How Old Do You Have to Be to Buy a Car?

by Ann deBruyn

Most states have no age requirement for buying a vehicle, but you will need to be at least 18 to register, title and insure it in most states. Also, you cannot get an auto loan if you are under 18.

If you aren’t 18 yet, you will most likely need the help of an adult to buy and insure a car. That’s because many transactions related to buying and driving a car require signing a contract. Businesses — such as car dealers, banks and insurance companies — are reluctant to enter into a contract with someone under 18, because minors can’t be held to the terms of the contract.

Here are some of the difficulties you will face if trying to buy a car before you turn 18.

Buying a car when you’re under 18

Buying a car from a dealership requires signing a sales contract, which isn’t legally binding in most states if you’re a minor. For that reason, you will most likely need an adult to sign a contract to buy from a dealership.

You may be able to purchase a car from a private seller, but even then, you will need an adult's help to register, title and insure the car.

Getting an auto loan

Since an auto loan is a legal contract between a borrower and lender, the majority of lenders will not make an auto loan to anyone under 18. The few that will require an adult to co-sign. Co-signers are responsible for paying a loan if the borrower fails to pay it back.

If you’re under 18, you can pay cash to buy a vehicle, but you will usually face additional roadblocks with registering, titling and insuring the car.

Registering and titling a car before you turn 18

All states require that vehicle owners register and title the vehicle before driving it. In most states, you need to be 18 to register a car.

To be listed as the car’s owner on the title, you must also be 18 in most states. Your only option may be to put the car’s title in an adult’s name and have that person transfer the title to your name when you reach your state’s legal age.

The age for registering and titling a vehicle is 18 in nearly all states, but there are some exceptions — like Texas — so check with the department of motor vehicles in your state.

Getting car insurance when you’re a minor

Car insurance coverage is mandatory for you to get behind the wheel legally in nearly every state. And since an insurance policy is considered a legal contract, you will most likely need to be a certain age to purchase insurance. The required minimum age varies by state and insurance company.

Again, a solution is to have your parents or legal guardians add you to their car insurance policy until you reach the minimum age to get your own insurance. As a plus, remaining on a parent’s or guardian’s insurance policy as long as possible can be cheaper than paying for insurance premiums on your own policy.

Emancipated minors are an exception

Emancipated minors are individuals who are legally responsible for themselves prior to reaching what is called the age of majority (typically 18). The most common ways a minor becomes emancipated include:

  • Enlisting in the military (which requires a parent’s consent).

  • Getting married (which requires a parent’s consent in most states).

  • Receiving a court order to be emancipated.

Emancipated minors can be legally held to a contract, so they can buy a car, get a loan and buy insurance in their own name. They can also register and title a vehicle in their name.