How to Buy a Car Out of State? (5 Things to Watch Out)

When the time comes to buy a new car, finding the right one for you can be a struggle. No matter how many forecourts you visit, salesmen you speak to or local websites you browse, you can never seem to find the perfect vehicle.

Although it involves a few extra complications, one solution is to look further afield and consider buying from outside your home state. If this sounds like something you might be interested in trying, here’s our guide to how to buy a car out of state.

This is a tricky topic, so if you want a preview of some of the stuff we’re going to be talking about – as well as a few extra tips – you can also check out this video before reading on.

Pros and cons

Before we talk about how to buy a car out of state, let’s think briefly about why you would choose to do so.

One big reason that we’ve already alluded to is that you have much more choice. If you can’t find a car that matches your needs in your own state, widening your search to the other 49 will give you far more chance of locating the vehicle you are looking for.

This is particularly useful if you have your heart set on something less common, but even if you are less picky, it will give you far more options to choose from.

You may also find a better deal. The cost of buying a car varies from place to place, and you may find dealerships in other states selling the model you are looking for at a lower price than where you live.

Also, some states don’t charge a sales tax – although you will probably have to pay this when you take the vehicle back to your state, so this might not give you quite the saving you imagined.

How about the downsides? Well, there are two big ones. First, you will have to travel to see the vehicle – or buy it on blind faith if you can’t. Second, there’s the additional admin to contend with since buying a car from another state is often a more complicated process.

However, sometimes it can still be worth the extra trouble – so now let’s look at how to go about it.

How to choose a car from out of state

There are two parts to buying a car out of state – locating one you like and then completing the admin for the sale. First, let’s look at how to find the right car.

The big difference when buying a car out of state – unless you live near the state border and you’re buying a vehicle from just the other side the state line – is that it might not be as practical to see the car before you buy it.

Once you find a car that interests you, if you can, you should travel to see it. This way, you will be able to uncover any issues that the seller may not have been upfront about in the advertisement. If you can, you should also take it for a test drive before agreeing on anything.

If you can’t go in person, you should still check the car history report (using something like Carfax) and also have a local mechanic in the area check it for you.

In short, you should do everything you can to satisfy yourself that the car is what the seller says it is. Otherwise, if you just buy a car based on a few written details and some photos online you’ve seen online, you are taking a big risk.

Admin and paperwork

Once you have found a car that you are interested in and are convinced it is a good deal, the second part of buying out of state is the admin and paperwork.

This will include things like sales tax, title and registration, emissions, transport (driving home or shipping) and insurance. Now let’s have a look at each of these in turn.

1. Sales tax

We’ve already mentioned that some states don’t charge sales tax – but that you will probably still have to pay the sales tax in your home state, even if you buy the vehicle in a state where this tax isn’t levied.

Since every state is different, the best advice is to check with the DMV in your home state to find out the local regulations. Paying tax will usually need to be done before you can register a vehicle.

2. Title and registration

If you buy from a private seller, you will have to take care of the title and registration of the vehicle yourself.

Find out how quickly you need to register a car after bringing it to your state because, in some places, you have only 30 days to complete the process. The car will then be given a new title in the new state.

As always, check with the DMV to find out your local regulations to make sure you jump through all the necessary hoops.

3. Emissions

Each state has different regulations regarding emissions, and a car that is acceptable in one state may not be permissible in another.

California has the strictest requirements, so if you live there, you need to make sure the car is California-compliant.

If a car doesn’t meet California’s standards, you can pay for modifications that allow it to conform – but these may be prohibitively expensive, making the vehicle a much less attractive purchase.

4. Transport

Think about how you are going to transport the vehicle home – will you drive it, or will you need it to be shipped?

If you plan to drive it home, you need to check the necessary regulations – you may be required to apply for a temporary registration.

5. Insurance

You need to make sure you are insured to drive the car, so check with your insurance agent first. Sometimes your existing policy will cover you, at least initially – but this is not always the case, so find out first before you get behind the wheel.

Check the local regulations in your state

As you can see, buying a car across state lines is a little more complicated than heading down to a local dealership and driving home in a car you picked up from the forecourt.

However, there are some great deals to be had, and the greater selection of cars available nationally may make it worthwhile. The best advice is to check the local regulations with the DMV in your state to make sure you don’t inadvertently break any laws.