Paperwork When Buying a Car in California

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Title Transfers

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 Department of Motor Vehicles 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 of the vehicle, even if you're missing some of the necessary paperwork.

  • Title transfer (if registering the car as well): $15.
  • Certificate of Title only: $20.
  • License plates (regular) $20. (this fee includes the $1 reflectorized fee)

Bill of Sale

It's also smart to get a Bill of Sale―one copy for you and one copy for the seller. You might not need this, but it's an easy backup document should there be any questions about the transaction later.


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 vehicle.

For more information about transferring the title, read the DMV's registration and title FAQs.

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 of taking ownership of the vehicle.

Make sure the car meets all the qualifications for registration in California.

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

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 statement.
  • 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 343

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

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