What To Do After Buying a Car

What To Do After Buying a Car

It’s in the interest of car dealers to present car buying as a quick, painless process—think about all the times you’ve seen local dealers advertise “sign and drive” events. We are led to believe that we simply sign on the dotted line and then drive away in our new ride, but in reality there’s more to it than that. Read on to find out what you do after buying a new car.

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What to do after buying a new car

Buying a new car brings with it peace of mind. After all, you’re the first and only owner, so everything should work perfectly. But, there are still specific steps to follow and documentation that needs to be obtained, even when the car is brand-new.

Get insurance

This is an extremely important thing to do after purchasing a new car. A dealership won’t let you drive off their lot without proof of insurance. Obtaining insurance for a car you don’t yet own is relatively simple, you just have to call the insurance company or bank of your choosing and provide the year, model and make of the vehicle you wish to insure. And of course, changes to the details of the insurance plan can be made after the purchase of the car, if necessary.

Secure the title

Your car title is akin to your vehicle’s birth certificate. It holds all the vital information not only about your vehicle, but also about you—the purchaser—and the location where you bought the car. If you are buying a brand-new car from a dealership, you will likely never see the title, especially if you are leasing or financing the car, until it is paid in full. Since you don’t actually own your vehicle, they hold on to the car title.

If you’re buying the vehicle outright with a cash payment from a bank loan, then dealers are required to provide you with a title within a certain period of time (it varies per state), which they obtain from the DMV. Much like a dealer-financed car, you’ll provide the title to your lender and they’ll hold it until the loan is paid off.

Get the bill of sale

This is how you prove the vehicle is yours while the dealer or lender holds the title. The bill of sale is what you need to provide the DMV with when you register the vehicle. Again, the bill of sale may vary per state, so if you want to see exactly what kind of information is given on your state’s bill of sale, simply do an internet search for ”automobile bill of sale [your state].” In general though, a vehicle bill of sale will include:

  • Date of the sale
  • Description of the car that includes:
  • Warranty information (if it is a private sale, this is usually left simply “as is” unless otherwise specified by the seller and the buyer together)
  • Selling price of the vehicle
  • Personal information of the seller and the buyer (address, contact information), as well as signatures from both parties and the date on which it was signed.

Install temporary tags

If you are not provided with a new license plate by the dealership immediately after you purchase a new car, then you will need to install temporary tags on your car so you are legal to drive it on the street until the DMV can mail you your actual license plate.

Most state laws allow that a temporary ID sticker provided by the DMV can be installed in the window of your new vehicle for up to 90 days. So, you have approximately three months to get your vehicle properly plated.

Register the car

When buying new from a dealership, this is also something that the dealer would take care of for you. You can’t drive off the dealer lot without proof that the registration papers have been requested from the DMV. Fees and taxes are also required when completing a registration, and vary by state.

Search for recalls

Generally, when you buy a new vehicle, you’ll want to do your research on the reliability and viability of the model you want to buy before you finalize the purchase. However, it is always a good idea to stay up to date with potential recalls after you buy a new car.

A simple VIN search will hopefully bring up all the necessary details on your particular car make and model, and if there are any major recalls. If there are, you can contact the dealer from which you bought the car and it is their responsibility to handle the recall, and at their expense. It’s not unusual for recalls to be discovered months or even years after new models hit the dealer lots, so even if your new car is currently recall-free, it’s a good idea to check periodically.

Plan out routine maintenance

A good thing to do after buying a new car is to plan out your maintenance schedule. Sometimes, the dealership where you buy the car will give you a detailed calendar or at least suggested mileage points to bring the vehicle in. They may even call you at certain points to remind you that you might be due to bring it in for a routine check based on how many miles you claimed you drove per year.

Maintenance checks are usually done at mileage intervals to ensure proper liquid levels, brake wear, tire checks and overall engine and transmission health. Routine maintenance checks are extremely important, especially if you have bought a brand-new car that comes with a warranty. Failing to check in with the dealer could potentially void any warranty, as could bringing your new vehicle to a private mechanic instead of the dealer. Always read the fine print of your warranty agreement as it will provide maintenance check information, as well.

Get to know the owner’s manual and car features

After buying a new car, it’s really important to go through your owner’s manual. Don’t be intimidated —in most cases, there is usually a “quick guide” reference at the very beginning that explains the location and function of all your cabin buttons and knobs, as well as what any and all lights in your gauge cluster mean, should one happen to turn on.

The most important sections of the manual to familiarize yourself with may be how to properly open the hood, where to locate the oil in the engine bay, where to locate the windshield wiper fluid, and the recommended gas needed for your vehicle.

Your manual is your vehicle’s guide should something go wrong or you need to troubleshoot something with the car. Another important feature is the door placard on the driver’s side door that provides all the proper wheel/tire sizes for your car, including recommended tire pressure levels.

Copy and save paperwork

It’s important to make sure you copy and save all the paperwork associated with your new vehicle purchase.This includes your proof of insurance of the vehicle, registration, bill of sale, any contract you signed with the dealership or bank for a loan or lease, the title of the vehicle (if it was provided) and any warranty agreements and/or contracts. You should also keep all proof of maintenance done on the vehicle.

Anything and everything can be replaced (at a cost) and requested from your local DMV, as long as you have proof of ownership via a bill of sale or vehicle registration (which will also be attached to your license number if you happen to lose the registration).

You should always keep your vehicle’s proof of insurance and registration in your car, somewhere safe.

What to do after buying a used car

The biggest difference between buying a used car versus a new car is that you are the one who is responsible for all of your own paperwork. The dealership handles all your paperwork when it comes to a brand-new car, but used cars require a bit more legwork on the purchaser’s part.

Transfer the title

If you are buying a used car from a used car dealership, it’s possible that they will handle this process for you. However, if you are buying from a private seller, then you and the seller usually have to transfer the title yourselves at your local DMV. The seller needs to release ownership of the car by first signing the title, then the purchaser can take the signed title to the DMV and the transfer process can begin. Other paperwork needed will vary per state; it would be wise to call your local DMV ahead of going there with the title to ensure you have all the necessary paperwork to complete the process.

Insure your car

Just like you would for a new car, you need to have insurance in order to drive your used car legally on the road. You can obtain insurance for a used car purchase the same way you would for a new car—simply shop around for the best rates. Keep in mind that some used cars will have higher rates depending on the type of car (usually ones considered high performance or are targets for auto theft) and how old it is.

Get it inspected

Ideally, you’d want to get a used car inspected before you drop any money on a purchase, so as to better know that the product you are buying is in good shape, but it is just as important after buying a used car, too. It is a necessary step for the registration as the vehicle’s mileage and other pertinent information has to be provided to complete it. Plus, you’ll want to ensure the seller didn’t overlook anything important in their vehicle listing.

Register it

Even though this is a used vehicle, it’s treated like an all-new vehicle in the eyes of the DMV since ownership has changed. License plate transfer from an old vehicle to a new vehicle (even if that new vehicle is used) varies from state to state, and it’s best to clarify with the DMV.

Review maintenance records

Ideally, the seller should provide you with any and all maintenance records after buying a used car. But, you may be able to obtain your vehicle’s records with a VIN search. It’s important to have these maintenance records to provide a detailed history of the vehicle should anything go wrong.

Make any needed repairs

This is something that should really be done before you sign on the dotted line, or at least be taken into consideration for the final price of the used vehicle. If major repairs are needed, the seller (either dealer or private) should ideally make those repairs before you purchase the used car—or at the very least knock money off the sale price in lieu of repairs—as you will likely end up spending money down the road to make the repair(s) yourself. These agreements between purchaser and seller should be properly documented in the bill of sale so they are more clearly binding.

If you feel like something is glaringly wrong with the car after you purchase it, take it to a mechanic you trust to have it checked thoroughly. And obtain your bill of sale to clarify if there is any warranty left on the vehicle or if it was an “as is” sale.

Schedule routine maintenance

Just because you won’t have a dealership service station calling you to remind you about oil changes and routine checks, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do them. After buying a used car, it is almost more important to maintain your vehicle since it has higher mileage and the engine and transmission have already been on the road for some time.

The most important elements to have checked routinely—especially if you live in an area with seasonal weather changes and temperature variations—are your oil levels, transmission fluid, brakes (discs/pads/calipers) and suspension, and your tires. Those see the most wear and tear on any vehicle.

Drive it in different conditions

As mentioned above, if you live in an area that experiences temperature swings that would affect road conditions, then you’re going to discover a lot after you buy the car. Since test driving a car in all seasons and conditions is essentially impossible, you’ll want to pay attention to how your used car behaves in all conditions and adjust your driving style and habits accordingly.

About Bumper

At Bumper, we are on a mission to bring vehicle history reports and ownership up to speed with modern times. A vehicle is one of the most expensive purchases you'll likely make, and you deserve to have access to the same tools and information the pros use to make the right decisions.

About Miranda Lightstone

Miranda has worked as an in-house automotive editor and writer for publications such as AskMen.com (where she was head of the Car Channel), as well as Auto123.com. She’s hosted video car reviews for Auto123.TV and WatchMojo.com and The Suburban On Air Driving. She has contributed to the Montreal Gazette, RDK Magazine, and The Suburban.

Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.