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Paperwork When Buying a Car in California

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After buying a car in California, you will need certain documents from the seller before you can properly transfer ownership.

Use this guide to learn more about the paperwork required by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for vehicle transactions.

Paperwork for California Car Buyers

Once you purchase a car in California, you'll have 10 days to title and register it with the DMV to avoid penalty. This will vary depending on if you bought it from a dealership or a private party, as dealerships will file your paperwork for you and make it unlikely you'll have to visit the DMV post-transaction.

When buying a car from a private seller, you'll need certain documents from the seller before titling and registration can be completed. These include:

  • The vehicle's title.
    • Fill out each of the transfer sections, including:
      • Signatures from the buyer and seller.
      • The purchase price.
      • An odometer disclosure statement IF the vehicle is under 10 years old.
    • If the title is missing, a new title can be obtained by the seller by completing an Application for Duplicate or Paperless Title (Form REG 227).
  • A smog certificate.
    • Required if the car is more than 4 years old.
  • A bill of sale.
    • Though not required by the California DMV to transfer ownership, a bill of sale can help you prove transfer of ownership and the purchase price.

CA Car Registration Paperwork

To title and register your vehicle in California, bring the following paperwork to your local DMV within 10 days of the purchase:

  • The vehicle title, smog certificate, and bill of sale as described above.
  • A completed Application for Title or Registration (Form REG 343).
  • Payment for the fees due, including:
    • Registration fee: $46.
    • California Highway Patrol fee: $24.

For information about registration, please visit our guide to registering a car in California.

Registering Out-of-State Vehicles

In some instances, you may have purchased a vehicle outside of California, or the owner has just arrived in the state and is selling their car. In these instances, the following paperwork may also be needed in addition to the documents outlined above when registering an out-of-state vehicle in California:

  • Out-of-state registration documents.
  • Current license plates.
  • A completed Verification of Vehicle (Form REG 31) completed by any of the following:
    • An authorized DMV agent.
    • Law enforcement.
    • A licensed vehicle verifier.
  • A completed Statement of Facts (Form REG 256).
    • You will need to fill this form out if you have previously paid sales or use tax in your former state of residence.

Forms

REG 227

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

REG 343

Use this form to apply for a title and register your vehicle when you buy a vehicle or move to the state.

REG 256

Used to provide additional information for other forms or to correct information on existing documents.

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