Your Guide to Buying a Car in Another State

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If you find a great deal from a seller in a neighboring state or you’re looking for a specific car model that isn’t available locally, buying a car in another state is a great option.
There will be different steps you should take to be sure you’re safely buying a car that actually works well (especially if you are buying from a private seller) and you will need to figure out shipping. However, much of the process for buying a car is still the same.
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Can you buy a car in another state?

Yes, you can buy a car in another state. However, you will need to make sure you carefully follow state regulations.
Pay close attention to all of your home state’s and the other state’s requirements for purchasing a car. You will need to know all of the fine details of titling and registering your new car, so read on to learn more.

How to buy a car in another state

Get a vehicle history report

The first thing you’ll want to do when looking into a car that’s in another state is get a vehicle history report. You don’t want to waste time traveling out of state to view the vehicle if it doesn’t meet your standards.
Sometimes called a VIN check, this report provides you with information about red flags on the vehicle you’re considering.
If the report is clean, you’ll feel more confident about moving ahead with the sale. But if the report indicates previous accidents, liens on the car title, or similarly serious issues, you can walk away or negotiate further.
What’s included in a vehicle history report:
  • Title history. Steer clear of “salvage” titles, which mean the car was totaled and rebuilt. Other title brands that are red flags include flood, fire, or hail damage, or use as a police or taxi vehicle.
  • Accident history. The report will include all serious accidents that the car has been in. Pay specific attention to structural damage and airbag deployments. Have a reputable mechanic check the car to verify that any damage was properly fixed.
  • Buy and sell history. Watch for cars that have bounced from state to state, buyer to buyer. This can be a way of masking vehicle damage or clearing negative information from the vehicle’s history. Ideally, look for cars that have only had one owner.
  • Odometer reading. If the reading on the car’s odometer is less than what you see on the report, this is a big red flag. Unless there is a really solid explanation for it, walk away from the deal.
  • Inspections and registrations. Registrations must be renewed regularly, regardless of the state. Many states also require periodic emissions or safety testing, which would be noted on the vehicle history.
  • Vehicle recalls. A recall doesn’t necessarily mean that you should walk away, but you want to ensure that the issue was repaired by the manufacturer.

Invest in a car inspection

Your local mechanic probably won’t want to join you on your out-of-state-vehicle-purchasing road trip, so you’ll want to find a reputable mechanic where you’re buying the car.
Some dealerships will recommend a mechanic. However, it’s best to do your own research and choose one that you feel comfortable with.
Let the seller know that you’re going to take the vehicle for a pre-purchase inspection during the test drive.
Pre-purchase inspections typically cost around $100–$200 and provide you with peace of mind that the vehicle is in good working order. They can also help you determine what you’re willing to pay for the vehicle.
The inspection should cover:
  • Tires
  • Frame
  • Suspension
  • Glass
  • Lights
  • Brakes
  • Radiator
  • Hoses
  • Belts
  • Fluids
  • Battery
  • Body condition
  • Exterior surface
  • Filers
  • Computerized engine analysis, if possible
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Figure out shipping

When you’re buying a car in another state, you have to consider how you’ll get it back home.
If you’re purchasing from a neighboring state, it may be easiest to simply drive the car back over state lines.
You can also hire a transportation company to handle the shipping for you. Do your research and make sure the company is experienced with shipping vehicles.
You can verify that they’re licensed and insured for interstate moves on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website.
There are a lot of factors that will affect the total cost to ship your new vehicle. They include:
  • Size and weight of your car: the bigger and heavier it is, the more it will cost
  • Make and model of your car: luxury vehicles or rare cars typically cost more since they need greater attention from the shipping service
  • Distance of the move: longer distances equal higher costs due to labor, fuel charges, and tolls
  • Time of year: winter is the low season, so you’ll find better deals
  • Type of transport: open air vs. enclosed carrier

Pay your taxes (properly)

If the state you reside in charges sales tax, you’ll need to pay tax on your new vehicle once you get it home. You do not need to pay tax to the state where you purchased the car.
Most states require you to pay the tax and any other applicable fees before they’ll allow you to register the car. If you bought through a dealer, they may take care of all the paperwork for you. If you’re having trouble figuring it all out, visit your local DMV for help.

Make sure you’re aligned with your state’s requirements

Whether you’re buying a car in another state or not, it’s important that you have a solid understanding of vehicle inspection requirements in your home state.
While the process varies by state, you’ll typically want to pay specific attention to:
  • Safety requirements
  • Emissions testing
  • Odometer inspection
California, in particular, has strict emissions standards that you must meet before registering your vehicle.
In most states, you’ll need to bring the inspection paperwork to your local DMV to get your title and registration. In some instances, you may be able to complete the process online or by mail.

Take care of the title and registration

Even if there is time left on the vehicle registration in the state where you bought the car, you’ll need to register it in your home state.
Most states allow you up to 30 days to complete this process, after which you can face fines and other penalties. Some states offer a longer window, so check your local regulations.
States rules also vary regarding the time you have to title your vehicle (and the cost). You’ll want to pay particular attention to make sure your vehicle is titled correctly, as this affects your insurance.
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Purchase insurance

No matter how you choose to get your new vehicle home, you’ll need to ensure you have the right insurance coverage from the get-go. This means coverage for the journey home and for everyday use once you get there.
To get the best deal, shop around the simple way–using Jerry.
Jerry is your insurance broker for life. All you need to do is answer a handful of easy questions that take roughly 45 seconds, then instantly get quotes from up to 45 insurance carriers. No waiting, no long forms.
Jerry automatically contacts your insurance company to get the details of your current coverage–so you get all the best prices and coverage with none of the legwork.
And when your policy is up for renewal, Jerry keeps the savings coming! Before every policy renewal period, you’ll be presented with three competitive quotes, which means you’ll always have the best coverage at the best price

Jerry car insurance savings by state

Switching to Jerry can net you some serious savings. Here’s how much you could save on car insurance in your state:
StatePrice before JerryPrice after Jerry

Frequently asked questions

Should I buy a car in another state?

If you truly find the right car for you but it’s over state lines, you should buy it. There are some minor obstacles associated with buying a car in another state, but overall, you’ll be facing similar charges to what you would experience buying in-state.

What are the additional costs involved in buying a vehicle out of state?

Many of the costs of buying a car in another state are the same as buying a car in your home state. While not mandatory, a pre-purchase inspection from a reputable mechanic is a good idea. This typically costs around $100–$200.
You’ll also want to get a vehicle history report, such as from CARFAX. This should cost around $40.
Then there’s licensing, title, and registration. Requirements and costs vary between states, so check with your local DMV to find out what you need to bring and what it will cost you.
The main additional cost when you’re buying a car in another state will be shipping. If you choose not to drive your new vehicle back to your home state, you’ll have to have the car sent there.
Shipping costs for vehicles can run you anywhere from hundreds of dollars into the thousands, and there are a number of factors that influence the rate.
If you do plan to drive your car home, you may be required to purchase a temporary registration sticker. Alternatively, some states offer “trip permits” that cover the car for the journey home. Check with the state DMV for specific rules surrounding this.

How can I ship a car?

You can ship a car by road, rail, air, or sea. And there are benefits and drawbacks to each.
The most common shipping method is by road—either using open-air transport or enclosed transport. While it may not be as fast as flying your car, it’s a safe and (far more!) cost-effective option.
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