Key takeaways

  • Registering a new vehicle and getting insurance are essential steps after buying a car.
  • When buying from a private seller, you must handle the title transfer yourself.
  • Keep all important documents such as registration, title and insurance in your glove box — but store copies at home for safekeeping.

The work isn’t quite over once you have successfully negotiated and purchased your new vehicle.

You must take some steps after buying a car, like registering your new vehicle, getting insurance and planning for future inspections. These steps will ensure that you hold legal ownership of your new set of wheels and can enjoy the open road without worry.

Top 4 steps to take after buying a car

Before you put your new vehicle in drive, take the time to finalize important ownership details.

1. Register your new car

Registering your new vehicle is one of the most essential steps following purchase, it is illegal to operate your vehicle without valid state registration. If you purchased a new car, the dealership likely handled the registration, but confirm it before setting out on the road. If not, you must make an appointment and head to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to register your new car.

The process varies slightly by state, but most commonly, you will need the following documents to register your vehicle:

  • Valid driver’s license
  • Vehicle bill of sale
  • Proof of state residency
  • Proof of vehicle insurance
  • Vehicle title
  • Loan documents
  • Proof of passing of state emissions test

Check your state’s DMV website to confirm the necessary documentation before the appointment.

2. Swap over your insurance

Car insurance protects your finances to cover any unexpected accidents or costs that come with vehicle ownership. Once you buy a vehicle, you must get new coverage or change your existing policy.

The type of coverage that you need varies by vehicle type, use and the state you live in. But each state holds a required minimum coverage to drive legally, so confirm the regulations for your home before signing off. Check out the Bankrate guide to finding insurance when shopping to obtain your necessary insurance as soon as possible.

3. Read through the owner’s manual

While reading the manual cover to cover might be time-consuming, it is helpful to familiarize yourself with your new car’s features. This way, you can get the most out of your new vehicle and confirm you are properly using all available technology and safety features.

4. Arrange for future maintenance

Your vehicle’s maintenance is one of the larger consistent costs you will be met with, so it is best to prepare for upcoming mechanic trips. Your new car will not require any maintenance immediately, but check the manual and online vehicle forums to make a list of necessary maintenance. This way, you can make appointments proactively and budget for any upcoming costs.

Considerations when buying from a dealer

While buying from a dealership comes with the added benefit of the dealer handling much of the heavy lifting involved, there may still be some steps you need to take on your own.

Add temporary vehicle tags

In some states, you will receive temporary tags directly from the dealership. This is simply a temporary license plate to use before you get your official plates. Timing varies by state, but temporary tags are essential and prove that the vehicle is registered. Check out the specific regulations for your state if your dealer does not handle the temporary plates.

Considerations when buying from a private seller

If you purchase a vehicle from a private seller, you have extra steps to take.

Transfer the vehicle title

The transfer of a vehicle title takes two primary steps: the seller releasing ownership and then you, the new owner, taking over ownership at the DMV. Unlike when buying from a dealer, this step must be completed yourself. As with many of these considerations, check specific regulations with your local DMV as each state varies slightly.

You will need the following documents:

  • Vehicle bill of sale
  • Date of sale
  • Vehicle insurance
  • Buyer and recipient’s name and address
  • License information

Take the car for a vehicle inspection

Although you should take your vehicle to get checked by a trusted mechanic before purchase, it’s still wise to go once the vehicle is under your care. Doing this early on can be useful to find any mechanical issues that must be fixed. It can also help you form a valuable relationship with a trusted mechanic. Some specific items to look out for include checking the tires, brakes and filters.

Next steps

Once you have completed these steps, be sure to place your registration, title and insurance in your glove box for safekeeping. The vehicle is all yours, and you can enjoy the freedom of vehicle ownership.