I bought a used car. How do I transfer ownership to my name?
The process is called a Title Transfer and it's simple to do. You can transfer a vehicle title online through NeedTags.com in three easy steps, or you may choose to perform your title transfer in-person at a DMV office or local DMV service provider
. A local provider will have very little or no wait time. A service fee will apply. The simplest method and one most vehicle owners prefer is to complete the process online. Before you begin, make sure you have a few important documents:
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" you will need to obtain signatures from bought owners before the transfer can be made legal. Two names separated by an "OR" allows either owner 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
- And finally, you might need a smog certificate. Gasoline or diesel 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.
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.
What is important to include in a Bill of Sale?
NeedTags.com® recommends you include the following important information in your bill of sale:
- 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.
How do I transfer ownership of my vehicle to a family member?
Title transfer between family members require the same process as title transfer between private parties except a smog inspection is not always required, and if the vehicle is being given as a gift, no use tax is due either. You will need to complete and sign a Statement of Facts Form (REG 256) in order to claim your use tax and smog exemption, if applicable. The smog exemption may not apply if the vehicle is due for registration renewal and biennial smog inspection. The California DMV describes family members as: spouse, domestic partner, sibling, child, parent, grandparent, or grandchild.
How do I register an out of state vehicle in California?
If you purchased a vehicle from out of state, or if you're moving to California with your out of state vehicle, you will need to obtain California registration in order to drive legally. The process is similar to that of a California title transfer except an out of state vehicle will need to have its vehicle identification number (VIN) verified by the CHP or certified VIN verification facility, and a VIN Verification Form (REG 31) completed. You will also be required to surrender your out of state title and submit a California Application for Title or Registration Form (REG 343). The REG 343 must be signed by all registered owners shown on the out-of-state registration or title. If purchasing an out of state vehicle, ensure you get the seller(s) signature on this form.
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.
I just moved to California. How much time do I have to register my vehicle?
Department of Motor Vehicles title transfer and registration fees are due within 30 days of establishing residency or employment in California. An exact amount of fees can calculated when you submit your registration application to the DMV, visit a local BPA provider, or process online through NeedTags.
How much are California title transfer fees?
After acquiring a new vehicle you will be responsible to pay the California DMV all applicable registration fees and use tax. The total amount due will be based on the vehicle's purchase price, sale date, parking/toll violations, registration address city/county, and any special plate requests. For commercial vehicles, unladen or declared gross vehicle weight is used to calculate a separate fee as well. You can look up all your fees by line-item using the NeedTags® online title transfer system.
- 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.
Who handles the DMV paperwork if I buy a car from a used car dealership?
Used car dealers in California collect DMV fees and process registration for vehicles they sell. They often hire local DMV service providers to process these transaction for them. Your purchase contract should include a list of itemized DMV fees. There should be no DMV interaction required by you unless you intend on requesting personalized license plates. Your new certificate of title should be arriving between 6 to 8 weeks. Contact the DMV or the dealership you purchased the vehicle from if you don't receive your vehicle's new title within this time frame.
The seller claims they lost the pink slip. Should I still buy the car without it?
Use caution when purchasing a vehicle without title. Unless you are absolutely certain that the seller is the vehicle's owner we'd recommend advising them to apply for a duplicate title and complete the purchase only after they can provide it to you. The DMV can and will transfer a vehicle's ownership without a title, but it's always recommended to have one. If you've already made the purchase without a title, you can complete the transfer process by using a Duplicate Title Request Form (REG 227) in lieu of the original. The Duplicate Title Request Form (REG 227) must be signed by both you and the seller in order to be valid and accepted by the DMV. You may need to contact the seller to get the form signed. If you have not made the purchase yet, have this form ready with you before you pay for the car or ask the seller to have one prepared. You may download a REG 227 from our download forms
page. If a lienholder release is required, REG 227 will also need to be notarized.
Do I need a smog check before I can complete a title transfer?
This depends on your vehicle's model year. The smog check requirement only applies to vehicles which are 4 years or older and all diesel powered vehicles 1998 & newer, which fall under the smog check program. A smog check is not required if the title transfer is occurring between immediate family members, described as: spouse, domestic partner, sibling, child, parent, grandparent, or grandchild. Title transfers which are exempt from smog inspection will be charged a smog transfer fee instead. It is the responsibility of the seller to provide you a valid smog certificate. Do not buy a vehicle without a passing smog inspection. You can run into financial trouble if the vehicle fails the smog test and requires repairs. Your only option may be to recover costs through small claims court if the seller avoids contact.
How much time do I have to change ownership? Is there a penalty if I'm late?
For the buyer -
If you recently purchased or were given a vehicle either from a family member or private party, you have 10 days from the date of sale/acquisition to report the change of ownership to the DMV. You must also pay transfer fees within 30 days of the sale/acquisition date to avoid transfer and use tax penalties. It is not necessary to have all your title transfer documents filed with the DMV in 30 days, but it is necessary to pay your title transfer fee and use tax, if applicable.
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.
Should I buy a car from an unlicensed dealer?
Buyers beware of unlicensed dealers who pretend to be private party. The vehicle they advertise will more than likely not be registered to them and their name will not appear on the title. If the vehicle has had multiple sales without DMV notification you may be subjected to paying separate transfer fees for each transfer before the DMV will officially record the change of ownership. An example would be in the case of an unlicensed dealer who has not reported or paid transfer fees for his/her purchase from the previous owner. Under a licensed structure this person's action would be considered sale under consignment. However for the unlicensed dealer, this is a crime. These dealers are illegitimate businessmen who often, due to the lack of facility and licensing, display their vehicles for sale on public streets or at their residence, and several at a time. The penalty after getting caught often includes impoundment of their vehicle(s), stiff fines, and the possibility of not being able to get their car(s) out of impound due to the lack of ownership documentation. Vehicles bought from these sellers will usually have DMV document signatures forged. If you knowingly produce to the DMV forged documents you may be an accessory to the crime. Do not deal with unlicensed dealers.