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Buying a Car Out of State

Posted by Charlie Maniates | Apr 29, 2019

Whether you need to cross state lines to find the nearest dealer, best incentives or a private seller’s home, you can certainly buy a car outside of your home state. The research and inspection processes remain the same, but there may be some transactional differences to address. Here’s a general checklist of areas that might require additional action to help guide your out-of-state vehicle purchase:

1. Evaluate Your Interest

You should have significant interest in buying a car before making the trip to another state to see it, and this is especially true if you’re making a long-distance trip. This suggestion may seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning for the sake of your time and money. If your interest in an out-of-state vehicle is only lukewarm or hindered by a history report that discloses a red flag, it may not be worth the trip. 

Additionally, be careful not to tip your hand if you know you’ll buy the car. You put all your negotiation leverage at risk if a dealer or seller finds out you’re set on purchasing the vehicle after you’ve traveled a great distance.

2. Verify Emissions Requirements

Some states require all vehicles to pass an emissions test. If you’re purchasing the vehicle in one of these states, find out whether it’s passed and if the emissions sticker will also be valid in the state where you’ll register the car. If not, you’ll need to take it in for another evaluation in your home state before you can title and register it there. This is also true if you’re buying a car from a state that doesn’t require an emissions test but registering it in a state that does.

3. Verify Safety Inspection Requirements

Like emissions tests, some states require vehicles to undergo and pass safety inspections. Of the states that do require them, only some require them in order to title and register the vehicle. As you did in the previous step, find out what the vehicle’s state and your home state require so you know how to proceed.

4. Complete Title, Registration and Sales Tax Paperwork

If you’re buying from a dealer, it will likely handle the sale paperwork for you. However, keep in mind that the title and registration will be only temporary to give you a window of time to title and register the vehicle in your home state. And, if the sales tax rate in your home state exceeds the sales tax rate in the vehicle’s current state, you’ll need to pay the difference when you title and register the vehicle in your home state. 

This step is a bit trickier if you’re buying from a private seller. You’ll need to visit the department of motor vehicles in the seller’s state and complete the temporary licensing paperwork yourselves. Then, you’ll need to title and register the vehicle in your home state upon your return. Be sure to research what each state requires in order to complete the paperwork before heading to the DMV.

5. Consult Your Insurance Agent

Some form of insurance is required to operate a vehicle in all 50 states, so it’s important to find out what your existing policy allows before you drive the newly purchased vehicle back to your home state. Depending on the provider, your existing policy may cover the car temporarily before it needs to be added permanently, or you may have to fully insure the vehicle before you purchase it. Contact your insurance agent to determine what your policy allows and what you need to do in order to insure the vehicle before driving it.


Because laws vary by state, you’ll need to carefully research what your home state and the state of the vehicle purchase require in order to complete the sale. Prior to getting to that point, though, it’s important to remember to conduct your due diligence by inspecting and test-driving every car you’re considering before you commit to buying one. After all, bad decisions know no boundaries and car-buying mistakes usually can’t be undone.