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Buying Cars in the USA

We get a lot of e-mail from people asking about how to buy a car, how to find auto insurance and how to operate a car in the USA. Some folks just want to buy a cheap car to drive around the states for a few months then sell it. Others would like to purchase a car in the USA and ship it back to their home. A few folks are interested in specialty cars, hot rods, old-timers or Harley Davidson motorcycles. Here is some information we have gathered. We hope you find it useful.

Ford Mustang © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
Used cars can be purchased from new car dealers, from independent used car lots and from private individuals.

Where to buy a car

New cars are usually sold by factory authorized dealers that specialize in one or two brands of car. In some larger cities, there are now big car marts that offer a wide selection of different brands of cars under one roof. A few Internet companies promise to find the best price for a new car of your choice that they will deliver to any local dealer. All new cars will have a paper attached to a window with a list of all the features and options in the car and the suggested retail price of the vehicle. Remember that price is usually negotiable and most buyers pay less than the "window sticker" price.

Used cars can be purchased from new car dealers, from independent used car lots and from private individuals. The new car dealers generally sell newer used cars in good condition with a warranty but at a high price. Used car lots sell older vehicles in various conditions sometimes with a limited warranty for a lower price. Individuals sell anything at any price with no guarantee.

How to find a car

Most newspapers have advertisements for new and used cars for sale by dealers, used car lots or individuals. The biggest selection is usually in the Sunday edition. Some Internet sites list cars for sale in various parts of the USA. Car trader magazines listing used cars for sale by dealers and individuals are available for free at most supermarkets. Specialty car trader magazines are sold in most convenience stores. They include: The Corvette Trader, The Classic Car Trader, The Hot Rod Trader, The Truck and Van Trader and The Motorcycle Trader.

Ford Thunderbird © Mike Leco / USATourist.com
It is difficult to buy a good reliable car at a cheap price, difficult to find insurance at a reasonable rate, and difficult to sell the car before you leave the country.

Buying a car

The laws concerning registration of motor vehicles vary from state to state, so this is just a typical description. Most states require the owner of a motor vehicle to have a car title or certificate of ownership that must be registered with the state motor vehicle bureau. When you buy a car, the seller must produce these ownership papers. Usually, the buyer and seller must appear before a motor vehicle registration official and affirm the sale, sign the papers and send the registration to the state motor vehicle bureau to be recorded. At this time, the buyer must pay a registration fee, must pay any sales tax on the purchase and can purchase license plates for the vehicle. These registration officials are located at all automobile club offices, at many large auto dealers and in small offices in most towns and cities. Be careful when someone offers to sell you a car without proper papers or offers to give you his license plates. You may be purchasing a stolen car and may spend part of your vacation in jail. Just ask a legitimate car dealer,  an automobile club or a policeman about the proper procedure for buying a car in the state.

Driving your car in the USA

Before you drive your car in any state you must attach a valid registration tag (license plate) to the vehicle, you must affix a valid sticker to the windshield confirming that the vehicle has successfully passed the state safety inspection or air pollution test. You must also carry a copy of your ownership registration in the vehicle at all times while driving.

You cannot obtain a valid registration tag until you prove that you have adequate liability insurance coverage

It may be difficult to obtain insurance coverage unless you have an address within the USA and a valid state driver's license. Even with a local address, you may be required to pay high insurance prices because the insurer will not be able to check your past driving history records. You can also see if getting temporary car insurance is an option.

Harley Davidson © Corel
Harley Davidson has a special program for buying a new motorcycle to tour the USA then ship home.

Shipping your car home

It is not difficult or expensive to ship a car to your home country. You can use a freight forwarding agent to ship it on one of the roll-on-roll-off ships from any major seaport. You only need to deliver the vehicle to the shipping point with proof of ownership and payment for the shipping. They will drive it on to the ship, take it across the ocean to the port you designate and unload it there. The price to ship a vehicle depends on the volume of the vehicle but a typical car can be shipped to Europe for less than $1000.

If you do not wish to resolve the difficulties listed above in "driving your car in the USA", we suggest you have the seller deliver the vehicle directly to the embarkation point for you. When you are exporting a car out of any state, you can usually ask for exemption of the state sales tax. This can save you 6% to 8% of the sale price.

When choosing your dream car, be aware that the car that you will import to your home country will have to pass safety inspection there before registration. Some features on automobiles sold in the US market might not be allowed in some foreign countries. You better take information about this before spending your money to purchase and to ship your new car.

Driving in the USA and shipping it home

If you wish to purchase a new car in the USA, use it to tour the country then ship it home, we suggest you make arrangements in your home country. Harley Davidson has a special program for buying a new motorcycle to tour the USA then ship home. The program is only available through dealers in the home country. It is not available in the US.

Buying a Cheap Car to tour the states

We do not recommend this approach. It is difficult to buy a good reliable car at a cheap price, difficult to find insurance at a reasonable rate, and difficult to sell the car before you leave the country. Driving across this huge country of ours will require hundreds of hours of driving. Some of the driving will be through monotonous country with nothing interesting to see. It is much more convenient, and probably much cheaper to rent a car for a few weeks in one place, buy an inexpensive airplane ticket to another interesting part of the US, then rent another car for a few weeks.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © USATourist.com
Photo Description: New car dealerships in the United States offer both new cars and used cars.