Automotive Research

Here's what you need to do after buying a used car

If you’re buying a used car, finding the perfect vehicle and paying the seller for it isn’t the last thing you need to do.

There are a few more steps involved, from transferring the title to insuring the car. Here’s what you’ll need to do, and how AAA may be able to help. 

1. Transfer the title from seller to buyer

The certificate of title is a state-issued document that determines who is the legal owner of a vehicle. Once you’ve bought a used car, it legally becomes yours when the car’s title is transferred to you.

If you’re buying your used car from a dealer, they can often handle this step for you. If you’re buying from a private seller, you’ll need to arrange the title transfer yourselves with your state’s department of motor vehicles.

AAA members in California and New Mexico can skip the DMV and MVD with services at a AAA branch

California and New Mexico AAA branches can help with your vehicle title transfer, as well as vehicle registration, taxes, and license fees—all in one visit. 

Learn more about California DMV services

Learn more about New Mexico MVD services

Find a AAA branch

Ideally, the title will be “clear,” meaning only the seller is listed as the owner. If there is a lienholder listed on the title, it can still be transferred, but the lienholder must be involved and consent to the sale. Ask the seller about this ahead of time to avoid surprises. 

What is a lien?

A lien is the legal right of a lender (also called a lienholder) to repossess property if a borrower fails to make their payments. When you borrow money to buy a car, the lender places a lien on the car’s title, which means they’re the legal owner of the car. Once the loan is paid off, the lien can be removed and legal ownership transfers to you. 

Some states require all titles to be notarized when they’re transferred. These include Arizona, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania.

2. Insure the car

Almost every state requires drivers to have a minimum mandatory amount of car insurance to drive, and it’s highly advisable in the 2 that don't (New Hampshire and Virginia). 

You should insure your new vehicle as soon as you can. While there is often an insurance “grace period” between when you take possession of the car and when it needs to be insured, it differs by state, insurer, and whether you already have an insurance policy. You'll also typically need proof of insurance to register the car.

This can be as simple as contacting your insurer and adding the new car to your existing policy, or you can take out a new policy with a new insurer.

If the car you’re buying is worth more than your previous one and you’re adding it to your existing policy, make sure your coverages and limits are still at appropriate levels. For example, you might not have had collision coverage if your previous vehicle wasn’t worth much, but the new vehicle might be much more expensive to fix or replace after a crash.

3. Have the car inspected & serviced

The best time to have a used car inspected is before you buy it, and you should insist on a pre-purchase inspection by a mechanic you trust to uncover any pre-existing issues. If you didn’t or weren’t able to, though, the second-best time is right after you buy it. 

RELATED: 6 tips for buying a used car

This is also a good time to have the car serviced. Dealerships often take care of this before offering a used car for sale, performing oil changes and replacing worn belts, filters, and tires. If so, you may not need additional service, but it’s best to check first.

Private sellers are less likely to go to this expense, and it can be hard to know how well the car was treated in their care. Ask if they can provide service records and when the most recent service was. If they don’t have records, you may be able to find them via a CARFAX search, which AAA members get special pricing on

Get your car inspected or serviced at a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility

Members get a 10% discount1, repair warranties up to 24 months/24,000 miles, and peace of mind knowing we'll advocate on your behalf if a dispute arises with the repair facility.

Learn more about AAA Approved Auto Repair | Find a facility

4. Register the car & pay taxes & fees

As with title transfers, many dealerships can handle registrations for you and take your payment for all the associated fees, while you’ll need to register the car yourself if it’s a private sale and pay the tax and fees then.

Registration requirements differ from state to state, but typically you’ll need a bill of sale (which records the actual transaction between buyer and seller), the vehicle title, proof of insurance, a driver’s license or other ID, information about any lenders involved and, in some states, proof of a successful smog check.

RELATED: Your guide to California's Smog Check program


AAA members in California & New Mexico can skip the DMV & MVD with services at a AAA branch

California and New Mexico AAA branches can help with your vehicle title transfer, as well as vehicle registration, taxes, and license fees—all in one visit. 

Looking for a dealer you can trust?

AAA members can enjoy a great car buying experience with AAA Car Buying Service. Find the car you want from a certified dealer and feel confident in the price you’re paying.

AAA Car Buying Service is only available to AAA members. Outside of Southern California, AAA Car Buying Service is managed by TrueCar, Inc. Only car buying research tools are available in Hawai‘i.

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