How to Buy a Car Out of State

When buying a used car from a private seller, you might want to shop across state lines to find the perfect vehicle. We’ll show you how to handle your cross-state transaction.
Buying a car remotely seems intimidating. People can think of all sorts of reasons why it’s a bad idea:

What if the car is a lemon?
What if it is in worse condition than advertised?
How can I pay for the car if I’m hundreds of miles away?
How will the car get to me?

Each of these points is easily solved, and you can often get a much better deal with when you buy a car long-distance.

Shop private-party used vehicles for sale by owner on PrivateAuto. We simplify what was a complicated process and make it easy for you to buy an out of state vehicle securely and quickly.

Steps for Buying a Car Out of State

While the process can vary slightly depending on your state’s unique requirements, here is the standard buying process for an out of state vehicle purchase:

1. Find your dream car at a reasonable price and make an offer (PrivateAuto, lets you offer less than the asking price, and the current owner can accept, reject, or counteroffer).
2. Have your funds ready (if you need to apply for used car financing, you can do so right in the PrivateAuto app; when approved, your profile will show “Verified Funds” so that the seller knows you mean business).
3. Get a vehicle history report (included in the seller’s PrivateAuto listing if they’ve opted for Premium).
4. Arrange a trusted car inspector to act as your agent and schedule a meeting between the inspector and seller. PrivateAuto has integrated Lemon Squad into our tech stack, so you can order a car inspection as a step within your PrivateAuto dealflow.
5. Order car transport. PrivateAuto has integrated with RunBuggy, so you can schedule secure vehicle shipping from within the PrivateAuto app as part of your transaction flow.
6. The inspector will perform a pre-purchase inspection and test drive the car on your behalf.
7. After the vehicle inspection turns up no issues, you and the seller sign the bill of sale in the PrivateAuto app. You’re now safe to pay since the seller has signed a legally-binding contract.
8. Pay for the car. Transfer any amount to the seller instantaneously via our integrated banking gateway, PrivateAuto Pay (works any time of day, any day of the week).
9. The seller signs the vehicle title over to you and hands it to the inspector, who will send it to you by certified mail.
10. The inspector ensures the car is loaded onto transport and shipped off to you.
11. You insure the vehicle. You can compare policies and get car insurance from your PrivateAuto dashboard, thanks to our Insurify integration. Or, you can call your insurance company and have them add the car to your existing policy.
12. Complete the registration process with your local DMV. You’ll also finish the title transfer, get new license plates, and pay any applicable vehicle sales tax.
13. Enjoy your car!
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Where is the Best Place to Buy a Used Car?

Find a car to buy. This is your first step, and it can be easy if you’re looking for a mass-market vehicle such as a Toyota Corolla. If you are looking for enthusiast, custom, or classic vehicles, you may need to expand your search nationwide and do a bit more digging.

Buy Privately

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. Plus, they charge additional fees, such as the “documentation fee” that’s usually a few hundred bucks. Avoid dealer fees and markup when you buy from a private 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.

Choose the Right Online Platform

The best way to find used cars for sale by owner: go online and start browsing any of the many car-listing websites. Here are just a few examples of websites with cars for sale.

Local classifieds websites (for example, KSL Cars in Salt Lake City)
National classifieds sites such as Craigslist
Auction sites such as eBay Motors or Bring a Trailer
Online marketplaces such as CarGurus or Autotrader
Social media marketplaces such as Facebook Marketplace

While these websites may have a lot of vehicles, they have serious shortcomings. Most of them mix dealer inventory with private sales, making it difficult for you to know whether you’re getting a private-party car or not. Even more importantly, all of them lack basic transactional infrastructure.

We call them "meetingplaces" because they introduce you to a private seller and leave the two of you to navigate all the complexities of the transaction on your own.

PrivateAuto is the world’s first and only fully transactional automotive marketplace, offering self-service technological solutions for every stage of the deal.

We have nothing against other listing sites. If you find the perfect car on one of them, good for you. But we want you to have the transactional security and convenience that our users enjoy.

That’s why we developed DealNow. DealNow allows you to start a deal anywhere and finish it on PrivateAuto. Our fast-track dealflow includes convenient scheduling, electronic docu-signing, and instantaneous fee-free payments. Just create your own private dealroom, invite the car seller, and get the deal done. It’s the easiest purchase process you’ve ever experienced.

Paperwork and Red Tape

Some states have different requirements for an out-of-state car than one purchased in-state. When you buy an out-of-state vehicle, check with your local DMV for additional out-of-state paperwork and other requirements.

Almost every state will require the following at a minimum for out-of-state vehicle registration:

Registration paperwork (each state will have its own form)
Bill of sale (required by some states, a good idea in all) with purchase price and other details, signed by both parties
Odometer disclosure statement
Government issued ID
Proof of insurance
Payment for sales taxes based on your home state’s tax rate (if you’re in a tax-free state, consider yourself lucky)

Many states require you to fill out an additional form for out of state purchases. Some will mandate an emissions test, while others won’t. Check with your local Division of Motor Vehicles (or equivalent organization in your state) to see what you need to do.

Options for Transport

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 ship the car to you (order RunBuggy shipping from your PrivateAuto service hub)
2. Travel to the car’s location and drive it home

The latter option gets tricky with interstate laws. Most states require the seller to remove the license plates from the car. You’ll need to research whether temporary license plates (temporary tags) will allow you to get the car home.

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, the “drive the car yourself” option is doable—but it’s still a time-consuming hassle.

Car shipping allows you to save the money you would have spent on travel costs, and skip the hassle of interstate transport. Shipping costs money, sure, but it’s probably less than you think. Get a shipping quote from RunBuggy and see how easy it can be

Safety and Emissions Requirements

Most states will require your vehicle to pass a safety inspection before you can drive it legally.

Safety testing is almost universally required, but different states have different emissions standards. In some states, you can't register your car until it passes an emissions test. Other states have eliminated emissions testing. Still others have emissions requirements for some classes of vehicles but not for others.

If you’re looking at a car that is subject to emissions testing, you may want to make sure it’s going to pass before you commit to purchasing it.

Talk to your local Department of Motor Vehicles or equivalent agency to make sure you’re covering your bases.

For obvious reasons, electric vehicles are exempt from emissions requirements.

Research the Car

A smart buyer will try to find out as much as they can about the car they’re getting in a private sale. A vehicle history report can help you avoid buying a bad used car.

PrivateAuto has partnered with AutoCheck, which delivers the best value for the price. AutoCheck gets its data from Experian and includes a host of data sources, such as the following:

State Departments of Motor Vehicles (DMVs).
Auto auctions
Salvage auctions
Collision repair shops
Service records from maintenance facilities
Insurance companies
OEM manufacturers
Car dealerships and extended warranty companies
Import and export companies
Rental and fleet companies
Vehicle inspection and state inspection stations

Collecting from all these sources, AutoCheck reveals a wealth of info about the car’s history.

Title history: salvage titles, junk titles, flood damage, hail damage, storm damage, fire damage, and more
Major repairs
Regular maintenance (or lack thereof)
Manufacturer buybacks or lemon titles
Odometer rollback or not actual miles
City and state of previous registration, number of owners
Accidents and damage reports, stolen vehicles
Rental, taxi, lease, or government use
Lien information, ownership transfers
Collision repair history
Structural or frame damage
Service, repair, and maintenance performed
Total loss and reason for the loss
Stolen vehicles
Open recalls
Emissions records
And a lot more

You could say we’re big proponents of buyers getting a vehicle history report.

Do I Need an Escrow Service?

Long-distance car transactions have historically relied on a third-party escrow service to ensure that neither party takes advantage of the other. When you use PrivateAuto, we give you escrow-like control and protection. Unlike an escrow service, PrivateAuto Pay is fee-free and instantaneous.

No more waiting for “regular business hours.”
No more forking over hundreds or thousands in escrow fees.
No more coordinating between you, the seller, and the escrow agent.

With PrivateAuto Pay, you act as your own escrow agent.
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What Should I Ask a Seller When Buying a Car Out of State?

When buying a car out of state, you shouldn’t worry too much about asking the “right questions,” as a vehicle history report and a good inspection will bring hidden issues to light. If you’d like to, you can ask the previous owner the same questions you’d ask if they lived in your area.

Why are you selling this car?
How long have you owned it?
Tell me about its maintenance history?
Who was the main driver of the vehicle and what were their driving habits?
What sorts of driving conditions was the car mostly driven in?
When not being driven, where was the car parked?
Is the car under warranty? (Most used cars are not under warranty, but if this one is, that’s great news.)
Have any major modifications or repairs been done to it?
Do you have copies of your service records?
Does the car have a clean title? (If it has a branded or salvage title, you definitely want to know this before arranging an inspection.)

You can communicate with the seller via the PrivateAuto app without ever revealing your contact info. This safeguard goes a long way toward protecting you from car-buying scams.

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

Do I need a temporary registration?

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

How to protect yourself when buying a vehicle privately?

Does the seller keep the license plates?

Do I need a pre-purchase inspection?