Buying a Car Out-of-State from a Dealer - How To
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Buying a Car Out-of-State from a Dealer - How To

By Autolist Editorial | April 14, 2021

Buying a car out-of-state might allow you to purchase the new or used car of your dreams. While the internet makes researching and shopping easy, you have several decisions to make and steps to take before you drive off in your new vehicle.

When working with a dealership rather than a private seller, you can often get more help in completing your paperwork, making it easier to head home as a happy owner of the perfect car. Working with a dealership also assists in finding a lender if you require one for your purchase. Dealerships often offer rebates on new cars which is another consideration when debating on purchasing a new or used vehicle.

Make Decisions When Buying a Car Out-of-State From a Dealer

Your first decision when buying a car out-of-state from a dealer is whether you want a used vehicle or a new vehicle. If you're looking for a hard-to-find new model or a vintage vehicle, you may need to be willing to take a long-distance road trip to find the car you want.

Decide how far you are willing to travel, how you want to get there, and how much money and time you can afford to spend traveling to and from the vehicle's location. Consider the costs of airfare, hotels, meals, and time off from work or away from home. Factor these additional costs into the overall cost of the vehicle to make sure it is worth all of your time and effort.

If you plan to trade in your vehicle, think about how you will get it to the dealer. Transportation can be a hassle but the dealership may work with you on getting your trade-in vehicle to their location. In some cases, the dealership may have a partnership or dealer located in a neighboring state and you will not have to transport your trade into their location directly.

Should You Drive Your New Car Home or Hire a Transport Company?

Are you going to drive your new car home or arrange for transportation? If you're going to drive it across state lines, confirm with your car insurance company that you have the right coverage for your new vehicle's first trip. You will likely need proof of the new title, the bill of sale, and temporary registration. Make sure you travel with your proof of insurance and driver's license when driving back to your home state.

Your vehicle may also need to meet specific emissions requirements known as a smog test for your home state. Many states give you a grace period to drive the vehicle using temporary tags while you arrange to have it registered and emission-tested. Ask whether the dealer issues temporary license plates or temporary transit permits for driving the car out of state.

Your state's sales tax depends on the state in which you live, not the state in which you buy the car. You pay the sales tax when you register your vehicle in your home state with your local department of motor vehicles (DMV). However, if you purchase your out-of-state vehicle in California, and plan to drive the car from the dealership, you must pay California's sales tax. You don't pay California's sales tax if you ship the vehicle from the dealership to your out-of-state destination. Other states may have similar requirements, so ask your state's DMV before making your transportation plans.

Depending on your car's purchase price, the distance, time, and expense of driving it home, hiring a company to transport your new car might be a better deal. In that case, you need to choose whether you want it transported in a closed or open trailer. You want to know the fees and costs involved and what bonding and insurance the transport company provides. Ask other questions, including when the vehicle will leave the dealership, how long the trip will take, and when it will arrive at its final destination. A benefit of buying from a dealer is that they recommend transport companies and work with them to ensure your vehicle gets to you safely and often at a better price than if you were booking solo.

Vehicle transportation services are also offered if you make a vehicle purchase from a private party seller and are not dealer-specific. It may cost more than transportation services offered by a dealership, but it could potentially still save you money depending on how much of an expense collecting the vehicle yourself would cost. Do not be afraid to shop around and find the transportation service that fits your needs and budget.

Meet Requirements When Buying a Car in a Different State

Although you're buying a car in a different state, it must meet your home state's requirements. Your state's DMV website will have the information you need for registering and operating your new or used car. Meeting your state's emissions standards is an important point when buying a car out-of-state from a dealer. Fortunately, most automakers produce cars that meet California's air quality standards, the strictest in the nation. However, if you buy a used or classic vehicle, especially one that has been modified in any way, it might not pass California's more stringent standards, so be sure to check with the seller to get all the details on any potential changes.

If you buy a new car in Washington, D.C., or the 15 states that have adopted the California Air Resources Board (CARB) standards, your car can pass any state's emission requirements. In the East, states that have adopted the CARB standards include Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. In the West, they include Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. In the Southwest of the United States is Colorado which also follows the CARB standard.

Look for the label on the door jamb or under the hood to confirm the car you want is emissions-compliant in all 50 states. If you don't see it, ask the dealer where it is. Check the owner's manual for the label's location. In some cases, the dealership may have documentation about the vehicle's last smog test and will provide it to you upon request. If you are purchasing a vehicle from a private seller you may need to pay to have an emissions test done to ensure you can drive your newly purchased vehicle in your perspective state.

Obtain a Vehicle History Report

A vehicle history report gives you important information about a specific vehicle you're considering. The reports are based on a car's 17-digit vehicle identification number (VIN). Reports include a car's service record, odometer readings, rollbacks, accident and damage history, and recording of a salvage title. You can buy the report through the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System. Some dealers offer the report free if you buy a car from them. You can also buy a history report from websites like AutoCheck and Carfax.

Even though you may be purchasing a car from a dealer, use the car's VIN to make an independent check for recalls on the U.S. Department of Transportation website. To get owners' reports about their experiences, check ratings from J.D. Power and Consumer Reports. Ensure you do your VIN-specific vehicle research before you make the trip to the dealership out-of-state. The dealership should have the VINs posted on their website, or will provide them to you upon request.

Conduct a Thorough Vehicle Inspection

Whether you are purchasing a new or used car, inspect it visually and mechanically. Make sure it has all the features advertised and that all of the features function properly. Test drive the vehicle on city streets and highways. Try to experience different road conditions before signing the sales contract. Hiring a well-respected certified local mechanic to inspect the car is a smart investment, especially if you are planning on taking the vehicle out of state. If you live in Los Angeles, California, and you buy a car in Portland, Oregon, returning it for problems you discover later will be more difficult and costly than if you purchase it from a local dealer.

After you review the mechanic's inspection report and you still have interest in the vehicle, discuss any problems in the report with the dealer. Negotiate for repairs and concessions, such as a lower sales pricing or a free extended warranty. If any part of the mechanic's inspection report worries you, do not fear walking away from the car dealer and waiting for another opportunity to present itself. Do not buy the car if you are not satisfied.


The dealership should provide you with the title and registration of the vehicle before you return to your home state. If you financed the vehicle the title will have the financial institution who financed the vehicle on the title.

The dealership should provide you with a bill of sale, which should include the location of sale, purchase price, year, make and model of the vehicle, and names and addresses of the buyer and seller. You and the dealership should both sign this document to ensure no claims can be made against your purchase.

Ensuring you have all of the proper documentation will prevent any confusion on the occasion that you are pulled over on the way home.

When you can not find the new, used, or classic car you're looking for locally, buying a car out- of-state from a dealer might get you the perfect car. Do your research, ask questions, and then venture across state lines with confidence to make your best deal.