What to Do After Buying a Used Car

Here are all the steps you need to take after buying a used car.

Catherine Collins
Catherine Collins

Catherine leverages her background in education and finance to write articles that help readers make informed decisions about their insurance and finances.

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Katie Powers
Edited byKatie Powers
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Katie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor
  • Licensed auto and home insurance agent

  • 3+ years experience in insurance and personal finance editing

Katie uses her knowledge and expertise as a licensed property and casualty agent in Massachusetts to help readers understand the complexities of insurance shopping.

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Updated May 28, 2024 | Reading time: 3 minutes

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The cost to buy a used car has decreased from pandemic highs, which is good news for the many car buyers who want to save some cash on their next vehicle purchase.[1] According to data from Cox Automotive, 36.2 million used-car sales are forecasted in 2023. This number is a decrease from 2022 levels.[2]

If you plan to buy a used car, it’s important to know the steps to take after the purchase. The specific steps may differ depending on whether you purchase your car from a dealer or private seller.

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*Quotes generated for Insurify users within the last 10 days. Last updated on May 28, 2024

Rates shown are real-time Insurify user quotes from 100+ insurance companies and Quadrant Information Services data. Insurify’s algorithm excludes anomalous quotes and anonymizes personal details, then displays refined quotes by price, date, and insurer popularity up to 10 days ago from May 28, 2024. Actual quotes may vary based on the policy buyer’s unique driver profile.

Transfer the title and register your car

The first and most important step after buying a used car is transferring the title to your name and registering the car. If you purchased your car using a loan, your lender typically keeps the title until you pay your car loan in full. Dealerships typically handle title transfers and vehicle registration, so you should confirm this with them and ask any questions you may have if you purchased your car from one.

If you purchase your car from a private party, the seller should give you their signed title. Review the car title carefully to ensure the vehicle identification number (VIN) on the title matches the car. You’ll take the signed title, bill of sale, proof of insurance, your driver’s license, and any other required paperwork to your local department of motor vehicles office to complete an official title transfer and register your car.

Compare car insurance quotes and secure a policy

You have to provide proof of insurance before you can drive off the lot if you buy your used vehicle from a dealership. And you have to purchase car insurance before you drive a car you buy from a private seller. Call your car insurance company or agent before buying your used car and ask them about your options prior to purchasing an insurance policy.

In order to secure the best deal for car insurance, you should compare quotes from at least three insurance companies.[3] Decide how much coverage you want and compare quotes for policies with the same coverage limits and deductible with an online comparison tool.

Get your car inspected

Since the vehicle you purchased isn’t a new car off the lot, it’s important to have your car fully inspected to see if it needs necessary repairs. Even if the previous owner had a clean driving record, you should get an unbiased third-party inspection.[4] If you can, you should get your car inspected before the purchase.

Good to Know

Once you own the vehicle, you should have it inspected regularly to make sure it’s in working condition and doesn’t pose any dangers. In some states, like New York, drivers must complete vehicle inspections for all registered vehicles once a year.[5]

Perform regular maintenance

Not keeping up with car maintenance could lead to safety issues. Read your owner’s manual to see how often the car needs service and make note of how frequently you should take the car in for an oil change, tire rotation, and more.

For example, most cars need an oil change sometime between 5,000 and 10,000 miles driven. You can also speak to a trusted mechanic to ask what maintenance schedule they recommend to keep your car running smoothly.

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Buying a used car FAQs

You have a lot to consider when buying a pre-owned vehicle. The information below should help make the process go more smoothly.

  • What are the first things you should do after buying a used car?

    After buying a used car, you need to transfer the car’s title to your name. You also need to register the car and purchase car insurance before driving the vehicle on public roads.

  • How long after buying a used car do you need to get car insurance?

    You can’t drive your car off the lot without proof of insurance if you buy your vehicle from a used car dealership. Similarly, you need to buy coverage before you can legally drive a car you purchased in a private sale. Luckily, it’s quick to compare quotes online and secure car insurance in just a few minutes.

  • How long do you have to put on license plates after buying a used car?

    The amount of time you have to put a license plate on your car depends on the state you live in. You might get a temporary license plate at first while you wait for your actual license plate to arrive. Read the fine print on your local DMV website to find specific information relating to your vehicle.

  • How long do you have to register a used car after you buy one?

    The amount of time you have to register a used car after purchase varies based on the state you live in. You typically have a few days to a couple months to complete the process before incurring a late fee. Check with your local DMV office to find out the rules and criteria for registering a car in your state.

  • What should you do before buying a used car?

    Before you make a used car purchase, you should research the car’s vehicle history by looking up its VIN and CARFAX report. The vehicle history report should show any past damage from previous owners, including from past accidents or water damage from flooding. You should also do a test-drive and have a trusted mechanic inspect the car.

Sources

  1. Cox Automotive. "Manheim Report: Used Vehicle Values Fall for Third Straight Month; Wholesale Prices Down More Than 10% Year Over Year."
  2. Cox Automotive. "Used-Vehicle Sales Lose Ground in 2022."
  3. Insurance Information Institute. "How to save money on car insurance."
  4. Federal Trade Commission Consumer Advice. "Buying a Used Car From a Dealer."
  5. New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. "New York State Vehicle Safety/Emissions Inspection Program."
Catherine Collins
Catherine Collins

Catherine Collins is a freelance financial writer and author based in Detroit. She's the co-founder of MillennialHomeowner.com and MomsGotMoney.com, and author of the book Mom’s Got Money: A millennial mom’s guide to managing money like a boss. She has written for US News, Huffington Post, Money, Business Insider, Investopedia, Entrepreneur, Go Banking Rates, and many other publications. She currently resides in Detroit, Michigan with her boy-girl twins and a rescue dog named Julep.

Katie Powers
Edited byKatie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor
Photo of an Insurify author
Katie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor
  • Licensed auto and home insurance agent

  • 3+ years experience in insurance and personal finance editing

Katie uses her knowledge and expertise as a licensed property and casualty agent in Massachusetts to help readers understand the complexities of insurance shopping.

Featured in

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