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  • Writer's pictureCarwam

Don’t Buy These Cars When You Live in Southern California

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

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Southern California leads the advocacy of switching from gas operated to electric vehicles. As a consumer and a resident of southern California we need to consider that it has been announced this year that come 2035, selling gas-operated cars will be banned. Purchasing a vehicle in California follows pretty much the same process as it does in other states, which involves researching the car, taking a test drive, negotiating a fair price for your trade-in, filling out the required paperwork, and paying the fees required by the state. Still, as with every state, California has some unique laws and procedures for buying a car, such as its smog test and as-is laws.

With a comfortable year-round seasonal climate, it’s also a great spot to find unique, custom, or classic cars that are no longer on the market. As you might expect, since California has some of the highest living expenses in the world, those expenses can often be found with your next vehicle as well.

The biggest cities of Los Angeles, San Diego, and the San Francisco Bay Area and the surrounding suburbs are the best places to find cars in southern California. If you’ve narrowed down your search and are looking into the next in your journey keep reading below to see what the state may require that’s different from other parts of the country.

Guide on Buying Cars in Southern California

Let us go over a more thorough step-by-step guide on buying cars in Southern California. Since the state attracts people from all over the country, you can find just about any rare car in these cities too. Before buying a car, best practice dictates researching it carefully. Check out the car's pricing or market value on a vehicle valuation site such as Kelley Blue Book, then plug its Vehicle Identification Number into a vehicle history report site such as Carfax. You can find a car's VIN on the driver's side door or by the window on the driver's side dashboard.

A vehicle history report can alert you to any potential issues that the car has. For example, if it has been involved in an accident and subsequently repaired or if the vehicle has been involved in a flooding situation, the vehicle history report can reveal those details. This can be valuable for making a smart purchasing decision.

Before buying a car, ask the dealer if you can drive it to a private garage for a diagnostic check. Although not all dealers let you do this, many do. Diagnostic checks only cost around $60 or so, but it’s money well spent. The California State Automobile Association provides an online list of mechanics that perform high-quality diagnostic tests in the state to help you easily locate someone to give the car a good once-over to look for potential problems.

Buying a Car From a Dealer (Brand New) With Fees Involved

All in all, buying a car in California is a very similar process that you’ll see in different states. The main differences can be found in the tax and fees associated with the process. California has been aggressive in its effort to reduce the carbon footprint of vehicles, and lots of the fees associated with buying from a dealer are related to going green.

There are a lot of similarities with buying from a dealer regardless if it’s new or used, and the following fees will apply in both situations. The California Civil Code mandates that dealerships show the fees they are charging when you purchase, and below are some basic fees you can expect to pay when getting a car from a dealer:

Advertising fees: These are rolled into the vehicle cost and can vary significantly based on the model and city or county you’re buying from. It’s illegal for dealerships to hide these fees and you can often negotiate these down or have them eliminated entirely.

Sales tax: A 7.5% sales tax is the minimum across the state and can increase by your specific city or county of residency which you can check here.

Title fee: This is also known as a “pink slip fee” and is $21 for new vehicles.

California Registration fee: This goes hand in hand with the title fee for an additional $58, and you can’t really get one without the other.

Potential additional fees: These will depend on the dealership you’re buying from and the zip code of where you live, but some additional fees are for general documentation filing $80 (plus a bit extra per filing transaction), California Highway Patrol fee of $25, zero emissions parking sticker for $17, smog transfer fee of $8, air quality management fee for an extra $6, and fingerprint IDs, reflector license plate stickers, and crime deterrence fee all for an additional $1.two-day

Buying a Car From a Dealer (Used) With Fees Involved

The general process for buying a used car from a dealership is the same with a few extra things to take into consideration. California dealerships are allowed to sell cars “as is”, which means they do not need to make any repairs before selling or provide an additional warranty.

It’s recommended to have a private mechanic run a diagnostic test to check the overall quality of the vehicle, which is provided for about $60. You can check the California State Automobile Associated for a list of approved mechanics. You can check your zip code for a private inspection.

You can assume to pay all of the fees that were listed above for a used car purchase with some slight changes and a few additional fees that are more likely to be associated with older models. Instead of paying the title or pink slip fee, used cars have a slight discount for the “transfer fee” which is only $16 instead of new cars at $21.

If you’re buying a used car that is under $40,000 California allows consumers to purchase a two day cancellation policy on most vehicles if returned with no more than 250 miles. Most taxes and fees will be refunded, but this can depend on your location and the specific dealership.

Buying a Car From a Private Seller With Fees Involved

The great thing about buying from a private seller is that you can typically save some money on the actual purchase itself, but usually have to invest some more time on test drives, paperwork, and inspections.

In the state of California if you buy from a private seller, usually the extra legwork falls on the buyer. You can assume the fees mentioned above also transfer to private sellers, but there is no guarantee you can work out a two-day refund like you can with dealers.

When purchasing from a private seller, you’ll need to do your due diligence in research just like buying a car from the dealer. You’ll need to verify the VIN for vehicle history (and the owner history), get a Certificate of ownership, and register the vehicle with the DMV in person.

You typically have 10 days to do this before they’ll add on late fees. It’s also important to fill out the official odometer paperwork if the vehicle is over 10 years old to help speed up the process at the DMV.

Just like buying through a dealer, each vehicle must pass the state’s smog requirements but the seller isn’t required to provide these like the dealer usually does. This can run you a few hundred dollars if the seller doesn’t have them up to date but is a requirement when purchasing a privately owned used car.


Southern California has its own laws, insurance, and ways of purchasing or getting a car that needs to be considered. As a resident or someone who considers staying in the state one needs to consider as well that southern California has a strong government regulations in switching to a fully electric vehicle-driven state. By 2035 selling of gas-operated vehicles will be totally banned in the support of going green.



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