Documents You Need When Buying or Selling a Used Car

By: Staff Writer September 7, 2012
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Title Transfers for Used Vehicles

There's more to buying or selling used vehicles than shaking hands and accepting (or writing) checks. There's a protocol to follow, requiring you submit specific forms to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). These forms are then processed and filed to legally complete the title transfer.

Bill of Sale, Car Title, and Other Required Documents

Car Title

The car title takes top honors as the most important document in a title transfer. This serves as the official contract between buyer and seller.

If you're selling a used car and cannot find the title, apply for a duplicate title with your DMV. Ideally, you should do this before advertising the vehicle. Processing times for duplicate titles vary by state and situation, sometimes taking weeks, which can put you at risk of losing the car's buyer while waiting for the replacement title.

Your state's policies determine how to complete the car title. Generally, the title requires:

  • The signatures of both buyer and seller.
  • The date of sale.
  • An odometer reading. Many states, including California and New Jersey, only require this for used vehicles younger than 10 years old. Most titles include a designated area for recording the car's mileage.
  • Notarization. Only a few states - Ohio and Pennsylvania, for example - require titles to be notarized.
  • Sales price. Some states, in lieu of a bill of sale, require the vehicle's sales price to be recorded on the car title.

Contact your DMV if in doubt on how to complete the car title.

Bill of Sale

Even if your state does not mandate a bill of sale, it's always wise to complete one for your own records. You can get bill of sale forms online or from DMV offices. When completing, include:

  • The sales price.
  • The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).
  • The used car's year, make and model.
  • The purchase price and date of sale.
  • The name, address and signatures of the buyer and seller.
  • "Sold as is," if you're the seller (unless you and the buyer have agreed to some other condition).

NOTE: Some states, such as Oregon, require the seller to submit a Notice of Sale form, which is different than a typical bill of sale.

Vehicle History Report

Though not required, a vehicle history report comes with heavy recommendation. This applies to both buyer and seller.

From a seller's perspective, a vehicle history report helps set a fair market price and builds immediate trust when shown to prospective buyers. From a buyers standpoint, a vehicle history report helps the decision process, making it easy to discern if the vehicle warrants the asking price.

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