How to Buy an Out-of-State Used Car

Know who you are buying from

I remember when I found the perfect truck.

The year was 1994. The truck was a 1984 Toyota 4X4 Extra Cab. It was $4,500 and had only 60,000 miles on the clock.

I knew it was mine, and I knew I would buy it. There was only one problem: The truck was located in Oakland, Calif., and I was in Washington state.

I wondered if there would be problems buying a car in one state, then registering it in another. I didn’t know if buying in another state was worth it or if I should just keep looking closer to home. While the price of the truck was exceptional, I had to figure in the cost of airline tickets to Oakland, gas for the trip home, car taxes and other expenses…

Back then it was worth it in my situation. Here are the things you should consider if you’re thinking about buying a car from another state today:

When I bought my pickup, I was fortunate enough to know the guy who was selling it. I trusted him and knew he had babied that truck since the day he bought it new.

Let’s say, though, that you’re searching DealFinder and find your dream car for a great price a few states away. How should you proceed?

Used car salesman

Don't buy from this guy

First, naturally, is to make sure you’re not about to get scammed. Too-good-to-be-true deals normally are. Call the person or dealer selling the car and ask specific questions. You’ll have a pretty good idea right away if you’re dealing with an honest young woman or a greasy used car salesman.

Be sure to ask for the VIN and check the car’s history. It’s also a good idea to have the car checked out by a mechanic. If you don’t know anyone in the area to help with the inspection, use a company like CarChex to provide an independent inspection. If a dealer is selling the car, contact the BBB and make sure there are no complaints logged against the company.

Next, contact your local DMV and ask how to handle any sales taxes, title transfer and license fees (a good place to start is here, but also be sure to contact your local DMV office). Odds are, no matter where you buy the car, you’ll have to pay sales tax when you register it in your home state. In Washington, I also had to take the truck to the local state patrol office for a background check and have the emissions tested. If you live in California, you need to make sure your car meets the strict California emissions laws. Assuming all that checks out, negotiate the price from home and, if you need it, secure your financing locally.

Next call your insurance company, see what the car will cost to insure, then let the company know what date you plan to take ownership.

With the vehicle’s price agreed upon, and your cashier’s check in hand, make a trip to see the car. Before you sign the papers, though, take the car on a drive and make sure it’s exactly as you expected. Don’t have the car shipped to you; buying a car sight unseen is about the biggest car-buying mistake you can make.

When you make the purchase, you will get a bill of sale and, maybe, the car’s title. (If you buy from a dealer, it may send the title straight to your financier.) When you return home, your DMV or department of licensing will collect your sales tax, guide you through the title transfer process and get you set up with new plates.

Finally, enjoy the drive back home in your new ride and be confident you did everything right!

Would you consider buying a used car from another state?


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