You've just bought a new-to-you used car. Now what? If you're in Arizona, there are some steps you'll need to take to make the purchase official before you celebrate. And while it does mean a trip to the DMV, if you prepare by following these steps, you'll find that it's a quick and straightforward process to get behind the wheel. So, let's dive in!

Get Insurance

Ideally, before you even drive your car home, you want to buy an insurance policy to ensure you're protected. If you already have car insurance for a vehicle that you just sold or traded, it might have a grace period that covers you and your new car. But don't test your luck. Protecting your new purchase with a good car insurance policy should be the first thing on your mind. Luckily, it's quick and easy to buy car insurance. You just want to follow these tips:

  • Make sure you get the VIN number and other information correct when setting up your policy.
  • While a higher deductible will lower your premiums, remember that you'll have to pay that deductible out of pocket before you can file a claim.
  • The state minimum coverage in Arizona is hardly enough to protect your investment. Always opt for more than the state minimum on your policy.
  • Get your insurance card emailed so you can print it out and save it digitally, just in case you need it. If you're looking to lower your premiums, you can take a number of steps. Try to raise your credit score, park in a garage or enclosed area, install a vehicle security system, and take other precautions. The longer you hold a driver's license without violations, the lower your rate will be as well.  Additionally, you might be able to take a driver safety or defensive driving course to get a lower insurance rate. Even if it's been a long time since you were first licensed, additional courses like these can help you refresh on the basics and get you better insurance premiums. So don't overlook them.  Lastly, remember that you can always change your coverage limits later on if your needs change. Additionally, you can shop around for a new insurance provider whenever you want, and you should plan on it. Changing your insurance every 6-12 months will ensure you get the best rate and the right coverage.
Blue toy car over the word insurance

Transfer the Car's Title

As soon as you have the chance, you should plan on making an appointment or stopping in at the local DMV to get the title transferred into your name. The state gives you up to 15 days to start this process. In Arizona, transferring the title requires you to bring the title for the vehicle and a bill of sale. Both documents need to be signed by you and the person who sold you the vehicle. Ideally, you'll make things easy on yourself by asking the seller before you buy the car if they have the title if they own the car outright (i.e., no liens), and if the title is up to date (e.g., in their name). The title transfer should be a breeze if they can give you a confident yes to all of those questions. Head to your local DMV and make sure you bring the following:

  • The Title and Registration Application signed and completed
  • The vehicle title, signed and completed
  • A lien release if the car had a lien against it. You should be prepared to pay the title transfer fee for Arizona. Additional paperwork may be necessary if the title was lost, if the owner of the car was deceased, or if other special circumstances apply. If that's the case, call the DMV in advance for information on what you need.

Register Your Car

Generally, you register your car on the same day you apply for the transfer of the title. As long as you have all the documentation you need, you should be ready to get the car registered in your name on the spot.  Depending on emissions requirements, you might be able to register your vehicle for one, two, or five years. Registering for multiple years will save you a trip back to the DMV or renewing by other means, but it also poses a more significant expense. In the event that you do sell your car, make sure that you keep the plates with you. Check that you can reuse these plates on a future car. If the car you just bought has license plates still on it from the previous owner, you will turn those into the DMV or try to get the previous owner to come to pick them up — they were, in fact, supposed to remove and keep them.  Once you have your own plates on the vehicle, ensure you attach the registration stickers provided to you. It's a good idea to clean the plates with rubbing alcohol before applying the stickers to ensure the best adhesion. Lastly, consider scouring the stickers in an "X" pattern. This will make them more difficult to remove in case someone tries to steal them. Check your car often to make sure your registration stickers are still intact, readable, and not out of date. You should get a notice in the mail when they need to be renewed, but set your own reminders to ensure timely re-registration and to avoid future fines.

Schedule an Inspection

Arizona does require car inspections for all vehicles. An inspection is required every two years if your vehicle was manufactured in 1981 or more recently. If it was manufactured before 1980, it must be inspected yearly. In addition to the routine inspections during the life of your ownership, the vehicle needs to be inspected as it changes hands. Usually, you'll only need a Level I inspection, which is free. You should bring the title, registration, and/or a bill of sale, along with your driver's license and any repair receipts.  The primary purpose of the inspection when the car changes hands is to verify that the vehicle identification number (VIN) matches the documents you're providing. However, if the inspector determines that the vehicle isn't safe for highway use, you can run into problems.  Passing the inspection is required. If you do not pass, you must repair the issues and get the car inspected again within 60 days. A failed inspection can certainly hold up the process when you're trying to transfer a car title and start driving. To avoid these hassles, it's best to ask the seller many questions before purchasing.

Schedule Repairs

In the event that your vehicle fails its inspection, you'll need to schedule repairs right away. While this does present added expense, it's a necessary step before your vehicle can be legally operated on Arizona highways. Be sure to ask around and make sure you're taking your vehicle to a reputable repair shop. Assuming you bought an insurance policy for your car as soon as you purchased it, you may be able to file a claim with your insurance company to help cover the cost of repairs. In any case, it's a good idea to look at potential problems associated with a vehicle (even if it does pass inspection) and get them repaired sooner rather than later. Since your vehicle will be routinely checked, you should get repairs done in advance and try to avoid failed inspections. This will make the process much easier.

Car getting repairs in auto garage

Plan for Maintenance

One of the best ways to avoid costly repairs in the future is to simply plan to stick to a good maintenance schedule. This means partnering up with a repair shop or local dealership that you trust and then diligently taking your car in whenever you suspect it has an issue and whenever proactive maintenance is necessary. For instance, most people know that their car needs an oil change every so many months or miles, but that's far from the only preventive maintenance you should invest in. Some of the routine maintenance activities that will help save you money on repairs in the long run include:

  • Checking your battery will help you avoid an unexpected dead battery while also telling you if you need to change your habits (e.g., driving your car more often or not idling for so long) to extend the battery life.
  • Rotating tires to extend their life while also planning in advance as the tread starts to wear down. A set of good tires can easily run you anywhere from a few hundred to a thousand dollars, so saving up money is a must-do.
  • Inspecting your brakes to ensure your car is safe to operate and that your brake pads are being replaced at the optimal moment. This helps you to avoid dangerous situations.
  • Inspecting the timing belt, which could lead to expensive problems with your engine if not checked and maintained properly.
  • Changing out air filters and keeping an eye on your heating and cooling system (especially the latter), which is put under a lot of stress as you drive on the hot highways of Arizona. If you purchased your car new, the dealer might offer service packages that can save you money and help keep your car in tip-top shape. However, even if you buy a used car, you might consider purchasing an extended or after-market warranty to help protect your investment. If you're considering getting a warranty for your used car, just make sure you read the fine print. Unfortunately, many used car warranties aren't worth the money because they don't offer adequate protection in critical coverage areas. So, your best bet may be saving up for repairs and sticking to a maintenance schedule.

Consider Some Worthwhile Upgrades

As a car owner in Arizona, you now have a few priorities on your mind, like making sure your car always starts up on the hottest days and that your A/C truly blows crisp, cold air. If you have some extra money to invest in your car, maybe it's time to think about some other upgrades.

Durable Floor Mats

Durable floor mats are one of the most affordable upgrades you can invest in for your car. While they might not be the most exciting thing, they can hide old dingy and stained carpets or protect good-looking carpets that are already in place. When the rubber mats get dirty, simply remove them and hose them down. Plus, dirt, clay, mud, and sand will not be able to get ground into your carpets when you have rubber floor mats in place to protect them. That can help improve the longevity of your carpets and keep your car looking and smelling fresh for longer.

Seat Covers

If you're thinking about improving the cosmetic appeal of your newly purchased vehicle, floor mats are a step in the right direction. But seat covers might make even more sense. You can find custom-fitted seat covers designed for your car's make and model, so they fit like a glove or less expensive ones that are designed to stretch to fit. The great thing about seat covers is that they can protect leather, faux leather, and fabric from damage or hide existing stains and wear. If you choose a neutral color that matches your interior, it might not even be noticeable upon first glance that seat covers have been installed. Plus, these are great for protecting your investment from pets and kids.

Bluetooth Phone Hookups

If you've bought an older vehicle, one of the most prominent features you might be missing out on is the ability to plug your phone into your dashboard. While you might not have a touch screen or a navigation system in your car, there are plenty of Bluetooth connectors that will plug into a cigarette lighter to create new functionality. For instance, a Bluetooth phone hookup can allow you to play music wirelessly on your car stereo or listen to audio navigation. You can also take hands-free calls or use your voice assistant to find things while on the go. Plus, Bluetooth phone hookups are insanely inexpensive.

An Upgraded Air Conditioner

Sometimes rolling down the windows just isn't enough to keep the air flowing. So, consider restoring or upgrading the air conditioner in your car to something reliable and built to last. While this upgrade could run you about a thousand dollars depending on the model of your car, the A/C you choose, and where you go to have it done, it's one of the coolest upgrades or restomods for a newer, older, or classic car. Plus, it's one you're bound to appreciate almost every day of the year.

Person changing air conditioning settings in a car

Still Looking For the Right Car?

Now you know what it takes to register your car in Arizona — but what if you haven't found the right one yet? Don't lose hope! Instead of scouring the local ads, it might be time to look online. PrivateAuto's peer-to-peer car buying services can help match you with the perfect ride. Plus, you can have peace of mind with the help of tools that ensure a safe, stress-free transaction. Ready to begin your search? Get started today to buy privately through PrivateAuto.