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Buying a car out of state: Everything you need to know

Updated: Dec 16, 2022

More and more people are buying out-of-state cars these days. Some are crossing state lines in search of a better deal. Others are doing so to buy collector cars. Still others are going out of state in search of favorite/specific features.

Regardless of what your motive is, keep this in mind: buying an out-of-state car can be a complex process, especially if you’re purchasing the vehicle from a private seller. Unless you know what to expect in advance, the transaction may not go smoothly.

To ensure that the transaction does go seamlessly, we have come up with this guide that contains everything you need to know when purchasing an out-of-state car. Make sure to read this article to the end before crossing state lines in search of your next drive.

Check the vehicle history

You’ve looked everywhere and narrowed down your options to a few cars. Before you do anything else, make sure to check the vehicle history. Here’s what you want to do:

  • Get a vehicle history report. Use a reliable company like Carfax to get the vehicle history report. If the report highlights anything problematic, bring it up in your discussion with the owner.

  • Ensure there are no liens against the car. If there are liens against the car, you won’t be able to take it out of the state it’s currently registered in. Most owners give a written assurance to clear the liens at the time of sale.

  • Compare the name on the listing to the car’s title. Both of them should match. Another thing you need to check is who (if anyone) owned the car before the current owner. This is necessary to ensure that the vehicle isn’t stolen.

Inspect the car

Found nothing problematic in the car’s history? Next thing you need to do is go see the vehicle in person. Once you’re on the owner’s premises, ask if you could test drive the car. A test drive would help you decide whether the vehicle is the perfect fit for you.

However, if for some reason you can’t travel, have a mechanic inspect the car for you. The last thing you need to do is purchase a car with multiple issues. In a few cases, even the owner might not be aware of these problems. Only a qualified mechanic can identify them for you.

The same advice applies if you’re buying the car from an out-of-state dealer. Most dealers would promise the moon to get your money. But you should only hand over the cash after your mechanic has given the vehicle the green light.

Verify that the car meets your state’s requirements

Any out-of-state car must meet your state’s vehicle registration requirements. If that isn’t the case, you won’t be able to register and drive it.

Check out your state’s DMV website for all the requirements your car needs to conform to. Pay special attention to emission standards. These are the maximum amount of pollutants a vehicle can release into the atmosphere to be allowed on the road.

While the majority of new vehicles conform to emission standards, old cars might find it hard to meet strict air standards. Some people think they can spend money on an old/vintage car to bring it up to standards, but the high costs involved mean not everyone can afford it.

Use an escrow service

An escrow service will ensure both parties’ safety. It will hold all the money and only release it to the seller once the transaction is complete. As a buyer, you have an extra incentive to use a licensed escrow service – it will convince the seller to hold the vehicle for you.

Placing the money you’ve set aside for buying the car doesn’t in an escrow would show the seller you’re serious about their vehicle. It will thus ensure that the car stays put as you travel to see (and inspect) it in person.

What is more, if you decide against buying the car or the negotiations break down, you can always reverse the payment in escrow. There’s zero chance of fraud and any other unpleasant situations.

Sort out the paperwork

Here’s where things might get a little complex. Especially if you’re buying the car from an out-of-state private party. Dealerships have people experienced in working with the DMV. They are thus in a much better position to help you with the paperwork than individual sellers.

Once you’ve purchased a car, you’ll have 30 days to register it under your name. If you fail to register the vehicle within this period, you might have to pay some fines. After completing this step, you’ll get a title with your name and a license plate.

Since you’re buying an out-of-state car, your state’s DMV might want to inspect it, even if the vehicle has already been inspected. They will examine the car’s seat belts, brakes, front-end assembly, and other major parts. If the inspection fails, a delay in registration might be inevitable.

The last thing you need to do is get your vehicle insured. If you’re buying out of pocket, the owner may be selling the car with insurance, or you may need to get the coverage on your own. If you’re taking a car loan, the lender won’t approve funding before seeing proof of insurance.

Compare the cost of car shipping vs. driving

A car $200 cheaper in a far-off state isn’t a bargain if it sets you back $500 in gas, lodging, and other travel expenses to bring it home. An alternative is to have your car shipped, but make sure to add the shipping cost to the vehicle’s total price.

Slap Auto Transport is an auto shipping company that can deliver your new car right to your home. We make sure to deliver your vehicle safely and with zero fuss. Get in touch with our team today to make your out-of-state car purchase seamless and cost-effective.

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