Whether you're buying a new car or a used car, or even leasing a car, you'll have to pay state sales tax. Nearly every state has a sales tax, ranging from under 3 percent to over 8 percent. The national average in the United States is 5.75 percent [source: TaxAdmin.org]. Of course, you'll want to find out your state's exact sales tax before you buy a car, but if you're simply looking for a ballpark figure, just use the average.
State sales tax is only the beginning, though. If you want to make sure every penny is accounted for when you purchase your vehicle, check out local sales tax rates. Some counties, cities, and even school districts levy taxes on purchases. The maximum total sales tax in some areas can reach double digits, adding more than 10 percent to the price of the vehicle [source: Edmunds.com].
In some states, if you have a vehicle to trade in at the dealership, you only pay sales tax on the difference between the final price of the new car and the trade-in value of the car you brought in. Let's say you buy a car in Georgia for $30,000. You've brought in a trade worth $10,000. Georgia only requires that you pay sales tax of (at most) 8 percent on the difference between the two, or $20,000. In this case, that's $1,600 in taxes.
Customer cash back and rebates are popular incentives these days for getting customers into the showroom, too. Some states figure your sales tax before the rebate is applied to the purchase price and others figure it after. For example, let's say you live in Connecticut and you want to buy a $20,000 car that offers $2,000 cash back. Since Connecticut figures its 6 percent sales tax before any rebates, you pay taxes on the full amount of $20,000, which would be $1,200. But if you live in Kentucky, where it figures its 6 percent sales tax after the rebate has been applied, you'd only pay tax on $18,000, which would be $1,080.
You might think you could sidestep sales taxes if you lease instead of buy your next car, right? Well, keep reading to find out how untrue that idea really is.