Learn what to do after buying a used car so that you comply with the law and are not burdened by a troublesome car.
So, you just got a sweet deal on a good used car and can’t help but pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Time to pop the champagne bottle, right?
Not so fast!
Some of the most important aspects of the used car buying process happen after the car is purchased. If you don’t know what they are or have the feeling you’ve missed something, keep reading.
We’re going to provide you with a complete checklist of everything you need to do after buying a used car.
What To Do After Buying A Used Car
This checklist assumes you performed your due diligence when buying the car, including asking the seller the right questions, giving the car a thorough test drive, and having it inspected by a trusted mechanic. Click here for the important things you should look for when buying a used car.
Make sure to follow through with any actions required by each list item.
Transfer The Title
The first thing you need to do is have the seller transfer the title of the car to you. You are the new owner, after all.
If you purchased the used car from a dealership, you and the dealer are likely to have already completed the necessary paperwork. If purchased from a private seller, you will need to visit your local government vehicle registration office (DMV, ServiceOntario, DVLA, etc.) to finalize the title transfer.
You should have checked that the title is free of liens before buying the car. If there are liens, get the seller to provide you with official statements proving that there are no outstanding loans on the vehicle.
If you’re financing the car, you technically don’t own it entirely. The original title will, therefore, be held by the lender or dealer until you pay off the loan, though you will be listed as the co-owner.
The finance company will be listed as a lienholder until the loan is paid off, upon which the title is transferred solely to your name.
Note: Make sure a transfer is conducted and completed once you’ve paid off the car. As long as the seller’s name is on the title, he or she technically remains a co-owner of the car and has a claim to it.
Driving around without car insurance is risky business even if it’s just a short trip around the block. Besides that, most, if not all, states and provinces require the car to be insured before it can be registered and legally driven.
It helps to obtain the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) beforehand and send it over to your insurance provider so that you have proper coverage before signing on the car.
Plus, speaking with your insurer ahead of time will allow you to explore the different types of coverages available to you (collision, comprehensive, property liability, etc.) and better budget for the car’s expenses.
Once again, if you purchased from a dealership, the dealer would’ve likely walked you through the necessary steps and may have even filed the paperwork on your behalf.
Most dealers won’t even let you leave their lot without first having your own insurance, especially if you’re financing or leasing the vehicle.
Buying from a private seller? Get in touch with an insurance company, set up a policy, and obtain your proof of insurance.
The type of insurance coverage required by each state or province can vary, so make sure to get the right policy.
Register The Car
This is the moment you’ve been waiting for — when the car becomes fully yours.
In the U.S., Canada, the UK, and many other countries, you can’t legally drive your car without first registering it.
If you purchased from a dealer, you will likely get help setting everything up before driving the car off the lot. Otherwise, you will need to go to your local government vehicle registration office to register in person — without the car, of course.
Make sure to bring along the following documents:
- A receipt or bill of sale showing how much you paid for the vehicle
- The title (or loan documents if the car is financed)
- Proof of insurance
- Government-issued ID and proof of address
- Completed emissions test
- Completed vehicle safety inspection
The registration isn’t free, the requirements can vary between states/provinces, and you may need other documentation besides the ones listed. Make sure to check up on the requirements applicable to you before heading out to register the vehicle.
Remember, it’s illegal to drive an unregistered or uninsured vehicle, and you can get a ticket for simply driving your newly bought car from the seller’s location to your home.
Fortunately, many states and provinces offer a “temporary plate” or permit that allows you to drive freely for several days until you get your official documents and plates.
These can usually be purchased from the issuing government’s website and are placed inside the vehicle’s front or back window after being printed.
Repair Any Problems
Even if you performed a pre-purchase inspection, you will benefit greatly by taking the vehicle to your trusted mechanic for a second, more thorough inspection and basic preventative maintenance.
Any problems that are discovered during the inspection should be addressed as soon as possible so that they don’t become more expensive problems in the future.
If you didn’t do so before completing the sale, you should also check with the dealer or previous owner to see if the vehicle has any existing service recalls and whether they have already been addressed.
Plan For Maintenance
If you’d rather perform the preliminary maintenance yourself rather than have your mechanic do it, read the owner’s manual to see what routine maintenance your car needs.
It’s recommended that you replace all filters and fluids immediately, even if your car has low mileage. The brakes should also be checked and, if necessary, replaced as they are crucial for your safety.
Older or suboptimal cars should get a comprehensive tune-up.
Go For A Ride
With the vehicle registered, you are all set to drive off into the sunset.
Give your car a name, go for a spin to become more familiar with it, and enjoy the extra freedom you now have. I’m sure you’ve earned it.
The answers to the following popular questions provide a few additional pointers on the things to do after buying a used car.
Can I Return My Used Car If I Don’t Like It Or It Has Problems?
Generally speaking, no. Most states and provinces in the U.S. and Canada don’t allow buyers to simply return a used car they purchased because they no longer like or need it. The laws don’t provide a cooling-off period.
However, while sellers have no legal obligation to unwind the deal and refund your money, they may be generous enough to do it.
What Is The Fastest Way To Register A Used Car?
The fastest way to register your car is to have all your paperwork ready so that you only have to visit the government vehicle registration office (DMV, ServiceOntario, DVLA, etc.) once.
This means obtaining and having ready a bill of sale, proof of insurance, government-issued ID, proof of address, completed emissions test and vehicle safety inspection, and other documents required by your state or province of registration.
Having the necessary documentation will allow you to transfer the title of the vehicle and register the vehicle in one go.
Should I Buy An Extended Warranty Of My Used Car?
It is generally not recommended to buy an extended warranty on a used car. With the way most extended warranties are designed, you are likely to pay more for the warranty than the repairs your car will accrue during the warranty period.
Only consider getting a warranty if your car is notoriously unreliable and the warranty isn’t cost-prohibitive.
The used car buying process doesn’t end once you have paid for the car. Several additional steps must be completed after the acquisition to ensure you’re in compliance with the law and that your car doesn’t cause you trouble.
You need to transfer the title of the car from the previous owner to yourself, get insurance, register the car with your state or province, repair any outstanding damages, and perform all necessary maintenance.
It’s only after completing these steps that you can crack open the champagne bottle and enjoy the freedom your new-to-you car provides.
Now that you know what to do after buying a used car, check out our car-buying page for other useful guides.