Should You Buy a Used Car From Out-of-State

Before you go jumping over state lines for your new used car, there are a few things you should know about buying pre-owned vehicles from out of state.

Should You Buy a Used Car From Out-of-State

If you’ve been hunting for a car high and low and have decided that nothing in your immediate vicinity fits your needs, you may be considering looking out of state for the perfect used vehicle. You may have even seen the recent report out of CarGurus.com that made the argument that you can get a better deal by shopping somewhere like Miami instead of shopping in Fresno. But, before you go jumping over state lines for your next car, there are a few things you should know about buying out of state.

Get an Inspection

First know that you are going to need to do just as much research, if not more, to ensure that the car you are buying is in good shape and worth the added hassle of buying out of state. You’ll need to follow all the steps we outlined in our piece on how to find the right car for you:

  • Get an inspection
  • Research the vehicle history
  • Transfer vehicle title from out of state
  • Understand the taxes and fees
  • Register your "new" used car

To ensure your potential new car is right for you, you'll either have to completely trust the person on the other end of the transaction or have a trusted friend or family member in the area who can take care of the nitty-gritty details that need to happen in person:

  • Get the car checked out by a mechanic
  • Do a test drive
  • Do some research to find a certified mechanic in the area
  • Coordinate, remotely, with the seller and the mechanic to get the car looked at.
Research the Vehicle History

If you do decide to make the trip out to see a potential new used car, be sure that you do all of your research about that particular car first.

  • Have the owner or dealership send you the VIN so that you can know its history
  • Also ask for copies of maintenance records that the owner or dealer may have so that you can check to be sure that regular maintenance has been done the way it should be.
  • Don’t wait until you’re standing on the doorstep of a dealer or a seller to ask for the relevant information.

It’s crucial to do the legwork before you hop on a flight or decide to take a road trip to see your potential new car. Also, realize that a seller could potentially sell the car before you even get there. Get the private seller or dealer to agree, in writing, to not sell the car you want until you get out there. Be aware that even asking a seller or dealer to do that, could scuttle the deal immediately.

Transferring Vehicle Title from Out of State

Next, it’s important to know what exactly you’re getting into in terms of registering and transferring the title of a car you purchase out of state.

First, know that emissions requirements in each state can differ dramatically. In general, all states that make up the west coast have the strictest smog laws as well as:

  • Arizona
  • Connecticut
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington D.C.

These states adopt the emissions standards of CARB (California Air Resources Board). Each state has different model year requirements so you need to ensure that you do your research on the state you’ll be registering the new-to-you car in before you go trucking it over.

In some cases, it may not be possible to have a car that passed emissions in a state like Texas, pass emissions in a place like California, without a hefty financial investment in the car.

By the model year 2016, the entire country will have to adhere to CARB emissions standards as well. The best way to find out what your home state emission requirements are is to check with your DMV site. They’ll have clear outlines of the details of the requirements.

Understand The Taxes and Fees

You should also pay close attention to tax collection and fees in the state you will be registering the car in. Here’s where the math on “saving money by buying out of state” gets tricky.

Know that you have to pay sales tax based on where you register the car. Not based on where you buy it. Sales tax is always calculated on the purchase price listed on the bill of sale and is a percentage of that price.

It may not necessarily save you cash to buy out of state if your state has a high sales tax. Do your homework before signing on the bottom line to ensure you are, in fact, saving money by going over state lines.

Registering Your New Used Car

Finally, you’ll need to handle the dicey issue of temporary registration of the used car. If you’re buying from a dealer they should handle the temporary registration for you to get your new baby home.

If you are buying from a private party, however, you’ll need to handle the temporary registration issue yourself. First, you’ll need to get the signed title from the owner to prove that you own the car. Second, you also may need proof that the car has passed a smog test in the state you are buying it in to show that it could pass smog in your state as well.

There are processes for getting a temporary registration for a used car in your state and you should research these before committing to buying a car from across state lines if you plan to be able to legally drive it in or even to, your home state. You’ll also be dealing with a deadline.

Once you take possession of the car, and the signed and dated title, you have a specific period of time to get the car registered and titled in your name and in your state. Check with your local DMV to find out what that timeline looks like and whether or not it’s realistic for you.

Some sites out there would have you think that it’s super easy to buy a car from another state and get it registered and titled in your own state. While it’s certainly not impossible, there are a number of higher hurdles you’ll have to clear before being able to legally drive your new wheels in your home state. Remember, registering a used car could require extra smog checks, emissions checks, and potentially pricey fixes for cars that don’t pass state requirements.

For more on used car buying, check back for more car buying tips.

Buying Tips
The Instamotor TeamThe Instamotor Team

Not your typical used car salesman. Our team is here to provide honest and transparent advice about car buying and selling.