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What to Bring When Buying a Car

Buying a new car can be both exciting and stressful. However, you can mitigate some of the stress by being prepared and having the necessary items with you when you head to the dealership.

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Here are some of the documents you should have on hand to streamline the car purchase process:

  • Your driver’s license. While you should always have your license with you, it’s especially important to have it with you when buying a new car. The dealership will ask to see a copy of your driver’s license before you can take a test drive. Without it, you probably won’t be able to drive the vehicle.
  • Proof of car insurance. Almost every state requires drivers to have car insurance. When you visit the dealership, you will need to show your valid proof of insurance to purchase the car. Usually, your current proof of insurance that lists your current vehicle is sufficient. However, you might want to contact your insurance agent ahead of time to find out what you need to do to have your new vehicle added to your policy.
  • Your preferred payment method. You can help speed up the process of purchasing a new vehicle by having your check, cash, or loan ready before you enter the dealership. However, if you’re financing your car through the dealership, you should set some time aside to fill out the necessary paperwork. You should also have your down payment ready. Contact the dealership to see if it requires additional documents for the financing process and look into whether they offer preapproved financing.
  • Discount/rebate information. Many dealerships and auto manufacturers offer special discounts and rebates for certain individuals, like military members, students, and recent graduates. If you want to take advantage of a rebate, you will need to provide documentation proving your eligibility.

Keep in mind that if you go out of state to buy a car, the requirements might differ from those of your state of residence.

For example, some states will require that your new car pass a smog test, emissions test, or safety inspection before you can drive it home. Contact the DMV of that state or go to its website to determine those requirements before traveling.

Tips for Simplifying the Car Buying Process

In addition to having the necessary documents, there are a few other steps you can take to simplify the car-buying process:

  • Get a car insurance quote. Before going to the dealership, it helps to get a car insurance quote for the vehicle you’re interested in. Factor the cost of insuring the car into your total budget so it’s not a surprise after you’ve made your purchase. You’ll also want to ask your agent if there is a grace period for adding your new car to your policy. If not, you will need to add the vehicle to your current policy before you can drive off the lot.
  • Get preapproved for a loan. If you’re planning to finance the vehicle, contact your bank or credit union and get preapproved for a loan. By applying for preapproval, you’ll know what amount and what interest rates you qualify for. It will also help you stick to your budget. If you want to finance your purchase through the dealer, it still helps to get preapproved by your bank. That way, you can use the preapproval letter as leverage at the dealership to potentially get better loan terms.
  • Make sure your documents are up to date. Before you go to the dealership, double check that your driver’s license and proof of insurance are valid and up to date. If your license is expired, or if your car insurance policy is not active, you probably won’t be able to purchase the vehicle and drive off the lot on the same day.
  • Verify your payment method. It’s a good idea to confirm that the dealer accepts your preferred form of payment, especially if you’re not making your down payment with cash. Call the dealership ahead of time to verify which payment methods are acceptable to avoid any issues.

What to Bring if You’re Trading in Your Car

If you’re trading in your current vehicle, you’ll need to have additional documentation on hand to expedite the process:

  • Title. Your car title is necessary to prove to the dealership that you own the vehicle you’re trading in. If you can’t find your title, you can request a duplicate copy from your state’s DMV. Keep in mind that you’ll have to pay a fee for the duplicate.
  • Vehicle registration. Don’t forget to bring a copy of your registration to the dealership when you trade in your vehicle. The dealership will usually accept an expired registration. However, if the registration is not current, the dealership may knock the cost of renewing the registration off the car’s trade-in value.
  • Service records. While the dealership will pull up your trade-in’s vehicle history, it’s helpful to provide service and maintenance records that might not be included in the report. You can also provide a Carfax report if you have one available, which shows the car’s accident history, mileage, past owners, and some service history.
  • Account number for your trade-in’s loan. If you still owe money on your trade-in, you’ll need to bring the loan account number. You can find this number on one of your payment stubs. You might also want to contact your lender to see if they have a specific process for handling trade-ins.

Before trading in your vehicle, you should also make sure the car is clean. The car doesn’t have to be spotless, but you do want to make sure you haven’t left any of your personal belongings in the car.

Go through the vehicle from top to bottom and make sure all your items are removed. It’s also a good idea to clean out any food wrappers, receipts, and other trash, so the dealership doesn’t have to.

Headshot of Elizabeth Rivelli

Finance & Insurance Editor

Elizabeth Rivelli is a freelance writer with more than three years of experience covering personal finance and insurance. She has extensive knowledge of various insurance lines, including car insurance and property insurance. Her byline has appeared in dozens of online finance publications, like The Balance, Investopedia,, Forbes, and Bankrate.

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