Buying a Car Out of State

Buying a car out of state opens up a whole new road of possibilities. You might find buyer incentives at out-of-state dealerships your local dealerships don't offer; similarly, you could find a private seller with the exact make, model, and mileage you can't find at home.

Of course, buying a car from out of state requires the same kind of research and shopping you'd do if you were buying one closer to home. Read on for our general state requirements checklist, plus some helpful tips before you cross state lines.

State Requirements Checklist

Understand that the following checklist is a guideline only; you must check with your own department of motor vehicles or equivalent entity for specific instructions on bringing home a vehicle purchased from out of state.

1. Smog & Emissions

Many states require vehicles to undergo and pass smog checks and emissions inspections before they can be titled and registered in that state.

When you buy a car from a state that requires smog checks, that car might already have a valid emissions inspection sticker; if so, check with your state to see if the current state's emissions sticker is valid/accepted in your state, too.

If the inspection isn't valid/accepted, or the vehicle hasn't had one or comes from a state that doesn't require one (and your state does), you'll most likely need to bring your vehicle in for a smog check before you can title and register it.

Check our Smog Check and Car Inspection section for emissions testing requirements specific to each state.

2. Safety Inspections

Similar to smog and emissions checks, safety inspection requirements vary by state. Some states require them; others don't. Some states that require them do so before titling and registering the vehicle; others just require them on a regular basis (e.g., annual, biennial, etc.).

Again, refer to our Vehicle Inspections section for safety inspection information specific to both states (your home state, and the vehicle's original state), and how those requirements affect titling, registering, and legally operating the vehicle in your home state.

3. Title & Registration

Generally, when you're buying a car from an out-of-state dealership, the dealer handles all title and registration paperwork for you. Of course, much of this paperwork will be temporary, given you'll need to title and register the vehicle in your home state upon returning.

However, if you're buying from a private seller, you'll need to handle title and registration paperwork on your own. Often, this means a delicate balance between working with the seller's state's motor vehicle agency and your own.

Our Title Transfers and Car Registration sections outline exactly what you need to do to transfer a vehicle's title and register the vehicle in your home state.

4. Sales Taxes

Even though you're buying a car from out of state, you'll pay the sales tax to the state in which you'll register the car—i.e. your home state.

Sometimes, dealerships handle this process for you and pass along the sales tax to your home state; still, you should always keep records that you paid the sales tax to show your state's title and registration office. Keep in mind the dealership will probably calculate the taxes based on their home state's tax rates. If your state has higher rates, you will be responsible for paying the difference when registering your car.

However, if the dealership doesn't handle it for you, or you buy a car from a private party, you must pay the sales tax to your home state's appropriate state agency before you can title and register the vehicle.

Your state's motor vehicle agency will advise you on specific sales taxes; however, some states provide tax calculators online for extra convenience. Check our Tax & Tags Calculator to determine your state's vehicle tax and tags fees.

5. Car Insurance

When you're buying a car out of state, perhaps the best piece of advice related to car insurance is to call your insurance agent before you purchase the car.

Some insurance providers put clauses in existing policies that cover newly purchased vehicles for certain periods of time to handle situations such as this; others don't, and require you to purchase insurance on the vehicle before you buy it.

Remember, nearly all states require car insurance or some other form of financial responsibility before you can title, register, and legally operate the vehicle. Learn more about your state's requirements in our section on Car Insurance.

Tips for Buying a Car Out of State

If you are thinking about buying a car from out of state, consider these tips:

  • Know what you want.
    • Your car shopping should be done at this point. It is probably not a good idea to travel out of state if you aren't certain you want to buy the car.
  • Communicate with the dealer before you make the trip.
    • Make sure the dealership is holding the car for you, and that you both have all necessary documents and paperwork to make the transaction smooth.
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