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Long-Distance Car Buying

Here’s a question for car shoppers: What if you find your perfect car and it happens to be halfway across the country? Sounds like an insurmountable hassle, right? You’ll have to view lots of photos online, trust someone on the other end to present the facts accurately, deal with lots of paperwork, and finally, getting your new car home.

Whew! Seems easier to just buy the good-enough car close-by, doesn’t it? Turns out that it isn’t that big a deal to buy a car out of state and bring it home.

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But how do you make sure the car you want has the exact features and options you’re looking for? Thankfully, Autotrader’s “Find Cars For Sale” has different filters to help you find just the right car. This is especially important when buying long distance or out of state because you don’t have the luxury of seeing the car in person before you make your purchase.

When shopping for new cars on, one of the best features is the ability of the dealer to include a link to the actual window sticker, so you can see exactly which options are included and what the price breakdown is – again, very helpful when you can’t see the car in person before buying.

This is critical when comparing online prices because you want to be sure that any cars you are comparing are identically equipped, or if they aren’t you need to be able to see the exact differences and the price of those options so you can compare prices accurately.

View the Window Sticker

The window sticker is also helpful because the information listed in the ad by the dealer varies in quality and quantity. Some dealers may not fully describe all the features, leaving you to guess which option packages are installed. Others may list a vehicle as white when the photos show a black car. Mistakes happen, especially when you think about the millions of listings on the site, so it is important that there is access to a document providing accurate information on the vehicle.

Color is also interesting because carmakers have different names for their colors, rather than relying on the simple Crayola 8-pack of color names. So the Sapphire Crystal Blue and True Blue Metallic are both blue hues available on the 2012 Town and Country, but if the listing only shows “blue” you won’t know exactly which blue it is without referring to the window sticker.

Options can cause unexpected confusion too. A dealer might neglect to mention that a vehicle has a feature because it is standard equipment.

Ideally, you would want to search for a vehicle using filters to show only those known to be equipped exactly as you want, it is important to do some searches without all of the filters applied. Then you might spot a car with an ambiguous color listed in another category, or one that is listed with all the options you want but one. It is worth a look at the window sticker for a car like this because it is possible that option is on the car, but was overlooked when the dealer entered the data for it.

Alternatively, such searches with one option missing from the filter list could turn up a vehicle with an attractive price that might make you consider living without, say, high-intensity discharge headlights if you spot a bargain on a car that has every other option you are looking for with an irresistible price tag.

Locked on target

After much searching, you’ve found your perfect car, but it turns out to be far away. Fear not, shoppers buy out-of-state cars every day. Be aware that the distances listed on from your ZIP code to the car listed is an as-the-crow-flies approximation, which can vary significantly depending on the need to skirt around things like mountains or lakes. So if you are in Florida looking at a pretty reasonable distance to a car in Texas, understand that you will need to drive around the Gulf of Mexico!

Dealers that use the Autotrader Autobiography can provide you an abundance of detailed information about your car, along with photographs, so that you can see details up close. Some post video walkarounds of cars too, helping you get the feeling that you are inspecting the car in person.

It is simplified when buying a new car because the car is expected to be in new condition. Used cars can get a bit trickier so it is important to have the seller go over the car’s condition in thorough detail to avoid any disputes when you finally see the car in person.

Another thing that is simplified is ensuring that the target car is acceptable to the emissions regulators in your home state. Most new cars these days have 50-state certification, but if not, and you live in California or one of the other states that follow its pollution laws, then you need to be sure that the model you are buying is outfitted for California’s emissions requirements. A tag under the hood will confirm compliance with California standards, so you can ask to see a photo of that before buying the car.

California publishes this brochure on purchasing cars from out of state.

If you are buying a used car, you will also want to see some proof that the car’s emissions equipment has been tested and works properly.

California requires an emissions test of both new and used cars at the time of registration. In other states like New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia, cars that are bought new are not required to be tested for emissions under the assumption that new cars are delivered in working condition. Some newer used cars are also exempt, the age varies by state, so check your state’s requirements here:


When you are ready to buy the car, the dealer can use an e-document service to send you the purchase agreement. This uses a third-party web site to authenticate the documents and make them legally binding, just as if you signed the purchase agreement in their office.

Signing the document in advance of going to get the car protects you from the unhappiness of having the car sold before you arrive at the dealer to pick it up.

You pay sales tax on your new pride and joy when you register it with your home state, rather than when you buy it. That means that you won’t be financing the sales tax, so be prepared to pay that. If you are buying the car from a dealer, they can usually install temporary tags for you to use until you register the car at home.

Also, remember to notify your insurance agent about the new car to get the policy transferred from the old one.

Getting your new car home

Finding a great deal out of town is one thing, getting that new car in your garage is another. However, arranging delivery isn’t a huge obstacle thanks to services like Ready Logistics. This service offered by Autotrader’s sister company, Manheim Auctions, simplifies the process of arranging transportation for your new vehicle with its full-service offering. Ready Logistics will do all the work for you, with customer service to help you through all facets of the move.

Based in Phoenix, Ready Logistics has access to over 6,500 fully vetted carrier partners. It delivers more than 2 million vehicles per year nationally. Delivery time averages 3.6 days. Advantages of using Ready Logistics include:

  • Free online quotes available via the Ready Logistics website.
  • Real-time, market-based pricing.
  • You’ll know how much it’s going to cost before you place your order and get billed at the quoted price.
  • Ready Logistics’ customer care is available to place orders and get real-time status updates.
  • Estimated delivery timeframes provided at order placement to help you meet your delivery requirements.
  • Ready Logistics’ carriers use mobile technology to provide pick-up, in-transit, and delivery updates in real-time to a Client Portal for easy visibility.

In the end, an out of town purchase is worth it if you have your heart set on a very specific car with a very specific list of features and options.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated from its original content

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  1. Having spent much time on Autotrader over the years buying cars from a distance, I can speak to the frustrations I’ve encountered. Very few Dealers include a link to a car’s window sticker so I can see what I always want to see – the factory options on the car. They list long, tedious lists of the car’s standard features, but rarely a link to the window sticker or just do the buyer the courtesy of simply listing the car’s factory options right there in the Autotrader ad. Another problem that is a recent one that defeats the reason to use Autotrader to buy at a distance is the Dealer penalty that is directed at a buyer for purchasing from out of state. In looking around recently on Autotrader for a 2022 Honda Civic Si I was told by Honda Dealers in Oklahoma and Louisiana that I would have to pay an additional 2 grand for a Civic Si they had already marked up 3 grand or more over MSRP simply because I was from out of state. One Dealer in Denver said they would not take a deposit from me to secure the car unless I called them and said I was “in Transit” from my home in nearby Nebraska. The worst experience was from Wilde Honda, a Honda Dealer in Waukesha, Wisconsin. After telling me upon my inquiry what a phenomenal deal his incoming Civic Si was the rInternet Sales Manager refused to take a deposit from me to secure the saying he had two other inquirers who had expressed an interest. The car was due to arrive that week and he said it would take a day to add the factory accessories and the Nano ceramic paint protection the Dealer was installing. He said he would call me and give me a chance to drive over to purchase the car. He never called or answered my subsequent emails about the car. When a higher up at the Dealership emailed to ask me about my purchase experience, I told him how I’d been treated and asked if the car had been sold. He then had his underling – the Internet Sales Manager I’d dealt with email and claimed one of the other potential buyers had stayed at the Dealership the day the car arrived until all the accessories were installed and then some salesman sold him the car. It was all a big lie to cover up for the fact that he preferred to sell the car to a local buyer and had deliberately kept me in the dark. So although Autotrader now makes it possible to buy a car from a distance, many pitfalls have arisen in dealing with Dealers in this supply shortage that have made it difficult to secure a car elsewhere. And it is primarily Dealers you must purchase from as rarely do I ever find Private Sellers offering cars on Autotrader anymore.

  2. I bought a car through a reputable Auction and tried using their recommended transport services. Apparently From 4 different transport companies, I’m not sure if you can even call them that. All they do is give you a quote on a price, which changed after they secured a driver to make the delivery. This happened more than once. More than a week had gone by and delivery of my vehicle was still not scheduled. An apparently if you have a contract with one Transport Service, I couldn’t cross shop others. Eventually, bought a plane ticket and picked my car up myself and drove it the 1200 miles home. Saved a least $800.00 or more and really enjoyed the trip.

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