I hear from listeners of the CarPro radio show all the time looking for specific vehicles, but are concerned about buying out of their area and rightly so. You should be concerned about buying a car a long way from home without seeing it. The good news is, I've addressed this issue before and have even done it myself several times.
One CarPro Show caller was interested in a very specific pre-owned car. He wanted a seven to eight-year-old Porsche 911 convertible with a manual transmission. Although the gentleman was from Chicago, and there is a chance he could find the right car in his area, there is a better chance he could find a car like this in another part of the country. Used convertibles are often found in sunny climates like Florida or California.
So the question is, how difficult is it to buy a car, whether it's new or used, when the car you're considering is great distance away? What needs to be done to ensure you make the right decision? Frankly, it's not that hard, and can often pay benefits in finding the right vehicle for you. I recently assisted another listener in procuring an out-of-state purchase of a cargo van in New Mexico that was perfect for him.
How To Buy A Car From Out Of State
Use a CarPro Friend
The first advice I'll give you is to purchase your out-of-state new or used vehicle from one of my trusted CarPro Friends. It's now easier than ever to do so, thanks to our new CarPro white glove delivery option.
New CarPro Delivery Option
Select CarPro Friends from across the country will now deliver straight to your driveway. If you buy a vehicle from one of them, you can be sure you'll be working with someone I trust. They'll help you through every aspect of the sale, even if you're a long distance away.
>>Click here to check out our CarPro Friends who Deliver
Don't skip the test drive
If you listen to the show, you know I always advise an extended test drive. In this case, you can test drive a vehicle at a local dealership closer to you. But when it comes to buying, use one of our selected CarPro Friend delivery partners.
Don't assume it's going to be more expensive to ship
In fact, a recent radio show listener called in complaining about a non-CarPro dealer charging over MSRP. I recommended they reach out to Fred Haas Toyota in Houston because they'd likely still come out ahead, even after shipping the car. Typically, you can ship a car across country for under $1000 (more on this, later).
Don't assume all dealers (especially non-CarPro Friends) will work with out-of-state customers
Another plus of using our CarPro Delivery option, is that you know the dealer will deliver to you. With the current vehicle shortages, some dealers won't sell to people out of their area since they want to prioritize taking care of local customers. They also know it's unlikely they'll ever see the out-of-state customer again. This is not the case when you're purchasing a vehicle from a CarPro Friend that is participating in our delivery option. We've already done the dealer vetting for you.
Don't get hung up on servicing concerns
I always advise buyers that they can purchase at one dealer, and have the vehicle serviced at another (here's an article I wrote on this exact topic). So if you're buying across the miles, it's no problem to have the vehicle serviced at a dealership closer to you.
Other Out of State Car Buying Tips
#1: Do an Online Search
While I'd recommend always first using our CarPro FIND A CAR search engine, you may decide to widen your vehicle search. Perhaps it's a very specific model that's extremely hard to find. In those cases, I recommend AutoTrader. They have a terrific search engine that will let you narrow down the criteria, such as engine, transmission, maximum mileage, price range, and drivetrain. You can also choose how far you are willing to look from your home, or simply choose any distance. When you hit the search button, hopefully, you will have choices and you can start to narrow your search to just a few vehicles.
#2: Start a Conversation with the Seller
Whether you have one or more vehicles for your final selection, start a conversation with the seller. Explain that you are looking long distance and that you do not want any surprises. If the listing doesn't have plenty of pictures, request more. Use good judgment and get your choice narrowed down to one vehicle, and begin the process of making sure you found the right vehicle for you.
NOTE: It's important that you know whether the seller will sell to an out-of-state buyer. As I explained earlier, some auto dealers will not do it because of recent inventory shortages.
#3: Invest in a Vehicle History Report and Inspection
No matter where you buy your car from, a dealership or individual seller, I always recommend investing in a vehicle history report to make sure the vehicle is clean. My personal favorite is AutoCheck. This may be the best $24.99 you can spend (here's my thoughts on AutoCheck vs CarFax).
If your dream car passes the history report step, proceed to get the price you and the seller agree on, subject to a third party inspection. At this point, see if the seller will take a refundable deposit to hold the car, pending the inspection.
Remember that at any time during this process, a buyer can walk on the lot and purchase the car you are considering. There is also no way to know how many other people have seen "your car" online. If the car you find is really low mileage, you can opt to skip the inspection process.
If you decide to do an inspection, Google "used car inspections" plus the city the car is located in. Call and talk to them about their process, and choose a company that will go to the car for the inspection, there are lots of them out there.
#4: Making the Purchase
If the physical inspection is good, it is time to buy. Get the figures in writing, with a signature of an authorized person either faxed or emailed to you, sign it and return.
#5: Figure Out Travel Logistics
If you're not using the CarPro white glove delivery service, you'll need to handle the travel logistics on your own. You'll need to figure out if you want to fly to get the car and drive it back OR have it shipped. Much of this will depend on how far away the car is from you, but generally you can ship a car across country for under $1000. We recommend www.Montway.com. Remember, too, that tax and registration is handled in your home county, so call them and get that cost and the process once you have the car safely in your garage. Don't forget to get insurance in place before the car leaves the seller.
#6: Getting the Bill of Sale
If you are buying from a dealer, they can arrange financing if you need it, or you can send certified funds overnight mail, or a bank can wire transfer the funds, the title should be returned ASAP via overnight mail with a bill of sale.
Buying a used car a long distance from you can be done safely and successfully, but be sure to follow all the steps I have outlined. Trust your gut, if at any time during the process something doesn't seem right, STOP until you can verify and eliminate your concerns.