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What to Bring When Buying a Car from a Dealership

How exciting is it to walk into a car dealership and drive out in a brand-new car? That excitement can dwindle, though, if you don’t have the right paperwork and information with you. Avoid that roadblock and read our overview of what to bring when buying a car so you’ll be prepared and ready to drive off the lot.

  1. You've been dreaming of buying a new car, and now you're ready to make that dream a reality.

    Before you head over to the dealership, here are a few helpful tips from American Family Insurance to make your car purchase go as smooth as possible.

    First, check out car prices online to get a better understanding of the price range for the vehicles you're considering.

    If you're planning on taking out a vehicle loan, take a minute to brush up on your understanding of financing and loan terms.

    Next, get your free credit report from one of the three credit reporting agencies. A higher score can help you get a better loan.

    You'll also want to check out financing options from multiple lenders to make sure you're getting the best rate and terms.

    It's important to build a budget so you know what you can afford before you fall in love with a car on the dealer's lot.

    Your budget should include your down payment, how much you'll pay right away, as well as your monthly payment.

    Don't forget to factor in the cost of car insurance. Call your American family insurance agent or head to to get a personalized quote in minutes.

    All right! You've got your budget together, you've found the perfect car and you're ready to buy. What do you need to bring with you to the dealership to make sure you can take your new vehicle home right away?

    An up to date driver's license, your payment — whether you're using a check, cash, credit card or loan to make your purchase.

    If you plan on getting a loan through the dealership, you'll definitely want your most recent pay stubs. Ask if the dealership wants you to fill out any forms online in advance too.

    Your credit report. The dealer will pull your credit score and history, but it's great to have your own copy so there are no surprises.

    If you don't have a great credit score, you may also want to bring a list of references who can vouch for you, a few recent utility bills in your name to prove your current address.

    If you've qualified for a discount through your credit card company, the dealership, the manufacturer or any other company, bring that complete discount information with you.

    Proof of auto insurance. This is mandatory in most states, so don't let a lack of insurance prevent you from driving off the lot with your new ride.

    Call your American family agent today to see how much you could save when you build your own car insurance policy.

    And here's our last two quick tips If you're trading in a car, be sure to bring your current certificate of title, current vehicle registration, any service records you have and the vehicle itself, preferably cleaned and ready to go.

    If you're buying a car out of state, there might be additional fees and paperwork for things like safety inspections or smog test, so it's a good idea to look up that state's requirements to avoid any last minute surprises.

    And there you have it! By being prepared and knowing what to expect, you can be ready to buy your new car with confidence.

    Want more great tip about buying, selling, maintaining, or insuring your vehicle? Visit or contact your local agent today.

Table of Contents

New Car Purchase Checklist

How to Buy a Car from a Dealer

Car-Buying FAQs

What to Bring to Trade-in Your Car

Buying a Car Out of State

Protect Your New Ride

New Car Purchase Checklist

Be sure to print out our car purchase checklist so you’ll have everything you need to buy a new car. Here’s what you’ll need to know before you jump into the process of buying a new car — whether new or used — at the dealership.

1. Your driver’s license

The dealership needs to see that you’re a legally licensed driver before you drive off in your new car. Make sure it’s valid and not expired. Not only will you need it for the test drive, you’ll need proof of residence for your car loan too.

2. Proof of insurance

You’ll likely need proof of insurance when buying a new car. After all, it’s required in most states. Speed up the purchasing process and avoid delays at the dealership by calling your insurance agent beforehand.

Ask them how you can prepare to remove your old vehicle and add your new vehicle to your policy. Be sure to bring your current proof of insurance card to the dealer, too.

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3. Form of payment

Whether you’re using a check, cash, or a loan to make your purchase, you’ll want to have your payment ready. If you’re getting a loan with the dealership, prepare to be there a while to handle all the relevant paperwork.

Be prepared to pay a down payment at the dealership, too. Call the dealership before you go and speak to the financing department to see what documents they require — and ask about pre-approved financing.

4. Recent pay stubs

If you plan on getting a loan through the dealership, they may require you to show proof of your recent employment. Bring a couple of your most recent pay stubs just in case.

5. Recent utility bills

If you’ve moved within the past year, you’ll need to produce current proof of residence in order to buy a car. Bring a few utility bills with that are dated within the past month, and show your new address. Be sure your account number’s on the bill in case they need to verify the information with the utility company.

6. Credit score and history

While the dealership will be able to pull your credit score and history, check it yourself, review it and bring it with you when you plan to buy your car.

7. Discount information

If you’ve got a discount coming from your credit card company, the dealership, the manufacturer or anyone else, make sure you have all the necessary information with you so you don’t miss out on the deal. Walk through the fine print of the deal slowly, so you fully understand the promotion.

8. A list of references

If you don’t have great credit and are applying for a loan through the dealership, you might also have to supply a list of references who don’t live with you. Have this on hand with the names, business address and contact information of people who can vouch for you.

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How to Buy a Car from a Dealer

At first blush, the process of buying a car from a dealer can seem easy enough. Maybe you’ve already got a few new car purchases under your belt and feel pretty good about the process. But what if you were to learn later on that you may have paid thousands more than others did for the very same vehicle? Buying a car off the dealer’s lot can be expensive if you wing it.

Exactly how to buy a car from a dealer is all about preparation and execution. Here’s six tips to consider — when buying a car from a dealer — that can really help you save:

1. Learn about pricing online

One of the best things to know before going to a car dealership is the reasonable price range for the car you’re considering. Look at and Kelly Blue Book and plug in the details on the vehicle you want to buy. Then, dive into pricing at local dealerships and put together a spreadsheet with the following details:

  • Year, name, make, model and options package of the car you’re considering
  • Name of the dealership
  • URL or link to the dealership page featuring the car
  • Stock number of the car
  • Cash back and rebate details offered locally and online
  • Special financing details offered by competitors
  • Extended warranty package options and pricing

2. Get your free credit report now

Did you know you are entitled to one annual, free credit report from each credit reporting agency? To get yours, you’ll need to reach out to each of them separately and make the request:

Be sure to check for signs of unpaid or late bills and resolve those issues before heading to the dealer. Learn more about how you can improve your credit score.

3. Apply for financing from multiple lenders

Car dealerships price the actual cost of their vehicles very competitively, but the financing packages from one dealer to the next can vary widely. Again, the internet is your friend here — look online for financing deals from:

  • National and local banks
  • Neighborhood community banks and credit unions
  • Exclusive, online auto loan financing groups
  • Compare financing offers between target dealerships

4. Understand financing variables and terms

It’s a good idea to really dial in on how you intend to pay for the car before going to the dealer to buy a vehicle. Much of the money to be saved can be found hiding in the auto financing component of the deal:

Down payment

This is the cash-on-hand you’ll be paying toward the purchase price of the car. Larger down payments can help you avoid longer and more costly payoff schedules. And with more cash down, you'll save on interest payments over the life of the loan.


The annual percentage rate for the loan usually contains lender fees and interest you’ll pay for borrowing the money from the bank or lender.

Term of the loan

It’s best to aim for an aggressive payoff schedule to keep up with depreciation. Try to pay off new cars in 60 months and do your best to aim around 36 months for used cars.

Taxes and dealer fees

Dealer fees and transferring costs are expenses the dealer incurs for marketing the car and transporting the vehicle from auction or other locations. These costs vary by dealership and may be negotiable.

Taxes, state and local registration fees are not going to be negotiable. Together, these costs can add up to about 10 percent of the total cost of your car.

5. Call your agent

Be sure you reach out to your American Family Insurance agent for a quote on the year, make and model you’re considering. A lot can change between cars and it’s best to understand what your new premium will look like so you’ll be able to budget for your new car with greater accuracy.

Another key consideration to make when buying a car from a dealer is gap lease & loan coverage. It helps you avoid a hefty monetary hit if you find yourself owing more on the car than it’s worth — after a total loss.

6. Build a budget

Before getting to the dealer, be sure you’ve got an accurate picture of what you can afford to pay for a new car each month. Be sure you’re factoring in all the costs outlined above, and look online for a robust auto loan calculator to help you estimate all the expenses you’ll encounter at the dealership.

When exploring how to buy a car from a dealer, remember: this is a business transaction and it’s your money in the balance. You really can save money by arming yourself with what to know when buying a car from a dealer — and you may save a bundle doing so.

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Car-Buying FAQs

Have you got car buying questions? We’ve got some answers!

  1. The short answer: yes. But there are a few things to understand before going this route. For starters, make sure you’re using the credit card limit wisely. Often, an auto financing loan will have a lower interest rate than your credit card, meaning a car loan may ultimately cost you less in interest and fees than your credit card would.

    However, if you have the cash available in your savings account to pay for the car in full, and your credit card offers rewards such as cash-back points or airline miles, you could purchase the car with your credit card, then immediately pay off the balance — and enjoy your newly earned credit card rewards!

    You can also choose to pay for part of the vehicle with a credit card, such as the down payment, and take a loan out for the rest of the cost. This lowers the loan amount borrowed, which means a lower monthly payment and loan interest. And you can still reap some credit card rewards!

    Just remember, if using your credit card to pay for any portion, make sure you can pay it off by your next billing statement to avoid a large interest fee.

  2. Yes, in many states you’ll need to have proof of insurance when buying a car, whether at the dealership or through a private seller. Most states have a mandatory minimum insurance requirement that each car has to carry. That means, before you can legally drive your car off the lot, you’ll need to have an insurance policy purchased. Plus, it’s in your best interest your new ride is protected!

    But how do you buy insurance for a car you don’t have yet? It’s pretty simple. If you don’t know what vehicle you’ll be purchasing, most insurance companies will let you submit your basic information and have the policy ready to go as soon as you can provide the make, model and VIN of your vehicle. A quick call to your agent or update online and you’ll be set to ride off and celebrate your new car purchase!

    American Family Insurance makes it easy to purchase auto insurance online in minutes — and we offer some great savings opportunities, like our Early Bird discount. Get an auto quote today and find out for yourself!

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What to Bring to Trade-in Your Car

If you’re going to trade your current vehicle in when you buy your new car, you’ll need a little extra paperwork and  preparation to make sure everything goes smoothly.

Before heading to the dealer, ask them “what do I need to bring when buying a used car?” Odds are, they’ll have you bring these things to streamline your car buying and trading process:

1. Current certificate of title

The dealership should help you prepare to transfer your car’s title to them. If you can’t locate your title, contact your local DMV to get a duplicate, but be prepared to pay a fee. Your lender may also be required to hold the title until the loan's paid off, depending on the state you live in. 

2. Current vehicle registration

Unless your current car is going to be junked after you trade it, you need to provide the current registration. You should be able to trade it in with expired vehicle registration, but the dealer will probably give you less for it since they’ll have to make it current themselves.

3. A clean vehicle

It's a great idea to get the car washed and detailed, and you’ll also want to pull out all of your personal belongings so you don’t get caught up in the deal and forget something that matters to you.

4. Service records

Have all service and repair information ready, as the dealer will want to know of the vehicle’s previous maintenance beyond the vehicle history report they’ll pull.

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Buying a Car Out of State

If you’re buying a car out of state there may be additional fees and paperwork, so it’s a good idea to look up that state’s requirements on their DMV website so there aren’t any surprises.

In fact, it pays to do a little extra research on state special requirements, as some states have smog and emissions testing or safety inspections, while others do not.

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Auto Insurance for Your New Car

At American Family Insurance, we want to make sure your new ride gets you from point A to point B without any hiccups in between. Get in touch with your agent and they’ll help you get insurance for your new car and add other optional coverages that’ll give you the peace of mind you deserve while you’re on the road.

And if you’re still searching for more tips to help you on your car-buying journey, you’re in luck! From helping you narrow down your car search to finding the best deals, we put our top tips and tricks together to help you navigate the car shopping experience with ease.

This article is for informational purposes only and includes information widely available through different sources.


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Related Topics: Car Buying , Car Insurance , Technology