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How To Transfer a Vehicle Certificate of Title in California
Certificate of Title - You'll need the vehicle's Certificate of Title, indicating the seller is the owner. Their name must be on the document. The certificate of title is in essence proof of ownership and is needed to register the vehicle in your name. You must ensure there is no second name on the title. If there are two names which are separated by an "AND" or "/" you will need to obtain signatures from both owners before the transfer can be made legal. Two names separated by an "OR" allows either owner (seller) to make the sale and either owner may sign the title.
A certificate of title is often referred to as a pink slip. Both terms mean the same thing and we refer to them both as simply a vehicle title. Assuming the seller gave you a title when you bought the car, ensure they signed on line one (1). Line one (1) indicates "Release of Ownership". The seller must sign line one (1) or line one (1) and line two (2), in the case of two owners. The DMV will not transfer the vehicle title without these signature(s). If the vehicle is less than 10 years old, the odometer portion of the title will also need to be filled out and signed by both parties. If the title is missing an odometer section, you must complete a Vehicle/Vessel Transfer Form (REG 262) and submit it with your title.
Bill of Sale - Next, you should have a Bill of Sale (REG 135). A bill-of-sale is not required by the DMV in order to transfer a car's title but is highly recommended for the purpose of "proof of purchase" and record keeping. Complete a detailed bill of sale and have the seller sign it, for your protection. A Bill-of-Sale can be written by you or the seller but must be signed by both. You may draft a bill of sale yourself or download one prepared by the State of California DMV from our download forms page.
Smog Certificate - And finally, you might need a smog certificate. Gasoline powered vehicles 4 years and newer do not require one, and full electric vehicles are exempt as well. A smog check is also not required when a title transfer occurs between immediate family members. If your transfer does not fall into one of these smog exemption categories you will need to provide the DMV a valid smog certificate before your title transfer process can be completed. A smog certificate is valid for 90 days from the date of inspection.
Vehicles which are not required to undergo a smog inspection will be assessed a smog transfer fee. To determine the first year your vehicle will need a change-of-ownership smog check, add four to the model year of the vehicle. Note: Diesel powered vehicle's are exempt from the four or less model years old rule.
Smog Check Program for California DMV: How it works
I have my documents. What's next? Once you have these documents in order and are ready to pay title transfer fees you may begin the title transfer process. Start the process online through NeedTags.com® or by visiting a local DMV service provider or DMV branch office. Unless your transfer has special circumstance(s), the three documents above will suffice in getting the car's title transferred to your name. We discuss family and out of state title transfers later. The process is similar except an additional document or two is required. For DMV in-person service, please make a DMV appointment prior to your visit.
- Date of purchase.
- Seller name and address.
- Buyer name and address.
- Vehicle description, including make, model, year, vehicle identification number (VIN), and license plate number. You may also want to notate the vehicle's color and any distinguishing marks and/or features.
- Sale condition, i.e. sold "as-is", sold with warranty and indicating the time-period, sold with damage to engine or drivetrain, and so on.
- If the seller purchased the vehicle but never registered it in their name, the bill of sale should include the previous owner(s) information.
- The amount paid for the vehicle, including any payments made in installments or down payment.
- How payment(s) were made, i.e. cash, check, credit card or direct deposit.
- Most importantly, ensure the bill-of-sale is signed by both you and the seller.
Give a copy of the bill of sale to the seller and keep the original for yourself. If you don't have access to a copy machine complete two bill of sales and have the seller sign them both. Should the need arise this information in writing will be invaluable.
There's also one important factor you must consider when importing or purchasing an out of state vehicle, if the vehicle is new. California considers a new vehicle one that has less than 7,500 miles on the odometer. Any new out of state vehicle in need of California registration must be California (50-state) emissions certified, except under very few circumstances. You may register a new out of state non-California emission conforming vehicle (49-state emissions legal) if the vehicle was first registered by you in your home state, or for military personnel, the vehicle was registered by you in the last state of your military active service. Check your vehicle's underhood emission label for information regarding certification. The label should indicate whether or not the vehicle conforms to California emissions regulations. If your vehicle is Federal emissions certified (49-state) and you do not fall into one of the exemptions above, you may not register it in California.
- Use Tax – Between 7.5% - 10%. Tax collected by the county in which you indent to register your vehicle.
- Transfer Fee – $15.00 or $20.00. DMV fee charge to perform a title transfer. $20.00 for out-of-state vehicles.
- Registration Fee – Does not apply in all cases. Read about registration fees in the paragraph below.
Registration fees may be due if the vehicle you purchase or acquired has expired registration or registration which is about to expire (75 days or less). If renewal fees are due for the vehicle, the DMV will require you to pay registration fees on top of the use tax and transfer fee. The registration fee will include various county fees, vehicle licensing fee (VLF) equal to 0.65% of the vehicle's value, and a California Highway Patrol (CHP) fee. Here is an itemized list of California vehicle registration fees:
- DMV Registration Fee - $46.00 for initial registration/renewal.
- Vehicle License Fee (VLF) - Based on .65% of the value of your vehicle.
- Weight Fee - Applies to commercial vehicles. Determined by weight.
- County/District Fees - Between $7.00 and $47.00 depending on the county in which your vehicle is registered.
- Smog Abatement Fee - $20.00. Applies to vehicles which do not require a smog inspection.
- Owner Responsibility Fee - $7.00 fee for failing to appear on a citation, if applicable.
- CHP Fee - $24.00 authorized under CVC 9250.8, 9250.13, and 9552–9554).
Fees collected are distributed as follows: 40.7% to local government (cities/counties), 25.7% to the CHP, 13.9% to the DMV, 13.0% to Caltrans, 1.7% to the California Air Resources Board, 4.3% to other state agencies, and 0.7% to the general fund.
For the seller - Your requirement is to complete and submit either in person, online, or by mail a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability (REG 138) to the DMV within 5 days of the sale/gift/trade date. Your name will be on DMV record until the new owner pays transfer fees and completes the title transfer process however REG 138 will relieve you of responsibility for civil or criminal actions involving the vehicle after you've sold, gifted, or traded it.