What to Bring When Buying a Car

Article Summary:

Buying a car, whether from a dealer or a private seller, requires that you provide several forms of documentation. In most cases, you will need proof of insurance and a valid driver’s license must be presented to the seller of the vehicle. Furthermore, if you are looking for car financing, you must provide various other forms of documentation, such as your credit score and proof of employment.

Whether you’re buying a car new or used, the car-buying process can be an exhilarating experience. If you are buying a brand-new car, you can walk on the lot and try out all the “new-car smells” that permeate the nostrils when you step in. If you get a great price on a used car, you can forever brag to your friends about the great deal you scored.

However, there is nothing more disappointing than walking on the lot, choosing your new car, and discovering that as you sit in the back room filling out the paperwork, you can’t actually buy the car. Why? You didn’t bring the proper documentation. Here’s everything you need to know about what to bring when buying a car. There is a cheat list at the end of the article if you just want a checklist.

What to bring when buying a car from a dealership or private seller

Buying a car from a private seller or dealership is relatively easy if you know what you are doing. However, those that come unprepared can be forced to deal with both administrative issues and devastating disappointment. Proof of insurance, proof of residency, and a valid driver’s license are all pretty standard documentation that you should already have if you are driving around prior to your purchase.

If you are one of the many people looking for financing, the list of requires documents gets longer fast. Credit reports, proof of income, and references are some of the extra documentation you will be asked to provide to get a loan. Follow the car checklist provided below, and you will be driving in your brand-new whip with a grin on your face and a nose full of new-car smell.

What to bring with or without financing

If you are lucky enough to have cash to pay for your car, you will still need to provide documentation. Here is what you will need to provide, with or without financing.

Valid driver’s license

Not surprisingly, a valid driver’s license is a must. For those of us that might forget when our license expires, it’s best to double-check the date before you go to buy the car. If your license expired and you have been driving around, you were breaking the law. Make sure you bring a valid license.

Proof of insurance

The majority of states in the United States require that you have proof of insurance when you buy a car. But how do you provide proof of insurance on a car that you don’t already own? Bringing your documentation related to the insurance of your current vehicle should suffice. In the case of private sellers, many will not ask you for your insurance information. That being said, driving without insurance is illegal, so if you don’t have it, you are breaking the law. If you have lost your proof of insurance, contact your insurance agent.

Pro Tip

Many insurance companies will enable you to pull up your proof of insurance on their mobile apps.

Payment method

Whether you are paying via a loan, card, or a duffle bag stuffed with Benjamin Franklin notes, a preferred payment method is a must. Both dealerships and private sellers will require a method of payment. Make sure the allotted money is in the proper accounts in your bank or credit union to enable the transaction. If you are using financing, many dealers will also require that you provide a down payment.

Proof of residency

You will need to prove your residency at your current address in order to purchase a car. Private sellers, most of the time, will not ask for this, but dealers will. Utility bills, such as gas and electricity, will do the trick. If you do not have these, a mortgage contract or leasing agreement can also suffice.

Discount and rebate info

Many dealers will offer discounts and rebates for people who qualify. Military members, students, and even recent graduates from certain places could qualify for this. Members of certain organizations can also benefit from discounts and rebates. Make sure to check if your dealership offers these discounts and bring the requisite proof and eligibility documents. This is much less common with private sellers. But if, for example, the seller served a tour in Iraq and so did you, you might be able to finagle a discount.

What to bring with financing

Items such as a valid driver’s license, proof of insurance, and payment method are required no matter how you buy the car. If you are buying a car with an auto loan, the list of documentation grows longer.

Credit score

Your ability to get a loan and the terms of the loan will often be dictated by your credit score. Make sure you bring a credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, or Transunion. Remember, unpaid or late bills in the past can affect your credit score.

Looking for an auto loan so that you might experience that new car smell? Get your nostrils ready because these lenders offer great loan products.

Proof of employment

Even if your credit score is so nice and clean it glistens in the sunlight, that’s not always enough. Most creditors look for your ability to pay the loan back right away, as well as your credit history. Recent pay stubs and a corresponding employment contract showing steady income can help prove that you do indeed have the money to pay this car loan back.


If your credit score is lacking for whatever reason, references can help. Past employment information and contacts of friends and relatives that can attest to your general good character can help substantially. Even a reference from a credit card company could work. The lower your credit score, the more you should focus on providing references that can attest to your Dalai Lama-like good character.

Pro Tip

Many private sellers won’t ask you for much, as they are humans, not companies. They don’t necessarily abide by the same rules, even if they technically should. If you buy a car from a private seller, it’s best to make sure you provide the same documentation you would if you bought from a dealership.

What to bring when trading in a car

If you are already driving a car but opting for a new one, you might want to consider trading it in. Even if it’s in horrible “lemon” condition, you will probably be able to get some money for it. Remember, there are important parts inside the car, like semiconductors, that are valuable. If you want to trade in your car, here is what you need to provide.

Certificate of title

A certificate of title is crucial to trading in your car because it proves you own it. Dealers won’t accept cars without a certificate of title that traces back to you. If the car doesn’t have one, they might assume it could have been stolen.

Pro Tip

If there is still a lien on your car, the lender has the title. You or the dealer will have to pay off the loan with the proceeds from your trade-in before the lender signs over the title.

Vehicle registration

Your vehicle registration, usually associated with your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), is required by most dealers to trade in your car. If you lost your vehicle registration documentation, the dealer can track it through your state’s DMV. Better to contact the DMV yourself beforehand, though, to avoid headaches.

Loan account number

If the vehicle you trade in was purchased via a loan, you should provide the relevant documentation associated with the loan. You will need to provide the name of the lender, the account number, and the outstanding balance on the car.

Car maintenance records

Most dealers are not going to want to invest in a car that has questionable maintenance on the parts underneath. For example, if you have recently replaced your transmission or alternator, bring proof of the replacement. Proof of consistent yearly checkups and maintenance can assuage any fears that underneath your car is a mechanical nightmare.

Car manual and clean car

Make sure that you take your car to a car wash or car detailer before you trade it in. Most dealers will want the most pristine version of your car that you can muster. The car manual is also important if they are looking to resell the car and you are not trading it in for scrap. Although it’s pretty easy for them to order a new car manual directly from the manufacturer, this is an annoyance that it is best to avoid.

What to bring when buying a car checklist


  1. Valid driver’s license.
  2. Proof of insurance.
  3. Proof of residency.

With financing

  1. Credit score.
  2. Proof of employment.
  3. References.

Trading a car

  1. Certificate of title.
  2. Vehicle registration.
  3. Loan account number.
  4. Car maintenance records.
  5. Car manual and clean car.

If you’re not happy with your current auto loan, you might want to consider refinancing. Compare our auto refinance reviews.

Should I buy a new car or shouldn’t I?

This question revolves around how much you need a new a car, and what you think will happen to prices in the short or medium term. During the Covid pandemic, for instance, the price of both new and used cars went up significantly. This was primarily caused by supply chain interruptions, particularly in regard to semiconductors. The vast majority of the world’s most advanced semiconductors (92%) are produced by TSMC, a company based in Taiwan. A deterioration of the status quo in the Taiwan strait, for example, could cause substantial bottlenecks in the semiconductor industry. Thus, this could result in the price of automobiles rising all over the globe. It’s smart to have a look at what might happen in the future before choosing whether to buy a car now or wait.


What to bring when buying a car from a private seller?

If you buy a new vehicle from a private seller, try to bring the same documentation you would if you were buying from a dealership. Bring your driver’s license, proof of insurance, and payment method.

How should a beginner buy a car?

A beginner should first make sure they have all the proper documentation and payment (or documents needed for a loan). Then start looking online or at dealerships.

What to look for when you are buying a car?

Make sure the car runs properly and comes with the proper documentation, including a clean title.

What ID do you need to buy a car?

A valid driver’s license. Make sure it is not expired!

Key takeaways

  • Buying a new car is simple as long as you have the right amount of money and the proper documents.
  • You will need several documents, including a valid driver’s license and proof of insurance and residency, no matter if you are paying cash or financing.
  • In the case of financing, you will need to bring documentation related to your credit and current employment status.
  • Trading in a car can help offset the cost of buying a new one. However, you will need to bring further documentation, such as a certificate of title.
View Article Sources
  1. Documents to Bring When Buying a Car – Haus Auto Group
  2. Taiwan tensions threaten supply of semiconductors – Bangkok Post
  3. How to Sign Over a Car Title – SuperMoney
  4. How to Buy a New Car – SuperMoney