Understanding State Laws Regarding Buying Cars

Updated May 7, 2024
9 min read
state laws on buying cars tin the US

Buying a car can be an exciting journey through a minefield of laws and regulations. Each state has its own set of rules and regulations for buying and selling cars, so it’s important to ask what is required to buy a car.
 
Whether you’re a seasoned car buyer or starting to research your car buying options for the first time, gaining a better understanding of the legal landscape can help you to avoid some speed bumps along the way.

How To Buy a Car in the U.S.

When buying or selling a motor vehicle, there will be a lot of paperwork involved. From title transfers to registration documents, the details can easily become overwhelming. Have you ever wondered about the bill of sale and asked yourself how buying a car works?

When buying a car, the bill of sale is a document proving the ownership transfer from the seller to the buyer. This essential piece of paper can protect both parties and prove that the transaction occurred. However, did you know you may not need a bill of sale? Contrary to popular belief, a bill of sale is not required in all states for motor vehicle transactions. In some states, it’s just a formality; in others, it’s a legally binding document. 

If that wasn’t complicated enough, not all states that do require a bill of sale also require it to be notarized. Navigating the world of state-specific requirements can be complicated, but it’s essential to understand the laws in your state to ensure a smooth transaction when buying a car. 

States That Require a Bill of Sale

  •  Alabama 
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Illinois (in specific cases)
  • Iowa
  • Kansas (in specific cases)
  • Louisiana (in specific cases)
  • Maine
  • Maryland 
  • Mississippi (in specific cases)
  • Missouri (in specific cases)
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire (in specific cases)
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico (in specific cases)
  • New York
  • Oregon (in specific cases)
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina (in specific cases)
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia (in specific cases)
  • Washington
  • Wyoming 

As shown above, some states only require a bill of sale when buying a car under certain circumstances. For example, in Missouri, a person can complete either a bill of sale or a notice of sale. Although these are two different forms, they serve the same purpose and include the same information. In New Mexico, a bill of sale is only necessary if the title is missing the required information, such as the odometer reading and purchase price.

States That Do Not Require a Bill of Sale

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • Arizona
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Massachusetts 
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota 
  • Montana
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania 
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Wisconsin

It's a good idea to fill out a bill of sale, even if it's not required by law. This creates a written record of the car purchase that includes important information like the price, what's being sold, and the names of the buyer and seller.

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Tips for Buying a Car in Different States

There are many ways to buy cars, including buying across state lines. Different states have different laws and requirements, so it can be easy to overlook something important in the excitement of a new purchase. Consider the following tips to help make the process smoother when buying vehicles out of state:

  1. Know your home state’s requirements: Before you start buying a car, become familiar with your home state’s requirements, including smog laws, if any. This will help you to avoid unpleasant surprises when registering the car.  

  2. Have a mechanic inspect the car: Always have a mechanic inspect the car before you hand over any money to the seller. You can reach out to local mechanics and have this done before making the trip yourself. A good mechanic can spot potential problems, so you will know what you’re getting into.  

  3. Research legal issues: While you now know that not all states require a bill of sale, it’s usually a good idea to have one, just in case. A little research will reveal what documents will be needed for your new vehicle’s transfer to your state.

Laws vary from state to state, and it may be complicated to see all the peculiarities of buying a car in your state. Of course, you may consult a lawyer and ask him how to buy a car in New York, for example. But that process may be expensive and time-consuming.

Instead of trying to figure everything out without any help, you can use a pre-made template to create a bill of sale for buying a car. It will be cheaper than hiring a lawyer and faster than doing it all on your own.

Conclusion

A little effort upfront can go a long way in ensuring a smooth and hassle-free vehicle transaction. Take the time to research, understand your state’s requirements, and gather all the necessary paperwork. For help drafting your bill of sale, download an easy-to-use template on Lawrina.

Car bills of sale are crucial for most people buying or selling a vehicle. Although it may not be required in all states, it’s always better to err on the side of caution. A well-drafted bill of sale can save both parties headaches by providing legal protection for both the buyer and the seller. 

Legal Disclaimer

Please note that Lawrina does not provide any legal services. The information on Lawrina’s Site and its downloadable content, including legal articles and templates, shall not be considered legal advice and is not guaranteed to be correct, complete, and up-to-date. If you require legal advice on your issue, we recommend you contact a qualified attorney licensed in your state. You personally assume full responsibility for any consequences, damages, and costs associated with your use of any content of Lawrina Services available on Lawrina’s Site. 

By using Lawrina’s Site you agree with mentioned above and give your irrevocable consent to comply with and to be bound by the provisions of Lawrina Service terms. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why do I need a car bill of sale when buying a car?

Think of a car bill of sale as a receipt for a significant purchase. It’s a document that shows the exchange of money for a vehicle and provides proof of ownership. This can be especially important when selling a car, as it protects you from any disputes that may arise in the future.

Having a bill of sale also ensures that both the buyer and the seller clearly understand the terms of the transaction. It outlines the make and model of the vehicle, the purchase price, and other relevant information.

May I still have a car bill of sale if it’s not required in my state?

Although it may not technically be required by law in some states, having a bill of sale is generally advisable for documenting the agreement between the buyer and the seller. The bill of sale outlines all the essential details of the sale and is a simple, straightforward way to protect your interests and ensure a smooth transaction. 

What happens if I don’t have a car bill of sale?

In some states, not having a bill of sale can make transferring the title difficult or even impossible. Without the bill of sale, the new owner will also have trouble registering the vehicle.

Additionally, without a bill of sale, there is less proof that the purchase actually occurred. Especially if you are in a state that requires a bill of sale, be sure to get one if you’re the buyer or provide one if you’re the seller. 

Do I need witnesses for a car bill of sale?

If you reside in a state where a car bill of sale does not need to be notarized, then having witnesses will not be necessary. The notary is the witness if you live in a state where the bill of sale must be notarized.

However, it’s a good idea to consider bringing someone along with you, even if a witness isn’t required. Having witnesses present can help to prevent fraud and ensure that your agreement is legally binding should any disputes arise.  

Will a handwritten car bill of sale be legal?

As long as all necessary information is included, a bill of sale can be created in any format, whether typed, printed, or written by hand.

To make writing a bill of sale as smooth as possible when buying a car, you may want to use a template. Templates are readily available online, and they can save you time and effort by helping ensure you don’t leave out any vital information.