State Regulations in California

CA State Regulations
Page Overview

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. Simply complete the Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability (REG 138) and mailing it to:

  • Department of Motor Vehicles
  • P.O. Box 942859
  • Sacramento, CA 94259

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.

Smog Certification

If the vehicle is over 4 years old, it is the seller's responsibility to provide proof of a current smog certification unless the a smog certification was submitted 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(REG 227). 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:

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.

Transfer Fees

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: $20
  • License plates (regular) $20 plus a $1 reflectorized license plate fee.

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.

To help you, the DMV has prepared a brochure about registering nonresident vehicles and has also prepared an excellent list of things to look for when purchasing vehicles out of sate.

Nontransferable Registration

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:

In some cases, the transfer of the vehicle will also require:

  • A transfer fee
  • Renewal fees
  • Smog inspection
  • An odometer disclosure
  • A motor vehicle bond―if ownership of the vehicle is not proven with the proper documentation.


REG 227

Request a duplicate title or paperless title. Transfer the requested title to a buyer.

REG 138

Notifies the DMV that you have transferred/sold your vehicle to protect you until the buyer registers it in his name.

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