What documents should you get when buying a car from a dealer?

When buying a car at a dealer, you'll need to sign the car purchase agreement (or dealer bill of sale), the title, an odometer statement, and sometimes a damage disclosure statement. Be sure to get copies of these documents from the dealer, and don't sign anything you don't understand.

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What is a car purchase agreement?

A car purchase agreement serves as a contract between you and the dealer that finalizes the terms of your car purchase. The dealer may call it a car purchase agreement, a car sale agreement, or dealer bill of sale. However, a bill of sale is typically a simplified version used when buying a used car from a private party. The car purchase agreement is an official document that outlines all the details of the sale, including:

  • Vehicle make, model, color, and VIN
  • Seller's (dealer's) and buyer's names, addresses, and signatures
  • Itemized purchase price, fees, and taxes
  • Financing details (Learn about car financing documents)
  • Any other information relevant to the sale

Once you sign the car purchase agreement, the contract is legally binding. There are exceptions to this, specifically regarding lemon laws. The signing of the agreement is your last chance to review the sale information and change your mind before purchasing.

Should I sign the title at the dealer?

Yes, when you buy a new car from the dealer, you (and the dealer) will typically need to sign the title. The title signifies ownership, so having the title signed over to you indicates that you're the vehicle's legal owner. Depending on your state and financing plan, the dealer may need to file the signed title with the BMV or DMV once you have finalized the purchase. Otherwise, the dealer should give you the title directly.

The title is required to register your car, which you can do at your BMV or DMV by bringing your car purchase agreement (or bill of sale) and any other required documentation. The title will have your license plate number, the vehicle’s weight, your name and address, and your car's identifying information like its VIN, make, and model. If there's a lien on your car, the title will also have the lienholder's information.

Learn more about a car's title vs. registration and changing the names on a car's registration.

What is an odometer statement?

An odometer statement says how many miles are on the vehicle at the time of purchase. Federal law requires odometer disclosure statements for the sale of any vehicle under 16,000 pounds and less than 10 years of age.

A vehicle's mileage is vital in determining insurance prices, and you'll likely need to take your odometer statement, signed by the seller and buyer, to the BMV or DMV when you register your car.

What is a damage disclosure statement?

A damage disclosure statement is required in certain states to inform the buyer of any structural damage to the vehicle. It includes the inspection date, a description of the vehicle, its owner, and any major damage that requires repair or replacement.

While most structural damage is obvious from a visual perspective, hidden damage isn't always apparent. The damage disclosure statement protects the seller from a lawsuit. It also protects the buyer from investing in a vehicle that may require extensive repairs about which they were not made aware.

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