What to Know When Buying a Car Long Distance from a Dealer

Written by Ray Shefska

My career in the retail automotive business started in 1977. Buying a car doesn’t have to be anxiety inducing, stressful, or painful. Instead it can be confidence inspiring, fun, and convenient. Let me show you how.

March 10, 2020

Buying a car is no easy task. Buying a car long distance from a dealer can prove even more challenging. For the average person, what to know when buying a car long distance from a dealer can be confusing and complex. Fortunately it doesn’t have to be.

Let’s discuss why you might find yourself buying a car from a dealer in a different region, what information you need to know, and what steps you should take.

Why buy a car from far away?

Let’s address the elephant in the room; why would you even want to buy a car from a dealer that’s not in your area? It’s likely that there’s a car dealership within a few miles of where you are right now. Why would you buy a car from someone on the other side of the country?

The simple answer is that the only car you could find that matches all your criteria is somewhere far away. The more complex answer could be that the non-local dealer offered a better price than the one nearby. Or, perhaps the non-local dealer has a car that has been converted into a certified pre-owned vehicle that actually offers a longer warranty than a brand new car (at a lower price).

If you’re thinking about buying a car, you might enjoy this article if you haven’t read it already: How Much Do Dealers Markup Used Cars?

For example, I remember one time when I purchased a 6,000 mile retired service loaner MDX that had been CPO’d. I ended up with a 5 year 60,000 mile bumper to bumper warranty, as opposed to the 4 year 50,000 mile warranty that came with it brand new from the manufacturer. Sometimes looking for cars like this can help you save money while still getting what you want (or more).

There are any number of legitimate reasons to buy a car from a dealer that is far away from you, and these are just a few of the most common.

When buying a car long distance from a dealer, get it inspected

I can’t say it enough, get any used car that you are buying from a distance inspected by an independent mechanic. Most franchised dealerships do a great job of inspecting and reconditioning their used cars, and you can (and should) ask them for the vehicles inspection and repair records. However, even with this information, it doesn’t hurt to get a pre-purchase inspection completed.

This is especially true if you are purchasing a car from a smaller used car lot. They may also be less willing to share repair orders with you.

How should you go about orchestrating a pre-purchase inspection when you live in California, and you just found your dream car in Idaho? It’s a lot simpler (and dealers are a lot more willing to help) than you might think.

Google is a wonderful tool when it comes to gathering information. This is undoubtedly true when it comes to finding a mechanic to inspect a potential used car purchase. Since you’ve found your car in a different region, it’s unlikely you know a mechanic that you trust to go over to the dealership and inspect it.

My recommendation would be to Google search to locate a qualified mechanic near the dealership to handle your pre-purchase inspection. Call them and let them know your situation (I live in California, and am looking to buy this car that’s near you, can you please inspect it, etc.)

Once you have a mechanic, and a car you would consider buying, make arrangements with the dealer to take the car to your independent mechanic for the pre-purchase inspection for you. Most dealerships will be willing to assist in moving a car from their lot to a mechanic’s shop to conduct the pre-purchase inspection. Don’t be afraid to ask them to do this.

I do have one note of caution with pre-purchase inspections. Your mechanic will find something wrong with the car. At the end of their day, it’s their job to find something. It could be something minor, it could be a little nit picky, it could be something that you need to take care of ASAP before you buy the car, just keep in mind that they will find something.

How do I actually get the car from a long distance dealer?

Do you go and pick it up? Do you get the car shipped to you? How the heck do you actually get the car you want to buy from a long distance dealer into your garage at home?

This is a matter of personal preference, and how much time (and money) you can set aside for such an endeavor.

If you’re thinking about buying a car, you might enjoy this article if you haven’t read it already: Monroney Sticker & Window Sticker Explained by a Former Car Dealer

During my 42 year career in the business, I had customers who travelled great distances by train and plane in order to pick up their new car to simply have the joy of driving it home. By great distances, we’re talking about several hundred, even up to a 1000 miles.

I also had customers who purchased a car from afar and made arrangements to have it shipped to them. For them, the “thrill” of driving hundreds of miles back home wasn’t worth the time it would take to get to the dealership and back. Many of my customer’s worked with Ship a Car Direct to get their cars delivered to them.

Those are your two options. If you’re unsure how to navigate this process consider letting us help. At Your Auto Advocate we’ll help you navigate the car buying process.

More cars are being bought and sold from afar

More and more dealerships are making it easier for you to purchase a car online. As the industry transitions from physical sales to ecommerce, there are bound to be changes in how people buy their cars.

One of the most popular tools that dealerships are using today to help with online sales comes from a company called Roadster. Roadster allows customers to seamlessly complete the entire purchase online. From inquiring about a particular car, to starting and completing the paperwork process, to making arrangements for shipping so that you never have to step foot into the dealership, Roadster provides the software to make it happen.

You could live in Seattle, purchase a specific Lexus that you found at a dealer in Pennsylvania, and do it all from the comfort of your home or office. The business model for how cars are being sold is changing dramatically. As someone once said, “it’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to have to paint it.”

Keep in mind what we discussed above. What you need to know when buying a car long distance from a dealer isn’t as complex or challenging as you may have thought. Yes, there are a few more considerations, but they certainly aren’t insurmountable.

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  1. Guy Hopkins

    In buying a car from a dealer out of state, what should you know about the process with regard to registration, tax etc when you bring the car home? What help, if any, can you expect from the non-local dealership?

    • Zach Shefska

      Guy, most dealership’s have software that allows them to “run the deal” as if it was going through another state to get accurate taxes, registration, etc. That being said I wouldn’t expect too much help from the dealership once you have the vehicle back home.


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