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How to Buy a Car Out-of-State

How to Buy a Car Out-of-State

When buying a vehicle out-of-state, the following info should keep you on track.

Quick links:

How to find the right car?

How to research local requirements?

How can I have the car inspected

How to pay for a car long-distance?

How to finalize with the DMV?

Shopping for out-of-state cars can be tricky if you don't know what you’re doing. It’s crucial that you stay safe and secure throughout the whole process. Here is our guide to buying an out-of-state vehicle.

Oh, by the way, PrivateAuto has private-party used vehicles for sale. We provide an end-to-end platform to get the transaction done, from secure messaging to immediate payment transfers.

As we explain in our article on buying a car remotely, we’re the only platform that enables long-distance vehicle purchases. We help you overcome the limitations of buying a car over the phone by providing free, unlimited, immediate funds transfer and escrow-like services in the palm of your hand.

Find a Car

Finding your dream car can be tough. If you are looking for rare or custom vehicles, expanding the search out of your state will give you more opportunities to find cars that are not available locally.

Buy Online for Convenience and Security

You’re better off purchasing from a private party than from a dealership. Dealerships have the incentive to buy as low as possible and sell as high as possible; it’s how they make a profit. You’re far more likely to get a better deal by going directly to the vehicle’s seller.

Lucky for you, PrivateAuto has a wide selection of used vehicles for sale across the US. We offer security and many convenience features no other competitor has.

We verify the identity of every seller, so you’ll always know who you’re negotiating with. You can go through used vehicle listings and make offers within our app, and when the seller accepts your offer, you can schedule the test drive. It all happens within the app and you never have to give out your personal info to strangers.

Choose the Right Online Platform

When purchasing an out-of-state vehicle, choose a platform that will help you get the deal done.

We are the only platform that allows a car buyer to do a deal remotely. You could be in one state and buy a car over the phone from a buyer in a state hundreds of miles away. All you need is a trusted intermediary to act as an agent on-site to verify that the car is in the condition advertised (and verify the title, VIN, odometer, and other info) before you release the funds to the seller.

Find Your Dream Car On Private Auto

PrivateAuto makes buying a used car fast and hassle-free. No matter if you’re looking for a Land Rover, a Jeep Grand Cherokee, Tesla Model X, or a Honda Civic, you’re sure to find a great deal on the ride of your dreams.

We are the only end-to-end car-buying platform that gives you everything you need to get the deal done, from making offers to sending payments.

Browse our used cars for sale.

The PrivateAuto purchasing process consists of a few simple steps:

Register and get verified on PrivateAuto

To make PrivateAuto a safe place for everyone, we require email, phone, and driver’s license verification, including facial recognition.

Look through the listings

It’s so simple to browse listings of used vehicles for sale on PrivateAuto. Filter by make, model, mileage, year, and other criteria to make your search simpler and faster.

Make offers on cars you like

Make offers on cars that catch your eye. It’s up to you whether to accept the seller’s asking price, or to offer a lower price. You can also decide whether to accept ID-verified sellers only.

Go for a test drive

As the buyer, you will want to test drive the car. No more back-and-forth texts. You never have to give out your phone number. Rather, use our handy scheduling feature to coordinate a time and place for a test drive. (Oh, and you’ll be able to finalize the transaction instantly at the test drive location, FYI.)

Fill out the paperwork

After you are satisfied with the car and the two of you have agreed on a purchase price, you can easily e-sign the bill of sale within our app, from your phone. With our shared documents feature, you can easily locate the paperwork needed after the sale.

Pay the seller in a matter of seconds

Before PrivateAuto, receiving funds was the most stressful part of the entire purchasing process, especially for any used vehicle purchases over $5,000. There just aren’t a lot of good ways to move large amounts of money quickly and conveniently.

Those days are over! Verify and send funds instantaneously with PrivateAuto Pay, our innovative banking integration. Guaranteed funds for transactions large and small, no matter how far from each other you are.

PrivateAuto Pay gives you escrow-like services without the time constraints, expense, and inconvenience of traditional escrow services. Here’s how it works.

Transfer the car title

When purchasing a used vehicle, you must go through the title transfer process for your state.

Selling your vehicle? Choose PrivateAuto to get the best price and transact efficiently and safely!

Understand Your State Requirements

When you buy an out-of-state vehicle, there are laws that you need to follow to ensure the transaction is fully legal. Before purchasing the car, it is important that you check your state’s requirements, to ensure there are no problems when you transfer the vehicle title and register the car.

No matter what state the car is in, you will need to provide the following documentation to your local Department of Motor Vehicles (or equivalent organization):

Transporting The Vehicle

When buying an out-of-state car, you’ll need a plan for how to transport the vehicle legally to your home state. Options include:

  1. Pay a professional transporter to haul or tow the car to you
  2. Get temporary tags that allow you to drive for a limited time

For example, in the state of Arizona, you can get a 3-day permit to drive an unregistered car after a private party car sale. But, some states don't allow this. As long as you are passing through states that allow temporary tags, driving the car yourself is a great option.

Temporary tags are harder to obtain for states you don't live in. Sometimes it is much simpler to pay for shipping than driving an unregistered car across the state.

Research Your States Emissions Testing

RequirementsDifferent states will have different emission standards. In some states, you can't register your car until you meet the emissions testing requirements, while in others, emission testing is not required. Before you commit to purchasing a vehicle, you need to ensure that it is compliant with your state's emission requirements.

Buying a Car out of State

Check Vehicle Information

If you are considering buying the car, you should check that it has a clean history, and it has no mechanical issues.

Research Vehicle History:

It’s always good to research the vehicle's history before committing to it. You can get a detailed history report through a service like CarFax. Or, you can get the car's history report when you purchase it through PrivateAuto.

We have partnered with AutoCheck to provide buyers with a motor vehicle information check and report. When PrivateAuto sellers go for a Premium listing, we include the vehicle history report for your inner piece.

Verify Odometer Disclosure

If you are looking at a car that’s less than 10 years old, Federal law requires the seller to fill out the odometer disclosure on the back of the title.

You can verify the accuracy of the odometer readings the seller enters on the title by checking the odometer yourself. Keep in mind that there are severe penalties for sellers tampering with car odometers no matter what state they are in.

Our app includes an odometer reading entry, where both the buyer and the seller confirm mileage before taking the next step.

Go Through Mechanical Inspection

Before purchasing an out-of-state vehicle, you should have a professional mechanic perform an inspection on it.

If you want to do the deal remotely and save yourself the trouble of traveling to see the car, you can have the mechanic act as your agent to receive the car title on your behalf after verifying that the car is sound. More about this in our guide to buying a car remotely.

Check the Vehicle Information Number

When purchasing a used car, always check the vehicle identification number that the seller has written on the title. Carefully compare it to the actual VIN on the car. You want to avoid the problem of having the wrong VIN on the title when you go to register your newly-bought car.

The PrivateAuto app has a VIN field where buyers and sellers individually confirm the vehicle identification number. This helps eliminate errors (or the rare case of outright seller fraud).

Create and Sign a Bill of Sale

A bill of sale is a legal document that provides proof of the purchase price and the transaction. Some states require a bill of sale for used car transactions, while others do not. Regardless of state requirements, it’s always a good idea to complete a bill of sale for legal protection.

PrivateAuto includes a bill of sale as part of our standard in-app transaction process. At the appropriate stage in the transaction, both you and the seller will be prompted to e-sign the bill of sale within the mobile PrivateAuto app.

The whole transaction, the bill of sale included, can be completed in a few minutes when you meet for the test drive and approve the car. It’s very fast and convenient. You won't have to keep track of all your paperwork: you will always have the electronic bill of sale accessible in your PrivateAuto account to prove that the transaction was legitimate.

Complete the Car Purchase

Once you’ve found a car that fits your requirements, it is time to see the car in-person and seal the deal.

Organize the Meetup

Other used car marketplaces leave the meetup organization to you. Organizing the initial meetup traditionally requires exchanging personal info and having a lot of back-and-forth with the seller, especially when organizing an out-of-state purchase.

On the PrivateAuto app, your personal info is kept private. Our handy in-app scheduler allows you and the seller to arrange the perfect time and place, even when the seller is thousands of miles away.

As we explain in our article about remote car purchases, you can save yourself the trip and have a trusted agent—ideally, a vehicle inspector—act on your behalf.

Fill Out the Certificate of Title

Once you and the seller have met in person (or your on-the-ground agent has met the seller on your behalf), you’ve approved of the vehicle, and both of you have agreed on the purchase price, it is time to transfer the ownership.

This is where the seller will sign over the title to the buyer. It is one of the single most important steps of the whole translation (along with you paying for the car).

When signing the title certificate, always keep the following in mind.

  • Only use blue or black ink. Any other color will void the title.
  • Never erase anything or use white-out.
  • Write neatly.
  • Do not use nicknames.
  • Spelling mistakes will void the title.

Both you and the seller will fill out the certificate of title thoroughly. Required information includes the following:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Signature (completed after payment)
  • An odometer disclosure statement (for cars less than 10 years old)
  • VIN (vehicle identification number)

How To Pay For a Car Long-Distance?

It’s time for you to pay the seller for the vehicle. Until PrivateAuto arrived on the scene, there haven’t been a lot of safe ways to send large amounts of money in a private car transaction. That’s changed with PrivateAuto Pay.

PrivateAuto Pay

Our integrated banking gateway, PrivateAuto Pay, allows you to instantly send any amount of cash. The seller will get the payment in a matter of seconds, whether it's late at night or on a national holiday. We charge no payment processing fee. It’s truly revolutionary.

So, if you don’t like the idea of carrying a wallet full of money or waiting for a check to clear, you’ll love PrivateAuto Pay.

Escrow-Like Services Without the Cost and Inconvenience

If you’re doing the deal remotely, PrivateAuto Pay gives you escrow-like services without the hassle of traditional escrow.

  • Escrow services are expensive; PrivateAuto Pay is free
  • Escrow services are only available during specific business hours; PrivateAuto Pay is available 24/7/365
  • Escrow services are inconvenient because you need to involve a third party; PrivateAuto Pay allows you to close the deal in minutes on your phone

Read all about how PrivateAuto Pay enables long-distance car transactions.

Vehicle Financing Available

Oh, and if you didn't want to pay out-of-pocket for your next vehicle, you can apply for a used auto loan right within the PrivateAuto app. Once you get approved, your profile will show that you have verified funds, making you stand out from other buyers.

When closing the deal and sending payment, our lending partner will pay the seller in full. You'll make monthly car payments to the lender. It's that easy. Wondering how much your payments will be? Our handy car loan calculator will tell you.

Finalize With Your Local Department Of Motor Vehicles

After buying the car, you'll need to finalize your ownership of it with your state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or equivalent organization.

Registration and Title  Transfer

The previous owner will have transferred the title to you when you purchased the car. Now you need to finalize the title transfer with your state. At the same time you do so, you will register the car in your name. Here are some of the most commonly-required documents that a state's DMV will require:

  • A completed title transfer application form
  • Proof of auto insurance from the buyer
  • Proof of identity (driver’s license or government-issued ID card)—note that PrivateAuto verifies buyers and sellers
  • Bill of sale–done through the PrivateAuto mobile app with e-signatures
  • The original title (or a duplicate title, if the original one is lost)
  • An odometer disclosure statement–required by some states
  • A highway safety inspection–required by some states

Paperwork requirements will vary from state to state, but you should expect to bring the following documents:

  • Valid driver's license
  • Proof of auto insurance
  • A bill of sale
  • Completed certificate of title
  • Emissions test certificates
  • Vehicle registration fee
  • Payment for your state’s car sales tax (if applicable)
  • A completed registration form

In most states, you will have 30 days to register the car.

While you are registering your vehicle, you will also apply for new license plates.

Get a Temporary Registration

A car purchased out-of-state needs to get transported back to your state. So, if you are planning to drive the vehicle back home, you need to ensure that you can get temporary plates. When shipping a car, temporary registration is not required.

Regardless of how you’re transporting the car, you’ll probably want temporary plates so you can drive the car while getting new license plates and getting the car registered.

Pay Sales Tax

In states that charge sales tax on used car purchases, you'll need to pay the sales tax when you register the car.

Get Your Car Insured

Used cars, just like new cars, are required to have liability car insurance at a minimum. Every insurance company will have different rates, so shop around.

If you are planning to drive your newly-bought vehicle back to your home state, you would be required to have insurance.

Experience the PrivateAuto Advantage

Avoid scams, keep personal information private, and guarantee funds with PrivateAuto. Fast, convenient car transactions. Get started today.

Buying a Car Out of State FAQ

What are the pros and cons of purchasing an out-of-state vehicle?


  • Wider search field
  • Possibility to find more unique cars
  • Save money by potentially getting a better deal


  • More complicated
  • Transportation of vehicle
  • Requires more research

What is Credit Karma?

Credit Karma is an American finance company that uses your credit score to curate the best offers for your budget.

They offer:

  • Business loans
  • Student loans
  • Personal loan
  • Balance transfer cards

Who pays the car title transfer fees in private car sales?

When applying for a new car title, the buyer is responsible for paying the title transfer fee. The buyer will also pay registration fees, sales taxes, and license plate fees.

How to protect yourself when buying a vehicle privately?

To protect yourself when buying a car privately, we recommend the following practices:

  1. Never give out your contact information
  2. Deal with verified sellers only
  3. Have a bill of sale to legally validate the transaction
  4. Send the payment through PrivateAuto Pay

The best way to protect yourself when buying a car privately is by buying it on a secure platform that offers these features (such as PrivateAuto).

Get started here!

Does the seller keep the license plates?

Each state has its own rules about what to do with license plates when a car is sold, so it's important to be familiar with the regulations in your state.

Vehicle plates are regulated by each state and must be attached for vehicle identification and security reasons. It helps authorities in identifying the owner if the vehicle is involved in traffic violations or an accident.

It’s important to follow the license plate requirements for your state, as failure to do so could leave you liable for the actions of another person. For example, if you are a seller and your state specifies that you remove the plates from the vehicle, letting the buyer keep them could expose you to liability if the buyer gets into an accident driving the car home.