Available Makes

What to bring when buying a car

in Car buying tips
Graphic of a state-issued ID

We all know car-buying can be a stressful experience. What do you bring when you’re ready to buy?

What to bring when buying a car from a dealer

This is perhaps the most traditional method of buying a car. And while it might be the most straight-forward way to transact, this isn’t the option that everyone chooses. If you’re buying a car from a dealer, here’s what to bring: 

Must Haves:

A state-issued driver’s license 

This one may seem like a no-brainer, and it is! The dealership will need to verify that you are legally authorized to drive before they can sell you a vehicle, and of course, your license also needs to be up to date. This is a small but important step in getting the ball rolling, and it certainly helps if your address information is up-to-date. 

Payment method

There are some alternative methods to avoid putting down an initial down payment (think: excellent credit score, a trade-in scenario, a dealer promotion, etc.), but the vast majority of car buyers will use some amount of down payment when purchasing their next car. In fact, the dealership often requires this financial step, but it may work with you to help bring down monthly payments on the car.

You can take a few different routes, so it’s a good idea to speak with the dealership before your date of purchase to be prepared. Typical forms of payment include cash, money order, or check (often in the form of a loan from a bank or the dealership itself). Some dealerships may accept debit or credit cards, but make sure you call and ask ahead as cards are not universally accepted. 

Proof of insurance

Unless you live in either Virginia or New Hampshire, dealerships usually require you to present proof of vehicle insurance when you make your purchase. This is something you can communicate to your insurance provider while you’re waiting on your final paperwork. You’ll need to provide the VIN, plate number, vehicle make/model to your insurance company and make sure to bring a physical or mobile copy for the dealership too. 

To understand the nuances of car insurance in Virginia and New Hampshire, click here to learn more.

Nice to haves: 

Your trade-in

Certainly, this only applies to those that have decided to trade in their current vehicle for a discount (usually discussed in advance). However, this step requires several key documents. The most important is to bring your car’s registration and title information in order to transfer to the dealership. It will speed up the process if you can provide these yourself, but you can also have the DMV provide copies or request the dealership to update your registration for a fee. 

Price comparisons

This is a great way to get some last-minute discounts and savings from the dealership when you buy.

The CoPilot app shows you comparable vehicles in your area to help you negotiate with the dealership.

Bills and pay statements

The dealership can likely pull your credit information, but it may be a good idea to bring in proof of your steady income if you have it on hand. This is especially helpful if you’re planning on getting a loan from the dealership, and bills can provide additional information on your current address. These are usually utility bills like gas, water, and electricity (and sometimes a cable, internet, or phone bill). 

These are all things needed for auctions as well, although they can vary significantly by state. If you aren’t super familiar or comfortable with going out of your price range or preferred model, keep that in mind for some time down the road and stick to a dealer or private seller for now. 

What to bring when buying a car from a private seller

Whether you’re buying from an online marketplace or answering traditional newspaper ads or flyers from your office, buying from a private seller is a great option if you’re looking for a quick and cheap alternative to dealerships. Of course, there are some drawbacks like full repair responsibility and no customer service recourse, but the cost benefits may be worth it.

Assuming you’ve looked into the vehicle history, ran a repair check, and completed a test drive, there aren’t as many items needed to complete this kind of purchase. Some states have varying degrees of required emissions testing documentation, so check with your DMV and request the seller’s relevant documents if necessary. 

Must have:

Bill of sale

The Bill of Sale provides you proof of ownership of the vehicle itself and is one of the few legal documents you’ll need to bring. At a minimum, it should contain both names of the buyer and seller, date and price of purchase, VIN, and the make/ model itself. 

Title

This document is a must to obtain when buying a car from a private seller, so if they can’t provide this, wait to purchase until they can provide a duplicate copy. Unfortunately, you cannot bring this yourself, but once your seller presents the title, they can give their signature and transfer ownership to you, which you’ll need to keep for your own records. 

Your payment method

Payment method is usually agreed upon in advance, but for both parties looking for a mutually beneficial transaction, a cashier’s check or money order is your easiest option. That said, your seller would likely accept cash if you prefer that method. It’s also helpful to bring a printed agreed-upon purchase price before you meet in order to minimize risk of a last-second change. 

Nice to have:

Another pair of eyes

Hopefully, you managed to get a detailed inspection before your day of purchase, but we always recommend getting a friend or family member to look over the car with you during the daytime to double-check for any additional damages that may have been missed (or are new since your last meeting). This is also great to make sure everything goes through smoothly with the sale as well. 

Whether you have your car waiting for you in the lot or you just started browsing, these tips are generally applicable in most situations. While some may vary slightly based on seller preference or state, this list helps answer the questions of what to bring when buying a car! Good luck, and happy shopping!

Get a curated list of the best cars for sale near you

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 5 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.