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How Do I Fly Somewhere, Buy a Car and Drive It Home?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro November 2016

Hello and welcome to the latest round of Ask Doug, your favorite weekly post where you Ask Doug a question, usually about cars, and Doug provides you with an answer, usually about the sixth -- and finest -- season of Gilmore Girls.

If you'd like to participate in Ask Doug, you can! Just send me an email at OversteerDoug@gmail.com, or send me a message on my Facebook page. I am equally receptive to both methods of communication, and I will also accept questions from people who randomly approach me on the street and ask if I am "that car guy from the Internet."

Anyway: Today's question comes to us from a reader I've named Thad. Thad writes:

Doug,

I live in Raleigh, NC, where you recently flew in and drove home in your new Viper, removing a desirable car from our local market. Not cool man, not cool.

But, that's what my question is about: What prep is required to fly into a town, out of your home state, and drive a car home? I've been looking at a CTS-V Wagon in Texas. I want to do exactly that, but how do I handle the insurance, tags, and registration for the trip home? What if I wreck or get pulled over on the way?

Cheers,
Thad

For those of you who don't want to waste your precious, precious time reading -- when you could be watching the sixth season of Gilmore Girls -- please allow me to sum up Thad's question. He is asking what exactly you need when you fly into another state to buy a car and drive it home.

And although I feel like I've possibly answered this question in an earlier edition of Ask Doug, it's nonetheless one that I get rather often. So today, I'm going to provide a long, comprehensive answer, and then you all will tell me how wrong I am.

Actually, in today's rare edition of Ask Doug, I'm not wrong at all, because I have crossed state lines to purchase a car and drive it home on eight separate occasions in my life -- all with varying degrees of success. And I can even answer Thad's final question -- What happens if I get pulled over along the way? -- because that actually happened to me.

So here's the situation, Thad: When you go somewhere far away to buy a car, the first thing you'll want to make sure you have is insurance. I always insure my out-of-state purchases before I arrive in the place where I'm buying them, and I always print out the insurance card before I even get on the plane. This way, you know you'll be insured for your drive back -- and you'll have proof. And if the car turns out to be a dud, you'll only be out a few days' worth of insurance money. Yes, sure, your insurance company tells you that you have 30 days after a car purchase to get it on your policy -- but you don't want to smash into a truck full of chickens in rural Mississippi only to have everyone start asking insurance questions.

Registration is a little trickier. When I'm buying a car from an out-of-state private seller, I always try to convince the seller to let me drive away on his or her license plate -- a courtesy I've also extended to virtually anyone who has ever purchased a car from me and driven it a long distance.

Here's my thinking: If you're selling a car and you get good documentation -- including a properly completed bill of sale -- then letting someone drive on your license plate for a day or two shouldn't really be a problem for you. It's a much bigger deal for the buyer, who could run into serious trouble getting home safely if he or she has to drive hundreds (or thousands) of miles without a license plate. Of course, if the car is at a dealership, the dealer should be able to write or print a temporary license plate for you, rendering this issue moot.

So what happens if you get pulled over? As it happens, I got pulled over in western Kansas in July 2011 while I was driving across the country in my newly purchased Lotus Elise, which I brought from the previous owner's house in the San Francisco Bay Area to mine in Atlanta. At the time I was stopped, I had the previous owner's license plates on the car.

Now, I can't speak to the way every single police officer will handle this situation, but the one who stopped me had no problem with it. I explained to him that I had just purchased the car, and then I showed him the previous owner's registration, the signed title, the bill of sale, my driver's license and my insurance card. He thanked me for having everything in order, walked back to his car, and came back a few minutes later with all my paperwork -- and a citation. Then I continued along, uneventfully, for the rest of the trip.

And what if the prior owner won't give you his license plates? That happened to me once, too: I bought a Porsche 911 Turbo in Florida, and the previous owner insisted I couldn't have his plates. So I screwed in a dealership license-plate insert, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. I didn't get pulled over, but it wasn't a happy drive home -- and it became even less happy when I discovered the car immediately needed a clutch replacement upon arriving back in Atlanta. Which is probably why he didn't want me to keep his license plate.

So that's a basic rundown of the paperwork you'll want when you're driving home in someone else's car. Of course, I also suggest getting a prepurchase inspection from a mechanic in the seller's area before you spend any money on plane tickets -- and I suggest taking a test drive and personally looking over the car once you arrive.

After all, Thad, don't forget: You're free to back out until you're driving away. Once that happens, that new CTS-V Wagon is your car -- even if you find yourself cruising through Arkansas, on your way back home, and you decide to pull over to pop the hood, and to gaze at your new supercharged V8, and you realize the engine is just a 4-cylinder, and you've spent the last 800 miles listening to a CD with recorded engine noises from a Hellcat.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

MORE FROM OVERSTEER:
A Year With My Aston Martin: Saying Goodbye
How Much Faster Can 0-to-60 Times Really Get?
Here's Why the BMW i8 Is Worth $150,000

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Used 2009 Cadillac CTS 3.6
Used 2009 Cadillac CTS
$10,904
This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
How Do I Fly Somewhere, Buy a Car and Drive It Home? - Autotrader