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What To Do After Buying a Used Car

Used Car Purchase

Once you've purchased a used car, there are a few things you'll need to do in order to make it legally yours and make it safe to drive.

If you've purchased the used car from a dealership then some of these may be taken care of for you. But if you bought it from a private party, then you'll have to take care of all of this yourself.

Step 1: Insurance

You don't want to drive the car around without insurance, even if it's only for your own protection. So make sure that your insurance company knows you've purchased the new car and that your policy covers its VIN (vehicle identification number). You should do this before driving the car away from the lot or place you purchased it. Ideally, you will have it done before you've actually sealed the deal on the car, since that also tells you what your insurance rate will be.

Step 2: Paperwork

Some areas require inspection and emissions testing while others do not. You will first need to get the car registered in your name, which you can do by taking the Bill of Sale from the previous owner (in some states this is on the back of the title) to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or the county property tax division and have the title transferred to your name.

They will usually issue you a 30 or 90 day temporary registration tag as well, which gives you that much time to have the vehicle inspected and tested before getting permanent plates. If inspection is not needed, then plates are often issued immediately. In some states, if the inspections were done within a month or two of the title transfer, the inspections will be accepted for the new owner, so be sure to ask the former owner when it was last emissions tested.

Step 3: Clean and Detail

You will want to clean and detail the car thoroughly. There are several reasons for this. First, most vehicle owners don't clean out their engine compartment. Second, the inside of the vehicle may not be as clean as you'd like. Third, there may be things in the car that you don't want there - best find them now instead of during a traffic stop.

Go to a coin operated car wash. Use the vacuums first so that the engine has plenty of time to cool. Get into all of the nooks and crannies that you can. Shred any identifying paperwork the previous owner may have left and quickly dispose of any other contraband you might find. Like it or not, some people accidentally leave drugs, open alcohol containers, and more in their vehicles after sale. Get rid of that stuff. If it's found in the car while you're driving, then legally it's yours and you get the trouble that goes with it.

Once the engine has cooled for at least fifteen minutes or so, pull the car into a wash bay. Use the engine de-greaser and hose down the engine compartment and undercarriage completely. Pay special attention to places where grease and oil tend to build up, such as around the steering components, around the oil pan, on top of the engine where the oil filler is located, etc. Let the de-greaser soak in, then rinse well.

DO NOT POWERWASH the engine compartment as some components may be sensitive to the high pressure water spray. Use a lower-pressure setting such as spot-free rinse instead.

Step 4: Drive It

It's natural to want to drive your new purchase as much as you can. Don't feel guilty and go with it, as it's a good idea anyway. Put as many miles as you wish on the car for the first week or two. This gives you a chance to see if anything is wrong or if there are issues you may not have noticed during test driving.

Step 5: See a Mechanic

After putting some miles on it with a thoroughly cleaned engine, go see a mechanic. Have the car inspected and checked as if you were looking at purchase. The clean engine will mean the mechanic can more easily find leaks and problems and the extra miles will have made those happen.

This is also a great time to have the first oil, lube, and filter change. Whatever the previous owner said, you don't know when this was actually done last, so it's a good idea to do it soon after you get the car so you can start your own schedule for routine maintenance.

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