Couple in dealership
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Buying a new car is a relatively simple process. First, you need to do some research and find a vehicle that fits your priorities and budget. It’s important to test drive and carefully inspect each vehicle you’re interested in. Once you’ve made your final decision, it’s time to negotiate the best deal and get a check for the seller and/or complete the financing or lease paperwork. If the car is used, it’s wise to take it to a local mechanic for an inspection before you sign the final paperwork.

After you take ownership of the car, there are several necessary steps to follow. While some of them apply to both new and used car purchases, others are specific to one or the other. If you buy a car from a dealership, at least some of the paperwork may be taken care of for you, but it’s imperative to make sure you understand all the details.

Steps to Take After Buying a Car

  1. Insure the car
  2. Register the car and transfer the title
  3. Familiarize yourself with the owner’s manual
  4. Take care of routine maintenance
  5. Make necessary repairs
  6. Get acquainted with the car’s features
  7. Take it for a drive

Insure the Car

It’s smart to research insurance companies and get estimates before you buy your car. Not only do you want to compare companies, coverage, and pricing, but also make sure the car you plan to buy is within your budget to insure. Insurance premiums depend on many factors, such as the car’s age and value, your age, your driving record, your credit score, and the deductible you choose. In addition, various states and lenders have certain coverage requirements that must be met. There’s a good chance the car you’re buying will have a different rate than your current car. 

Get the new car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) and provide it to your insurance agent to get an accurate rate quote. This will also assure that if you end up buying the car, it will be easy to make sure it’s insured before you drive it home. Most dealers won’t let you drive the car away until they’ve seen its proof of insurance. You also won’t be able to register the car without proof that it’s insured.

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Register the Car and Transfer the Title

In order to legally drive on public roads, your car must be registered. Fortunately, if you buy a new or used car from a dealer, they will typically take care of the paperwork for at least a temporary registration before you leave the dealership. The service will be included in the fees you pay when purchasing the car. Dealers in some states can complete the entire registration process and get you a license plate at the dealership. In other cases, your official registration, plate, and/or tab will come in the mail later.

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If your registration isn’t taken care of by the dealer or you’re buying a car from a private seller, you’ll have to visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to get your registration. Be sure to check the DMV’s website in advance to find out exactly what paperwork and forms of identification are required to apply for your registration. Keep in mind that registering a car can cost several hundred dollars. 

You will probably also have to transfer the car’s title at the DMV. If you finance the car, your lender may keep the title in its possession, so you will need your loan documents on hand. If you buy from a private seller, make sure they release their claim to the title. Much like the situation with the registration, if you buy from a dealership, your salesperson will likely handle the title paperwork for you.

Familiarize Yourself With the Owner’s Manual

This is a step some people may be tempted to skip. However, a new vehicle is a major investment, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with all the details. While you probably don’t need to read the owner’s manual from cover to cover, it’s smart to carefully scan it for key information. 

In many cases, you can also find the vehicle information online. Not only are most vehicle owner’s manuals available online, but there are also many other resources available for owners via various forums and enthusiast websites. This can prove particularly helpful if you buy a used car that doesn’t come with an owner’s manual.

Take Care of Routine Maintenance

All cars require regular maintenance. Exactly what is required and when it’s required varies. If you followed the previous step, you should have found the information in the owner’s manual or online. A new car shouldn’t require any maintenance right away. However, it’s important to make a note so you don’t forget. Make a list of the required maintenance and when it’s due. Then, put reminders in your calendar and keep track of your miles.

When you buy a used car from a dealer, its maintenance should be up to date. The dealer should provide you with records of the car’s maintenance, though none of this is a given. If you buy from a private seller, it’s hard to know for sure if the car was properly maintained. In a perfect world, the seller will have records to provide you. 

Assuming the dealer or the private seller doesn’t provide you with details or maintenance records, you’ll have to do some guesswork or consult a mechanic and make sure all regular maintenance is taken care of shortly after you take ownership of the car. This will give you peace of mind, as well as create a fresh starting point going forward.

Make Necessary Repairs

If the car is new, you shouldn’t have to make any repairs. The dealership should take care of any concerns before you take delivery. If the car is used, there may or may not be necessary repairs to be made. Hopefully, you took the car for an inspection before buying it. Perhaps you already spoke with the inspecting mechanic about potential repairs or you planned to handle them on your own. 

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If there are cosmetic issues, you’ll have to decide if you want them fixed. However, mechanical concerns should be handled as soon as possible, or they could lead to costlier problems down the road. It’s also important to find out if the vehicle has any existing recalls that haven’t been addressed. If so, schedule an appointment at your local dealership to have them taken care of.

Get Acquainted With the Car’s Features

With any new-to-you vehicle, it's going to take some time to get used to its settings and features. This is not something you want to do while driving the car for the first time. It’s best to figure everything out with the car parked. Something as simple as turning on the windshield wipers or headlights could prove difficult while driving, especially if you haven’t already familiarized yourself with their controls. Some cars may have a multitude of settings you can personalize. It will make driving much more comfortable if you take care of these settings before getting on the road.

Take It for a Drive in the City and on the Highway

Hopefully, you took the car for an adequate test drive before following through with the purchase. Chances are, you also had to drive it home after you bought or leased it. However, it’s important to take it on a more substantial drive to become comfortable with its overall driving dynamics. 

We suggest taking the car around your neighborhood first. Take the time to make sure the driver’s seat, steering wheel, and mirrors are properly adjusted. Once you’re acclimated, head out onto major roads to get the car up to speed and get used to its acceleration and braking. Finally, jump on the freeway and drive a few miles to get a feel for the car's performance at high speeds. If it has cruise control, this would be a good time to test the feature. Hopefully, at this point, you’ll be comfortable and happy with your new car. Congratulations!