Tips for Buying a Car Out-of-State

Next week, while visiting family (well, future in-laws anyway) in Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving, there will also be some car shopping. Long story short, while my car is still not going to be replaced, my fiancee’s will be. The dealer will not (and perfectly reasonably) take out-of-state personal checks. While some of the purchase will probably be financed (which I was previously told should not a problem, as the dealer works with a bank with a presence in both PA and NY), several thousand dollars are going to be put down. The problem, of course, is how to get the money there. I see several options:

  1. Cash. I think the disadvantages of this are obvious.

  2. Bank check. Reasonable to consider, though I don’t know how it works if a car isn’t bought. I assume there’s some way to destroy the check and release the funds.

  3. MasterCard system using the debit card. I expect MasterCard to stop this transaction instantly and will require either prior notification or a call to the company to allow the transaction.

  4. Wire transfer to the dealer. Not a fan of this option, since it will probably need to be set up in advance and then compels a purchase.

  5. Wire transfer (or other type of transfer, such as a bill pay) to her account in PA. This would then conceivably allow for the writing of a personal check. Has the advantage that while the money has been moved, it is still available.

I don’t think bringing the car across state lines on temporary plates and then retitling in NY will be a problem. Though if it is or could be, I would welcome some advice. Are there any other details or potential problems I have not thought of?

Call and ask if they’ll take credit card, and if so, the highest amount they’ll allow. I was able to put 4 grand down on my AmEx last time I bought a car.

You could also see if future in-laws could pay with check and then you write them a check.

Look in to tax issues. You might end up having to pay tax in both states, which could get expensive.

I bought my first and only new car via wire transfer. It didn’t have to be set up in advance, I decided to buy the car, we agreed on the details, and then the next day I called my bank and set up the transfer. My bank was also out of state, they just had me fax over a signed letter with all the account numbers.

Sales tax, titling, and registration for motor vehicles in the United States is based on the titling address of the vehicle. I am the Internet Sales Manager for a high line German brand in Atlanta and deal quite frequently with out of state transactions from some of the smaller markets outside Georgia. We do not collect any taxes on such transactions. The only exception to this rule can be if the new vehicle is going to be leased and then some financial institutions require that the tax be collected. YMMV.

The method of down payment is subject to the discretion of the selling dealer. We accept certified bank checks, credit cards up to $2500 per transaction, debit cards with no restrictions, wire transfers and cash. Again, YMMV.

A relative of mine was living in Virginia and bought a car in Maryland, got MD temporary tags, and had to handle the licence plate application on her own.

When I bought a car in my home state of VA, the dealership got me VA temporary tags and handed me an application for VA permanent tags already filled out to sign, then they got me my tags without nary a direct contact with VA DMV.

Stuff to think about re: money transfers (not professional advice):

  1. Does your bank have any local branches in PA where you could personally get a cashier’s check? I’ve obtained a few cashier’s checks in my life and I simply walked in, standed in line, asked for a cashier’s check for $x payable to Y, wrote the bank a personal check, handed it to them, and got my check right then and there and walked out in less than 20mins, though I got the checks at a branch in the same county that I live in. Now, if your account is out of state but you have an account with the bank, it might be different (why don’t you call them, that’s what they’re there for?).

  2. It is my understanding that you can usually turn in an unused cashier’s check (ask your bank!).

  3. What about getting a cashier’s check payable to yourself and then “sign over” or “endorse” the check to the dealership if you decide to buy?

  4. Will they take traveller’s checks? (do those even exist anymore?).

  5. Get cash at a local ATM to make the down payment (disadvantages: user fees and possibly hitting your max withdrawal limit)

  6. Use a “check cashing” place (designed for people who don’t have bank accounts to cash checks) to cash a personal check written to yourself. Disadvantages: you might need a background check at the place and the fees.

Some states have “lemon laws”. Others do not. If you buy the car in a state that does not have such a law (I don’t think Pennsylvania has one, but my information might be dated), you will not be protected even if it is registered in a state that does. (this is my understanding, anway, IANAL).

Well, it’s gotta be cash, cashier’s check, or maybe a personal check drawn on her account in Pennsylvania (but that’s still questionable.) And of course figuring all this out is my problem. Well, time to go talk to some branch managers and see about guarding a cashier’s check with my life.

Thanks everyone for the replies.