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Vehicle Purchase and Maintenance

Information about buying cars in Indiana

You can buy a new or used car from dealers or private individuals.  What and from whom you want to buy depends entirely on your budget and the type of car that you are interested in.  Please keep in mind that, just as in any other country, there are people who will try to sell you a car that may be damaged in some way.  New cars are usually beyond the budget of most students.  Nonetheless, you may be lucky enough to be able to afford one.  New cars are a big investment and if you decide to buy one, you may be making one of the more important decisions of your college life.  When the time comes, your preparedness can make the difference between paying the full “list” price or a price that is fair in today’s marketplace.

If you have a permanent driver’s license, and buy your car from a car dealer, the car dealer will give you a temporary license plate.  That plate is good for a maximum of 30 days.  You must register the car to get a new plate before the 30 days expires.

You must also show proof of automobile insurance coverage.  It is against the law to drive a car without having insurance.  Check the local yellow pages in the telephone book under insurance.  You will find many companies listed and the types of insurance they offer.  Call to set up an appointment with an insurance agent to give them all the necessary information about your car. 

When you have done all of the above, go to the BMV.  Be sure to bring:

Bill of Sale

This is a receipt that the car dealer gives you when you pay for the car.

Title and Registration Card

When you buy a car, the dealer sends information to BMV in Indianapolis.  They send you the title to the car as well as a registration card.  If you have financed the car through a local bank, the title to the car will go to the lending institution, not to you.  However, you will have a registration card.

Proof of Auto Insurance

You must have an auto insurance card or letter to verify that you have coverage on your automobile.

Social Security Card

If you do not have a social security card, take all your immigration documents including your passport and I-94.

When you get to BMV, take a number and when you are called, tell the staff member that you want to get a license plate (the same thing as registering a car).

They will review your documents.  You will have to pay a fee usually between $26 and $1000—depending on the price you pay for your car and the model year of the car.

Helpful Guidelines

  • Decide beforehand how much money you can spend, and stay within that amount.  When you visit the car dealership, avoid falling in love with the first car you see.  Make sure you shop around; there are many dealers carrying identical models.
  • Do not let dealers and salespeople impair your ability to make a rational decision.  Look around on Sundays, when dealerships are not allowed to sell cars, and you can compare different models, features and prices without pressure.
  • After deciding on a particular model, consult the New Car Buyer’s Guide, available at drug stores, bookstores, etc.  This guide contains the “list” price and “dealer cost” on base models.  If you are looking at an upscale model, the publication also lists the dealer cost on factory-installed options (air conditioning, power steering, etc.).  The Kelley Blue Book is another such publication, available in print or on the Web.  Calculate and add taxes to the “list” price along with a reasonable dealer profit ($200-$500) before making the dealer an offer.

Purchasing a Used Car

The hard part of buying a used car is determining whether or not the car is in good condition.  The following guidelines may help you through the process:

  • Determine how much money you can afford to spend.
  • Know where to look.  In the US, used cars are sold by dealers and private individuals.  Dealers advertise in most newspapers, television, and radio.  Private individuals place advertisements in the classified sections of newspapers and special-interest papers such as the Trader or Wheels and Deals.
  • Compare the price quoted with the price listed in the Kelley Blue Book, a guide to used car prices.
  • Do not buy a used car without a maintenance record.  This record can more or less tell you what the car has been through since it was bought (when the oil was changed, etc.).
  • Always drive the car before buying.  Check for oil leaks, chassis damage, brakes wear, transmission problems, window damage, door problems, exhaust deterioration, etc.
  • Once you’re satisfied with a car, take it to a mechanic for a diagnostic check (this will cost money, but is often worth the price).

You can find tips on buying used cars in books, on the web, and in magazines.  A good web site with advice on new and used car buying, car insurance, and car maintenance is Car Talk.