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Buying a Used Car in Virginia: What to Know

in Car Buying Tips
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Whether you’ve lived in the Old Dominion your whole life or are new to the Commonwealth of Virginia, there’s a decent chance you’ll be buying a used car some day. Even if you’re looking for a car near the Cumberland Gap, you’ll have to go to the DMV to get the sale properly processed, and there are plenty of steps before and after that.

We’re here to help you through the used process of buying a used car in Virginia, whether you are looking to buy from a dealership or a private seller.

Buying a Used Car From a Dealership

The first step to buying a used car in any state is to do your research. Make sure that before you know that you have picked out the right model for your lifestyle. If all you need is a commuter, there’s no need to buy a gas guzzling truck, but if you need to haul equipment around, that little hatchback probably won’t get the job done.

But whatever you need your car for, make sure that it is a reliable model. Once you have one picked out, you can search for local inventory at dealerships through the free CoPilot App to find one with the features you want with the right mileage and a fair price. If you find a car close to the price you want to pay for it but a little too high, remember that you can negotiate with most  dealerships, just be ready to walk away if you can’t get the price you want.

Once you know how much you’re willing to pay for your car, you can figure out how you’re going to pay for it. If you can afford to buy the car you’re looking for in cash, more power to you. But for most people buying a used car in Virginia from a car dealership, you’ll have to secure financing.

While commercials for car dealerships often advertise their low interest rates, those rates are often only available if you have perfect credit, and you might not find out your actual rate until you have already gone through a test drive and negotiations and feel attached to the car, only to find out the cost is much higher than initially expected. To avoid this pitfall, you should shop around with different lenders before even getting to the lot so you can secure financing with enough money to pay for the car you want without breaking the bank on interest payments every month. 


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Once you have picked out the car you want online and have secured the financing, you need to see the car in person and make sure it is up to snuff. Inspect it visually, get an independent mechanic to come out and inspect it, and take a test drive to make sure that the car runs fine now and doesn’t have any small issues now that could lead to big problems down the road.

If you are buying from a dealership, you get to save a lot of the hassle, since the dealership uses Virginia’s Online Dealer Interface to electronically submit applications for a transfer of title and registration in your name on your behalf.

From there, you just have to wait for the title to be mailed to you by the DMV, without the hassle of transferring the title yourself. This process makes buying a used car in Virginia easier at a dealership than many other states.

Once the title is in your name and the car is registered with the Virginia DMV, you have to get your new car inspected at a state licensed location, and you must get an emissions inspection in the following counties:

  • Arlington
  • Fairfax
  • Loudoun
  • Prince William
  • Stafford

Or the following cities:

  • Alexandria
  • Fairfax
  • Falls Church
  • Manassas
  • Manassas Park

Once your car has passed its state inspection, and local emissions inspection if necessary, you must get it insured. While you can get as much insurance as you want, you are required to buy liability insurance in Virginia. Otherwise, not only do you have to pay a $500 uninsured vehicle fee annually to the state, but you are on the hook for any medical expenses and property damages incurred by your driving in the event of an accident.

This is an unwise decision for many reasons, especially since you can find liability insurance for a lower yearly price than the fee, saving you money and peace of mind. Even if you are a great driver, nobody is immune from car accidents. 

Once you have insurance set up for your new car, your part of the process is done! You just have to wait for the DMV to mail you your new title, license plates and decals. Enjoy the road!


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Buying a Used Car From a Private Seller

The preparation that goes into buying a car remains the same whether you are  buying from a dealership or a private seller. You still need to do your research, set a price, and stick to it. And while with a dealership it is still better to come into the process with financing already secured so you don’t get shackled to whatever loan the dealership offers you, with a private seller it is the only option other than buying the car outright with cash. 

Now, in addition to the eye test, road test, and mechanic’s inspection you should get done at the dealership, you should also run a vehicle history report. This is easy to do through services like the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, which will let you know if the car has been totaled, salvaged, flooded, or stolen, and it tells you the odometer reading the last time the car was titled and who holds the title.

This will let you confirm that you are getting a good car that hasn’t been previously destroyed and pieced back together, and also that the private seller really is the owner of the car and their title is legitimate.

Once you have confirmed that you are buying the car from its rightful owner, you can get to work. In order to get the title transferred to you, you must obtain the title with:

  • Purchase price and purchase date
  • The Assignment of Title by Owner
  • Form VSA 17A and VSA 5
  • Signatures of the buyer and seller

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Now, before getting the Title transferred and the car registered, you have to get the car inspected for safety by the state, and by the county or locality for emissions as required (see the above list).

Once you have those steps out of the way, you can get the vehicle insured. To get the Title transferred, you will have to go to the DMV with the Title, a bill of sale, proof of insurance, a valid inspection sticker, proof of address, a vehicle registration application (Form VSA 14), and the associated fees ($10 for title transfer, sales tax of $75 or 4.05%, and the registration fee which depends on the type of vehicle being registered).

Once you have submitted all the necessary paperwork, you are good to go! Buying a used car in Virginia may sound intimidating, but with the proper forms and knowhow, it’s nothing you can’t handle to get your new car.

Get a Curated List of the Best Used Cars in Virginia

The CoPilot car shopping app is the easiest way to buy a car. Tell us what you’re looking for and we’ll search the inventories of every dealership in your area to make you a personalized list of the best car listings in your area.

Only looking for newer models? CoPilot Compare is the search engine for nearly-new cars. Only see cars five years or newer with low mileage — CoPilot Compare is the best way to find off-lease, early trade-in, and CPO cars.

The best part? CoPilot is built using the same technology that dealerships use to buy and sell their inventories, so we have more info on each vehicle than competitors. CoPilot doesn’t work with dealerships, so there are no sponsored posts or other shady practices — just the most info on the best cars. Check out our About Us page to see how CoPilot works.