Paperwork When Selling a Car in California
Paperwork Required to Sell Your Vehicle in California
The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has several rules and regulations you must follow when selling your car. There's a lot to keep track of, so review this short summary before beginning the process.
When you’re ready to sell your vehicle in California, there are many things to think about before you even find a buyer. You need to know what your car is worth so you can sell your car at a good price for both you and potential buyers.
Our Guide to Selling Your Car is a good starting point for you to reference.
Once you’ve found a buyer, it’s time to get all the required documentation together. The CA DMV requires that you provide:
- Release of your ownership of the car by signing the designating line on the title certificate.
- Lien holders must also sign the title, if applicable.
- A valid smog certificate, if applicable.
- You do not need a certificate if you renewed your registration in the last 90 days (before the official transfer) and you submitted a smog certificate at that time. You will need to sign a document stating this.
- If your vehicle is 4 years old or less, you are not required to provide a smog certificate to the buyer.
- The odometer reading, if the car is less than 10 years old.
- This can be recorded either on the certificate of title or on a completed Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment (Form REG 262) (available from a California DMV office).
Once you’ve sold your vehicle and provided all required documents to the buyer, you’ll need to notify the CA Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) that you no longer own the car. Complete the online Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability within 5 days of the sale. A Release of Liability form CA is usually attached to your title.
From there, it’s up to the buyer to complete the ownership transfer with the CA DMV.
California has very strict laws for vehicle inspections. As the seller, you are legally obligated to provide the buyer with a valid smog certificate at the time of sale. The buyer should be informed that smog certification is only valid for 90 days after the date it's issued.
You may be exempt from this law if:
- You submitted a biennial smog certificate to the DMV within 90 days before the transfer date.
- The vehicle is 4 years old or less.
NOTE: Vehicles that are a 1975 model year or older are not required to have smog inspections.
If you don’t have a certificate of title, whether it is lost, stolen, or damaged, you don’t need to apply for a duplicate before selling your car.
You can simply fill out the relevant sections of the Application for Duplicate or Paperless Title (Form REG 227) and supply it to the buyer. They will need to fill out the section for new registered owners.
This form verifies you as the original owner and establishes the buyer as the new owner.
If you want to apply for a duplicate certificate of title before you sell the car, visit our Replacing a Lost Title in California page.
Although the buyer can technically just apply for his or her own vehicle registration card, it's recommended that you have your own official card before attempting to sell your car in California.
To obtain a duplicate, submit a completed Application for Replacement Plates, Stickers, Documents (Form REG 156) to the CA DMV. You will need to supply the following information:
- License plate number.
- Full legal name.
- Current address.
- Driver's license number.
Attach the damaged registration card (if available) and include payment for the $20 replacement fee.
For more information, visit our Replacing a Lost Registration in California page.
When selling your car in California, it is common for buyers to request a vehicle history report before they commit to anything. A vehicle history report details everything about your car that a potential buyer would need to know, including accident history and odometer readings.
It may be a good idea for you to order a report yourself and use it as a sales too.
For more information, visit our Vehicle History Reports page.
Optional helpful links:
Request a duplicate title or paperless title. Transfer the requested title to a buyer.
To request replacement license plates, registration stickers, disability placards & IDs, and registration documents.
Combination form for odometer disclosure, bill of sale, and power of attorney. Not available online. Contact the DMV for a copy.