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Guide to buying a car out of state

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    Finding that perfect car can sometimes take you across state borders. It could be a once-in-a-lifetime deal offered by a dealership in a neighboring state or that limited-edition model that you’ve been chasing for months. Whatever the reason may be, if it’s worth the trip, then you’ve got to consider it.

    But buying a car out of state is usually not as simple as purchasing from a local dealership or a private seller. Making that trip without knowing the correct process could leave you with regrets after. In this guide, we'll explain some essential areas that could help make your out-of-state car purchasing decision easier.

    Can you buy a car in another state?

    Before you find out how to buy a car out of state, there’s a more critical question that demands attention. Can you buy a car in another state? The short answer is yes, it’s certainly possible in many cases. But, unfortunately, it’s not as simple and straightforward as buying locally.

    This is because state laws could differ significantly when it comes to several important aspects such as registration, emissions, and sales tax. And a car sold in another state might not always fit into your local regulatory requirements. There could be extra paperwork and additional taxes as well, making the process somewhat complex and time-consuming.

    What you should know about buying a car out of state

    Buying a car in another state without a clear understanding of the process could land you in trouble when you cross borders and enter your local state in your new ride. Preliminary research and asking the right questions are important to make the entire process as smooth and painless as possible.

    Here are some essential areas to keep in mind.

    Vehicle registration

    Registering your new car would usually take place at your local Department of Motor Vehicles. Visit their website and understand all requirements and necessary documentation before purchasing the vehicle.

    When you’re buying from a dealership, they'll likely arrange some of the required paperwork. But in the case of a private party purchase, you may need to handle the entire process on your own. And if you’re planning on buying a car out of state and driving it home, then you may need a temporary registration as well. If so, and if you're buying from a dealership, check if they will help arrange this for you. Otherwise, you should check with your state’s department of motor vehicles on these requirements and the validity of temporary registrations.

    The same applies to the title transfer. Most states expect you to transfer title ownership within 1 to 2 weeks from the date you purchase the vehicle. Always double-check these requirements for both the state you’re buying in, as well as the state you live in before approaching the seller.

    Emission standards

    Vehicle emission regulations could differ between states. This means a vehicle that conforms to its local emission standards could be non-compliant when you’re using it in another state.

    For example, some states follow the strict emission standards, such as those set by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). A car you purchase from a non-CARB state would likely not meet these requirements. This might become a problem if you’re living in a jurisdiction that follows the CARB standards and the result could be costly modifications. Research your local emission requirements before shopping for a car in a different state.

    Sales taxes

    Some states may not impose a sales tax when you purchase a vehicle. But if your state charges taxes, then you may need to pay them, irrespective of where you purchase the vehicle.

    Tax money is often collected when you’re registering the car at your local department of motor vehicles. But if you’re purchasing the vehicle from a dealership, they might arrange the paperwork on your behalf. Either way, make sure you understand the taxes and fees applicable in your local state before you speak to the seller.


    You should never take a car out onto the road without proper insurance coverage. So, speak to your insurance company and explain your intention to purchase a vehicle out of state. They could advise you on the best options available to ensure the new car has coverage before you get ready for the long drive home.


    Before you purchase the vehicle, you should determine how you want it shipped. Of course, driving it yourself is one option. But this might not always be possible considering the distance. If that’s the case, then you need to make arrangements to ship the vehicle safely to your home state. When you’re purchasing from a dealership, they might connect you with a few logistics companies or even arrange transportation for a fee.

    But remember, this could involve a sizeable cost, whether you choose to drive or have the car shipped. So, ensure that you factor it in when negotiating the price.

    Auto loan

    Arranging your auto loan in advance is another important step. Approach several lenders and find out about loan options available to you. Discuss the borrowing amount, interest rates, lending terms, and how you can qualify for an auto loan.

    Is buying a car in another state right for you?

    Certain steps may remain the same whether you purchase a vehicle from your local dealership or from someone on the other side of the country. For example, you should always request a test drive and arrange for an inspection. Checking all relevant documents to ensure everything is in order is equally important before parting with your hard-earned money.

    And remember, buying a car out of state could involve additional expenses such as travel and logistics. These could increase the overall cost of purchasing. It might also demand some additional work that could consume a significant amount of your time as you navigate complex processes. Weigh all these factors before deciding whether it’s worth the trip across states. If you plan well, it just might be.

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