car, but the one you’ve got your eye on is out of state. If you’re willing to travel to pick out your perfect car, there’s nothing wrong with doing so, as long as the car meets state requirements. However, there are some additional steps to the transaction that you’ll need to be aware of and be prepared for.

This guide will provide advice to help you weigh the pros and cons of buying a car out of state and navigate the process as smoothly as possible. Read on to learn how you can maximize the benefits of car shopping out of state without making serious financial or regulatory mistakes.

The Benefits of Buying a Car Out of State

Expanding your car search to other states can help you find a wider variety of vehicles at a lower price than you may be able to find in your own state. Car prices can differ based on many variables, meaning that some states have more advantageous conditions for car shoppers. Further, some cars are simply not available in certain areas. If you want to expand your car search and aim for the best deal possible, exploring out-of-state car dealers is a smart move.

What’s the Cheapest State to Buy a Car In?

If you are shopping out of state to find the lowest prices available in the U.S., Oregon is the least expensive state to buy a car in. Other states in which you can find good prices on cars include New Hampshire, Montana, Alaska, and Hawaii — though the last two are probably not viable options for most shoppers due to transport costs.

The Costs of Buying a Car Out of State

The additional options outlined above are helpful, but you must also weigh them against the costs associated with buying a car out of state. In addition to obvious costs, such as the time and money it will cost to transport a vehicle across potentially large distances, you have to consider both sales tax and insurance costs. These are important considerations when determining how much you can spend on a car.

Sales Taxes

Sales tax is always an important consideration when buying a car, but especially so for out-of-state purchases. Some shoppers may explore options at out-of-state car dealers with the idea that they can avoid sales tax. This is a misconception; you’ll pay sales tax relevant to whatever state you’re currently purchasing the car in. When you drive the car home, you may be required to pay more sales tax depending on the rate of your home state.

Keep in mind that you are completely responsible for making sure that you pay the proper amount of tax on your sale. It isn’t the duty of the seller to make up for any losses in cross-state sales. As such, it might be a good idea to do some research before you are ready to buy just to see what kind of taxes you might have to pay.

Insurance

No matter how you plan on getting your car home, you need to make sure that your car is insured before you drive it. Driving without insurance is very risky and could cost you a hefty fine if you get pulled over without coverage. Not to mention, if you get in an accident, you won’t be covered. Make sure that you talk to your insurance company about your new car right away to minimize your risk.

Your insurance company might offer you a special deal on a newly purchased car. You might get a better rate for a certain period of time, or they could even offer you free coverage for a brief period after you’ve purchased the vehicle. Give them a call before you purchase your car to see what options might be available.

Considerations When Buying a Car Out of State

Once you feel confident in the above points, it’s time to move on to the next stage in the car-buying process. When you have selected a car, there are some extra steps that you need to be aware of before you sign any paperwork from the seller.

State Emissions and Safety Regulations

Each state has its own regulations concerning environmental and safety regulations. Cars purchased from dealers in other states may not adhere to the regulations of your state of residence. The effort and costs associated with modifying the car — if that’s even an option — or completing the paperwork to ensure the car is street legal can easily outweigh the potential savings you might get by broadening your shopping options.

Emissions and Environmental Regulations

Before you agree to anything, make sure that you take a look at your state’s regulations regarding emissions testing and any other environmental standards. Go to your state’s website and search for any limitations or standards they might have set for cars coming from out of state. If any information isn’t clear on the website, call your DMV directly just to make sure.

It’s possible that you already know about these types of tests if you’ve had a car before. Many states require emissions testing, but the frequency of tests differs depending on where you live. You might be required to test your car once per year or once every few years. Just make sure that you understand these standards, because you’ll likely have to get the car’s emissions tested before you can legally drive it in your state.

Safety Inspections

Safety requirements are also something that completely differs depending on your state of residence. You may be required to have your car’s safety inspected once you’ve brought it home. Regardless of your state’s regulations, this is a good practice to follow to make sure that the condition of the car aligns with what you were told by the seller.

This might be a mandatory step before you can legally drive your new cart in your state, so make sure that you know whether it should be on your list. Your local mechanic may be qualified to inspect your vehicle, or you can look on your state’s website to locate nearby locations where safety inspections may be carried out.

Registering and Licensing Your New Vehicle

When you buy a car in your state, there is a fairly smooth transfer of ownership papers from the seller to you. When you purchase from a dealer, they will usually take care of everything for you. If you buy from a private seller, you will gain ownership of the title and registration, which you’ll need to take to the DMV and have entered into their system so that they know you are the rightful owner of the vehicle.

However, when you’re buying out of state, there might be a few additional things to be aware of. This includes sorting out the new vehicle’s title and registration, as well as the car’s licensure.

Title and Registration

If you’re buying from a dealer, they will still set you up with temporary information that will last you until you get the car back to your home state. Once you’ve completed your journey, you’ll have to take the temporary title and registration information from the dealer to your local DMV and register it yourself. Dealers don’t have the authority to get everything transferred for you when you’re crossing state lines.

As far as a private seller goes, you’ll still need to take in your title and registration to your local DMV, but you may be required to coordinate information from the seller’s DMV and yours. They’ll need to be aware that you’ve purchased the car in their state and you’re taking it back to yours. Be prepared for a DMV visit in more than one state if you’re buying privately. It’s possible that a phone call might suffice, but each state’s DMV regulations are different, so it’s not a bad idea to plan on stopping in once the deal is done.

License Plates

You’ll be required to change the license plates on your new car once you get back home. However, if you’re making a trip into the DMV anyway for your title and registration, they’ll likely handle this part of the deal for you at the same time. You’ll need plates that identify your current state of residence as well as up-to-date registration stickers to put on them.

Remember, if you’re purchasing a car from a private seller, you might not be able to get new license plates until you get home. Therefore, it’s vitally important that you keep all documentation on you at all times. If you are pulled over for any reason, you need to be able to prove that this is your car that was sold to you legitimately. If you’re uncomfortable with that idea, maybe think about having the car shipped home instead.

Ways You Can Buy a Car From Another State

A major aspect of car shopping out of state is determining how you will get your new purchase back home. After the deal is done, you have two options — you can ship it or you can drive it. The method you choose could have a massive impact on the speed you get your vehicle, as well as any potential savings you could get from the overall transaction.

Buying a Car Out of State and Having It Shipped Home

If you choose to ship your vehicle, you won’t have any issues with documentation should you get pulled over, but you will have to pay a significant fee for the transfer of your car. Shipping long distances can cost thousands of dollars, depending on the speed and distance of the shipment.

You will likely have a few options depending on the company you choose to go with. You might decide to allow the shipping to take a bit longer to get to you or purchase from a state that is a bit closer. Either of these options might lower the cost of shipment, but you’ve also got to consider how you’ll get there and back home.

Do some research on flights and rental cars or rideshare providers to discover the most affordable and viable options. Add these calculations to your total budget for the car and your travel. All of this information will help you make a decision about shipping or driving your new car home.

Buying a Car Out of State and Driving It Home

If all of that seems like it’s simply going to be too costly, think about driving your car home instead. If you go with this option, it’s imperative that you have every piece of documentation readily available. You should be able to verify the sale at a moment’s notice if you are pulled over. Every state’s regulations are different. This might be another point of research before you drive your new car home. As long as all of these bases are covered, you’ll be cruising home in no time.

A little bit of research and preparation is all it takes to coordinate a smooth car sale. Make sure that you understand the rules and regulations of your state and the one you are visiting, and always obey and respect these statutes. With this in mind, you should have no problem getting the car you want across state lines safely.


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Trisha is a writer and blogger from Boise, ID. She is a dedicated vegan, an avid gamer, cat lover, and amateur SFX artist.