What to Do After Buying a Used Car?

Patrick Oziegbe
Updated On:

Rev up your engines and get ready to hit the road because congratulations are in order! You’ve just made a thrilling and savvy investment by purchasing a used car.

But the journey doesn’t end there – in fact, it’s just beginning. After navigating the twists and turns of the car buying process, there are still necessary steps to ensure your ride is smooth sailing.

From paperwork to maintenance checks, it’s crucial to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s to protect your investment and make the most of your new-to-you vehicle.

So, buckle up and join us as we explore the essential post-purchase steps you need to take to keep your used car running like a dream.

Understanding VIN

Decoding VIN Number

The VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) is a unique code assigned to a car by the automaker. It reveals crucial details such as the model year, country of origin, serial number, and assembly plant. 

When planning to buy a used vehicle, the VIN is a great place to learn more about its history.

Each character in the 17-digit VIN has a specific meaning, and by decoding the VIN, you can obtain vital information about the car. This can help you make an informed decision before making the purchase.

What to Do After Buying a Used Car?

How to Find VIN on a Car

Locating the VIN on a car is straightforward. Commonly, you can find it on the driver’s side dashboard, visible through the windshield, or the door jamb on the driver’s side.

Additionally, it can be found on important documents such as the insurance card or registration papers. Ensure you verify the VIN when considering a used car to better understand its past and condition. Read more about VIN safety here.

Vehicle Registration

How to Register Your Car

To register your used car, visit your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or access their website. You must provide the required documents and pay any applicable fees. Remember to have proof of address and insurance ready.

Managing Permanent and Temporary Tags

Upon registration, you’ll receive permanent or temporary license plates, depending on your state’s regulations. 

Make sure to keep your registration documents in your car at all times. Remember to renew your registration when needed.

RELATED: Discover how long should a car battery last without driving and constant driving. Learn how to jumpstart a car with jumper cables.

Paperwork Required

Bill of Sale

After buying a used car, completing the necessary paperwork is crucial. Start with preparing a bill of sale.

This document serves as proof of the transaction and includes details like the vehicle’s price, buyer’s and seller’s information, and date of sale. It helps establish the change in ownership and might be required for title transfer.

Title Transfer

The next step is title transfer. The vehicle title is an official contract between the previous owner and you. It transfers the car’s ownership, and you’ll need the vehicle identification number (VIN), proof of insurance, and possibly proof of address.

Ensure you submit the completed paperwork to your local DMV to finalize the title transfer and drive away as the new legal owner.

Choosing the Right Insurance

Types of Vehicle Insurance

At a minimum, you’ll need liability insurance to meet your state’s requirements. However, consider comprehensive coverage and collision insurance for added protection.

Importance of Proof of Insurance

After selecting a policy, having proof of insurance is crucial. Keep this document handy, as you’ll need it when registering the vehicle and occasionally upon request by law enforcement. It ensures you meet legal requirements and safeguards against unforeseen expenses.

Dealing with the Dealership and Private Sellers

Understanding the Role of a Dealer

Dealerships play a vital role in the used car buying process. They can provide various services, including transferring the title, completing safety inspections, and offering warranties.

A dealer may also help you secure financing options and handle most paperwork.

However, you might pay a slightly higher price at a dealership compared to a private seller. Make sure to negotiate and compare prices before making a decision. Check these negotiation tips with Carmax company.

How to Deal with Private Sellers

When dealing with a private seller, the process can become more personal and flexible. You can often negotiate a better price, saving you thousands of dollars.

However, be prepared to handle paperwork, such as transferring the title, and conduct safety inspections independently.

It’s essential to verify the car’s history and ask the seller to provide maintenance records to make a well-informed decision. Always have a mechanic inspect the car before finalizing the purchase to ensure its condition.

Pre-Purchase Inspection

Tips to Test Drive a Used Car

Before purchasing a used car, taking it for a test drive is essential. Familiarize yourself with the controls and assess the car’s performance.

Pay attention to how the car accelerates, handles corners, and how the suspension behaves on different road surfaces.

Checking Car’s Brakes and Tires

During the test drive, evaluate the car’s brakes and tires. Ensure the brakes are responsive and there’s no unusual noise or vibration. 

Check the tires for uneven wear, which may indicate issues with alignment or suspension.

After the test drive, consider getting an inspection by a qualified mechanic. A multi-point inspection can identify potential problems and help you decide on your used car purchase.

Mechanical Check and Repairs

Inspecting the Transmission and Engine

After buying a used car, inspecting the transmission and engine is essential. Check the oil dipstick to ensure the oil level is adequate and the oil looks clean, not burnt or mixed with coolant, which might indicate issues down the line. A trusted mechanic can help you examine these critical components more thoroughly.

Common Problems and Repairs

Some common issues with used cars include worn-out tires, malfunctioning transmission, and engine problems.

Use a penny to assess the tire condition: if the penny, upside down, covers part of Lincoln’s head, the tires are fine; if his head is fully exposed, you need new tires. 

Don’t hesitate to visit a mechanic to identify and fix other potential problems, ensuring a safer and more reliable vehicle.

Maintenance of the Used Car

Understanding Your Car’s Maintenance Schedule

Many vehicles have specific time intervals or mileage recommendations for maintenance.

Check the owner’s manual to find this information and plan accordingly. Regular maintenance will help prolong the life of your car and prevent costly repairs.

Tips for Regular Maintenance

To ensure your car stays in good condition, follow these essential tips:

  • Oil changes: Keeping up with routine oil changes is crucial to maintain the health of your engine. Most vehicles require an oil change every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, but some can go up to 7,500 miles.
  • Tune-ups: A periodic tune-up will ensure your car runs smoothly. Typically, this involves replacing spark plug wires and checking other vital engine parts.
  • Fluid checks: Wipers, engine coolant, brake, and transmission fluids should be inspected regularly. Replace or refill as necessary to ensure the proper functioning of your car’s systems.
  • Tire maintenance: Regularly check your tire pressure and rotate your tires as needed. Properly inflated and balanced tires will improve your car’s handling and extend their life.

Understanding Car Warranties

What’s Covered under Warranty

A car warranty typically covers defects or damages from regular use. For most vehicles, warranties last five or six years, while electric cars may have different warranty durations for their motors and battery packs.

It’s crucial to thoroughly review your warranty to understand the extent of the coverage provided.

Benefits of Extended Warranty

An extended warranty can be a valuable option for many buyers. These warranties often provide coverage beyond the standard warranty period.

Investing in an extended warranty can reduce out-of-pocket expenses for some repairs and add financial security. 

Always inquire about available extended warranties and carefully weigh the benefits against the additional cost.

Knowing Vehicle Recalls

After buying a used car, you must know of any outstanding recalls. Recalls can impact the safety and performance of your car, so monitoring them is crucial.

You can search for recalls on your specific model by registering your vehicle at Carfax’s Vehicle Recall Check page. They will notify you as soon as a new recall is reported.

Stay informed and take timely action if a recall affects your car. These simple steps can help keep your vehicle safe and reliable.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is a vital resource when buying a used car. Their primary goal is to ensure the safety of vehicles on the road.

Checking for recalls on your newly purchased vehicle is a good idea. The NHTSA keeps a database for this purpose. Enter your car’s VIN on the NHTSA website to find any recall information.

Another potential issue with used cars is odometer fraud. The NHTSA estimates over 450,000 vehicles are sold annually with false mileage readings. To protect yourself, look for signs of tampering and ask for maintenance records.

Keep your car safe by reporting any safety problems to the NHTSA. They review every report, working to ensure road safety for everyone.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do you have to register a vehicle in GA?

You have 30 days in Georgia to register your newly purchased used car. Complete the registration process within this time frame to avoid penalties.

How long do I have to register my newly purchased used car?

The time frame for registering a used car varies by state. Generally, it’s around 30 days from the date of purchase. Check your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website for specific information.

Can I drive my recently bought used car without plates?

It is only advisable to drive a used car with plates. However, some states provide temporary tags to display on the vehicle until you receive your permanent plates. Check with your local DMV for specific regulations.

How long does it take to get license plates from a dealer in Maryland?

The Maryland dealer typically takes at least two weeks to process your registration and license plates. Be patient and ensure the dealer has your correct information to expedite the process.

What should I know about transferring the title?

Transferring the title is an essential step after buying a used car. Ensure you have the original title, a bill of sale, and any relevant fees and taxes paid.

Sometimes, you must visit the local county tax office with the seller to transfer ownership. Keep your vehicle title safe, but do not store it in the car.

What are the state-specific regulations for used car purchases?

State regulations for used car purchases can vary. Researching your state’s laws regarding title transfers, registration, inspections, and taxes is essential. Your local DMV’s website is a good starting point for finding this information.

How do you handle license plates when purchasing a used car?

You’ll usually need new license plates when purchasing a used car. Check with your state’s DMV for requirements and procedures. You might receive temporary tags while you wait for your permanent plates but only drive with displaying some identification on your vehicle.

Do I need to go to the DMV after buying a used car?

It would be best to visit the DMV after buying a used car to complete the title transfer, registration, and, in some states, an inspection. Some dealers may handle the process for you, but it’s good to check with your local DMV to ensure everything is completed correctly.


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