How to Transfer a Car Title

how to transfer a car title

Selling Your Car? Here’s How to Transfer a Car Title

Whether you want to sell your car, give it away or donate it to a non-profit organization, you are going to need to transfer the car’s title to the new owner. How you do that depends on what state you live in and other circumstances, although there are some common steps you will need to take.

What is a Title?

Your car’s title provides proof that you own it. When you sell or give your car away, you need to transfer the title to the new owner, a requirement of all states in the U.S. If you still owe money on the car’s loan, you’ll need to pay it off before you can get the title from the lender.

The car title is ultimately used by the designated owner (the buyer) as their own when they register the vehicle with the state’s local DMV.

Find Out Your Resident State’s Requirements

Before you start title transfer, find out what your resident state’s requirements are. Here are links to all 50 states and DC DMV websites:

What Happens if the Title Isn’t Legally Transferred?

When you sell a car, you’ll need to pass ownership to the buyer. The buyer must then register the vehicle with the DMV as soon as possible after taking ownership. If the title isn’t legally processed, the car remains in your name. You could end up being responsible for paying tickets for violations by the new “owner”, even years down the road.

If the Title is Not in Your Name

Sometimes the seller’s name is not on the title, and it is illegal to sell the car in such a situation. You’ll need to contact the person shown as the owner, go to the DMV and complete the Application for Title with correct information. You’ll receive a temporary title and then receive the original in the mail.

If You Want to Give the Vehicle Away

Perhaps you want to give the car to a family member, in which case the recipient eligible for a family vehicle title transfer. The benefit for the person you’re gifting the car to is that they may not be required to pay sales tax on it. The procedure will be the same as what the steps you’d take when selling the vehicle.

What to Do If You Do Not Have the Physical Title

Sometimes the proper owner of a vehicle has lost track of the title, or never had one. Buying or selling a car without proof of ownership is illegal in most places. Generally, however, there are times when you sell a vehicle even without having the title.

  1. Get a replacement. Contact the local DMV to request a replacement title, available if the original is lost, stolen or damaged. The DMV’s website will have details too, such as what the fee is for getting a replacement title.
  2. Create a Bill of Sale. Some states let a Bill of Sale as adequate proof that you own the car. If this is the case for your state, you may be able to download a Bill of Sale form on the DMV website. Otherwise, you can pick one up at the DMV.
  3. Arrange a transfer with the lender. If you still owe money to your lender, you can try working with the lender and the buyer The buyer might agree to pay off the loan, either in lump sum or by taking over the loan payments.

Forms You’ll Need to Transfer a Title

To prepare to transfer the title to a new owner, gather the following forms and information as required by your state.

Title Application

This document holds information pertaining to the vehicle, the buyer and the seller.

The information you provide will go onto the title:

  • Seller’s and buyer’s names
  • Seller’s and buyer’s addresses
  • Lien holder information if relevant
  • VIN (vehicle identification number)
  • Year, make, model, color and type of vehicle
  • Registered license plate number
  • Mileage reading on the odometer
  • Amount of taxes paid
  • Selling price

Smog Check

California and some other states require a current smog check. Fees apply, so it will cost, roughly, as little as $30 and as much as $90. There is also a fee for state certification, usually less than $10, that may be included in the fees you pay for the smog check itself or it might be a separate cost.

Bill of Sale

The majority of states also require a Vehicle Bill of Sale, but if your state doesn’t, having a Bill of Sale is still a good idea. Where the title proves who owns a car, the Bill of Sale denotes a transfer of the right to ownership to the buyer. A Bill of Sale typically includes the same auto information as show on the title, plus amount paid by the buyer.

Damage Disclosure Document

If your state requires you to disclose any major issues with the vehicle, you’ll also cover yourself should the buyer someday try to hold you liable for repairs in the future.

Name Corrections

It is important that the title have correct information, so read through carefully. If your name has changed, you’ll need to provide proof of the name change. This could be:

  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage certificate
  • Divorce decree
  • Court order

You’ll also need to write the correct name under the title’s place for the new registered owner. Submit the completed form and submit it to the DMV.

Inform the DMV of the Sale

Finally, report the sale on the DMV and keep copies of the title you and the buyer signed off on, odometer reading at time of sale and the Bill of Sale. Then, take copies to the DMV or mail them in and report the sale.


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