State Regulations in California
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Whether you're a buyer or a seller, you have responsibilities when transferring ownership of a motor vehicle.
Report the sale to the DMV within 5 days from the date of sale. Simply complete the Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability and mailing it to:
- Department of Motor Vehicles
- Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability
- P.O. Box 942859
- Sacramento, CA 94259-0001
Be sure this form is filled out completely and correctly. If it's incomplete, the vehicle's record won't be updated until the buyer applies for a new title. You could be held liable if they are involved in an accident before then, and you're still considered the owner.
If the vehicle is over four years old, it is the seller's responsibility to provide proof of a current smog certification unless the vehicle registration was renewed with the California DMV within the past 90 days. Proof of smog certification is not required if the title to the vehicle is being transferred within a family.
If you do sell it without a smog certification and it doesn't pass, the seller is responsible for repairing it to the smog certification standards.
Selling Without a Title or Registration
If you've misplaced your title, submit an Application for Duplicate Title. You'll have to pay any fees and get legal before transferring ownership of your vehicle.
Once you have sealed the deal, you have 10 days to transfer the title of the vehicle from the previous owner to you. The title is the car's ownership certificate.
If you purchase from a dealership, they will take care of this. But if you bought the car from a private party, you will need to apply for a title in your name by going in person to a DMV office with the following:
- California Certificate of Title OR Application for Duplicate Title, signed by the buyer, seller, and lienholder (if any)
- Transfer fee
If there's more than one seller on the title, or more than one buyer, all signatures will be required on the title transfer paperwork.
All fees must be paid within 30 days of the sale, even if you're missing some paperwork.
- Title transfer (if registering the car as well): $15
- Certificate of Title only: $18
- License plates (regular) $16
While it doesn't cost much to transfer the title, you should expect to pay quite a bit more to register the vehicle―especially if it's a newer model. You can get an estimate for the registration fees before you go to the DMV office by using the handy Vehicle Registration Fee Calculator. For an additional fee, you can also obtain personalized or specialized license plates for your new wheels.
For more information on transferring the title, read the DMV's registration and title FAQs.
Bill of Sale
It's also smart to ask the buyer to complete a Bill of Sale―one copy for each of you. You might not need this, but it's an easy backup document should there be any questions about the transaction later.
Buying from Out of State
If you are purchasing a vehicle from out of state, you must file the change of ownership and register the vehicle in California within 20 days.
Make sure the car meets all the qualifications for registration in California.
If you buy a car from another state and don't get a title for it, you'll have to undergo the nontransferable registration process. You must submit:
- Most recent title―from California or another state
- California nontransferable registration card, if it exists
If you are not the owner listed on the nontransferable registration, you must submit:
- A completed Application for Registration
- The most recent title signed by the previous owner(s), transferring ownership to you as the new owner
In some cases, the transfer of the vehicle will also require:
- Renewal fees
- Smog inspection
- An odometer disclosure
- A motor vehicle bond―if ownership of the vehicle is not proven with the proper documentation
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