Cities and Towns in the United States > vehicle > Purchasing a Car in the US



Unless you live in the centre of a big city, commuting in the US is no easy game; when distances stretch too far and buses are scarce, cars become the main means of transport and a bare necessity.

Before you buy a car, consider your lifestyle, the size of your family, what you think is essential in a car and, most importantly, your budget. Although this may seem easy enough, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

Here’s what you need to know to make a successful car purchase and register it as your own in the US.

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If your budget is tight, you should purchase your car directly from its current owner. You can look for listed cars on trusted websites online or in your local newspaper. Once you have found a car that interests you, you can make an appointment with the seller to test drive it. If the results are positive, you should discuss the price. Remember car prices aren’t fixed, and it’s important to negotiate to get the best deal.

Before you purchase, make sure there are no major issues with it. Take a look at the expiration date of the safety inspection: it’s indicated on a sticker placed on the windscreen. Cars which have been flooded, damaged, poorly repaired or maintained could become a future source of headaches. To avoid unpleasant surprises, you could ask a knowledgeable friend or a trusted mechanic to come along with you to assess the vehicle’s overall condition.


If you decide you’re happy with it and have agreed on a price, the seller must:

  • • Provide evidence that the car has passed an emission and safety inspection. This ensures the car is in good working condition and does not harm the environment above the allowed level.
  • • Make the transfer of ownership to you, so the vehicle is in your name.
  • • Make you sign the pink slip. This is an important document you may have to provide during a police road check.

You will need to register your car in your name before you are allowed to drive it. In most states, you’ll be able to do this in your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Check the specifics of the procedure in your own state. In any case, you’ll be asked to submit the following documentation:

As you’re buying your car from a private party, you’ll have to pay the sales tax to the DMV together with a fee which varies significantly from state to state. You can check how much you’ll need to pay with your local DMV.

Once the necessary checks are complete, you’ll be given a temporary registration that is usually valid for a month. You can expect to receive the proper license plates by mail within that time frame.

The licence plates must be fixed to the front and rear of the vehicle, except in the states of Pennsylvania and Florida where they can be fixed only to the back of the car.

Note: many states allow you to choose a “vanity licence plate” that contains whatever name you choose to display. This will add to the price and extend the processing times.


If you prefer a non-hassle and risk free option, purchasing from a car dealer is the right way to go for you. Although it comes at a dearer price, you’ll have the choice of getting a new or used vehicle - plus all the paperwork will be done for you.

You can also decide whether you want a vehicle with or without a warranty. You should know that if you buy it “as is", you will have no legal claim in case of a defect; whereas if you buy it "with warranty", you will get at least a 30-day-period that will cover you against any problems related to the engine or the transmission that may arise.

Note: unless you have saved enough, you may need to finance your car. If you haven’t been able to build your credit history, you could still get a loan. You may be allowed to use your employment letter as a means to prove your reliability, but notice you’ll pay higher interests in that case. Remember that the interest rate of dealer financing is generally higher than that provided by banks, so always check and compare rates before choosing one lender.

We hope this article will help you make the right choice when it comes to purchasing a car in the US. Enjoy the freedom of going anywhere you need to and don’t forget to drive safely!

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