What to Bring When Buying a Car
- Trading in your car essentials
- Buying cars out of state
When finalizing your car purchase, make sure you have all the important documents—such as your driver’s license, preferred payment method, credit report, and proof of insurance—ready to present to the dealer.
If you’re trading a car in, you’ll need to hand over a slightly different set of items to the dealer. This will be covered below.
Whether buying a new car or trading in one car for another, insurance broker and comparison shopping app Jerry has all the information you’ll need to finalize your purchase or trade-in.
Documents to bring when buying a car
Make sure you dig up these documents and bring them to the dealership when you’re ready to purchase a new car.
As a rule of thumb — always keep your driver’s license in your wallet and on you at all times. The dealer needs proof you can legally drive, and won’t let you drive your new car home if you don’t have your license on you.
Proof of insurance
Car insurance is key in terms of what to bring when you buy a car. Most dealers will accept your current insurance that lists your current vehicle as valid. Be sure to notify your insurer about adding a new vehicle to your insurance policy, and ask how much it costs to do so.
An added benefit of using Jerry is digital proof of insurance, which ensures you’ll always have your insurance information at the ready.
Digital proof of insurance is accepted in most states, but not all. Be sure to ask your insurer if it is allowed in your state.
Preferred payment method
Yes, you guessed it — dealers are insistent on this one. Make sure you have your check, cash or preapproved loan ready to formally buy the car before entering the dealership.
If financing through the dealership, give yourself time to fill out the paperwork when you get there. Have your downpayment ready as well.
Review your credit score and make sure it is as strong as possible.If you’re using a loan to buy a car, a strong credit score will qualify you for a lower interest rate and better overall loan terms. If you have unpaid debts, resolve them before they negatively affect your credit rating.
Recent pay stubs
If you’re financing a new car, your dealer will want to see proof of employment and steady income, so have some recent pay stubs with you.
If you qualify, you might be able to snag a discount on your car purchase through your credit card, the dealership or the auto manufacturer.
Do your homework and double-check your qualifications, and discuss it with the dealer. As always, read the fine print of any discount offer before accepting it.
If financing a car loan through the dealership, bring a list with the names, places of work, and contact information of people who can vouch for you. Make sure anyone you list as a reference does not live with you.
Anytime a dealer is lending money to a person buying a car, they’ll do their due diligence to ensure you’ll honor the loan terms and make your payments on time.
What to bring when trading in your car
If you’re trading your car in for another vehicle, you’ll need to hand over a different set of documents to the dealer.
Certificate of title
If trading in your car, the dealer needs to make sure that you actually own it. The certificate of title is proof that you own the car you’re trading in. If you can’t find your title, you can apply to your state DMV for a duplicate. There will be a small fee, though it varies by state.
If trading in your vehicle, the dealer requires you to hand over its registration, even if the registration on the car is expired.
In the case of an expired registration, the dealer will usually pay to renew it by shaving the renewal costs off the trade-in value.
If the car you are trading in is going to be scrapped and crushed into a cube (our condolences), you won’t be required to provide the registration.
A clean car
This goes without saying — make sure to clean the car you are trading in. It doesn’t need to be a deep clean, but the dealer will appreciate a vacuumed interior and wiped-down surfaces and consoles. Remove all your belongings from the car you are trading in.
A dealer can electronically pull up the service history of a car they receive in a trade-in. However, as a courtesy, hand over any service reports and maintenance history of the vehicle to ensure the dealer has a complete picture of the trade-in.
Loan account information
Even if you bought a car with a loan, it can still be traded in, but there are a few things you need to know. First, contact the lender to see if they have a process regarding trade-ins.
If the lender ok’s the trade-in, but you still owe money on the loan, remember to bring the loan’s account number, located on the payment stub, to the dealer.
Buying a car out of state
If you’re buying a car out of state, get in touch with the state DMV to double-check you have everything you need to purchase your new car. Some states require cars to pass various tests, such as smog, emissions, and safety tests, before a sale.
Frequently asked questions
Why does a dealer require references if I’m buying a car?
If you’re using a dealer-financed loan to buy your car, a dealer will want references to confirm that you are the diligent borrower you claim to be (don’t worry, we know you are). A dealer wants to ensure that—if they lend you money to buy a car—you’ll make your monthly payments on time.
Can I trade in a car that I’m still paying the loan off?
So long as the lender is ok with you trading in a car with a balance remaining on it, you can. Be sure to hand over all the loan information to the dealer, including the account number.
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