Title Transfers in California

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How to Transfer a Car Title in California

Changing ownership of any vehicle requires a transfer of title in California. To transfer a title:

  • Seller must complete the appropriate sections on the title.
  • Vehicle must pass a smog check, unless exempt.
  • Buyer must provide the ownership documents to the CA DMV.
  • Buyer pays the $15 vehicle title transfer fee and taxes within 30 days.

For more details, continue reading!

New California Residents

If you recently moved to the Golden State, you'll need to transfer your out-of-state vehicle title and registration to CA credentials. You must do so within 20 days of driving your car as a new California resident. We'll go over this multi-step process, overseen by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), in this section. 

Pre-Transfer Requirements

BEFORE you apply for a CA title, your car will need to pass a:

A vehicle verification, is an examination of your car's vehicle identification number to ensure its legality. You can have your vehicle verified by a:

  • DMV employee at your local DMV office, at no charge. 
  • CA licensed vehicle verifier.
  • Certified auto club employee.
  • California law enforcement/peace officer

The person performing the vehicle verification will complete a Verification of Vehicle (Form REG 31) for you—do not lose this form! You'll need it to convert your out-of-state title, which we'll get to next. 

Convert Your Out-of-State Title

Once your vehicle verification and smog inspection are complete, it's time to convert your out-of-state title to a California title. Typically, you'll apply for your CA registration at the same time.  

To do so, provide the following items at your local DMV office (consider scheduling an appointment ahead of time):

  • A completed: 
  • Your vehicle's out-of-state: 
    • Title and registration.
    • License plates UNLESS your plates are expired, already surrendered to your previous state of residence, or assigned to an interstate-registered vehicle.
  • The smog inspection certificate, proving your vehicle meets California's emissions requirements.
  • A weight certificate if you're titling a truck or pick-up.
  • If you're transferring ownership of the vehicle:
  • Payment for the $20 title fee
    • Use the DMV's registration fee calculator to estimate what you'll owe for your CA registration.
    • You can pay by cash, debit/credit card, or cashier's check or money order made payable to "DMV."

The above requirements cover most out-of-state title conversions. However, for less common title transfers, like for commercial vehicles and trailers, head over to the CA Department of Motor Vehicles' full page on transferring an out-of-state title and registration for information. 

Buying a Vehicle in CA

Buying From a Dealer

Generally, car dealerships take care of all the paperwork needed to title a newly-purchased vehicle in your name. As the buyer of the vehicle, it is your responsibility to know your rights as a car buyer and make sure the contract, purchase price, and any additional costs are correct before you take the vehicle home.

Buying From a Private Individual

If you buy a car from a private seller, the CA Department of Motor Vehicles requires that you transfer the title in your name within 10 days of the purchase date. The seller should provide you with a majority of the required items to title the car in your name.

Head to your local DMV agency (make an appointment to cut down your wait time) with:

  • The properly assigned car title, complete with the seller's signature and any applicable lien releases on the appropriate line(s). IF the:
    • Person listed on the title is not the person selling you the vehicle, you must include all bills of sale to prove the changes in ownership leading up to you. 
  • The odometer mileage recorded on the title IF the car is under 10 years old.
  • Proof of smog certification, which you should have received from the seller.
    • If your recently-bought vehicle is 4 model years or fewer AND not diesel-powered, you're exempt from this requirement and must pay an $8 smog transfer fee instead.
  • Payment for the $15 vehicle title transfer fee and all use tax fees.
    • The DMV accepts cash, debit/credit cards, and cashier's checks or money orders made payable to "DMV."

When everything's approved, the DMV will issue a California title for the car in your name! You officially own the vehicle. 

If you have questions about transferring a CA title in your name, give the Department of Motor Vehicles a call at (800) 777-0133 for assistance.

*NOTE: You CANNOT use a Lien Satisfied/Legal Owner/Title Holder Release (Form REG 166) as proof of lien satisfaction if the car has a paperless title OR is aged 2 model years or fewer. If the original title was lost, you MUST submit a properly signed replacement car title if the vehicle is 2 years old or less. 

Selling a Vehicle in California

When you sell a car in CA, the Department of Motor Vehicles requires that you provide the buyer with the:

To protect yourself, you ALSO need to notify the California DMV of the transfer of vehicle ownership within 5 days of the sale date. You can do so by either of the following methods:

After you've given the buyer and the DMV all the required items above, you've done your due diligence as a car seller in California. If you need help or would like additional information, call the Department of Motor Vehicles at (800) 777-0133.

*NOTE: The Lien Satisfied/Legal Owner/Title Holder Release (Form REG 166) CANNOT be used as a proof of lien satisfaction for vehicles with paperless titles OR cars aged 2 model years or less. You MUST provide a properly signed duplicate vehicle title if the car is 2 years old or fewer and missing the original title. 

Gifted Vehicles in CA

You may decide to give your vehicle away, or gift the vehicle, instead of selling it. This type of transfer can be between family members* (e.g. a hand-me-down car or inheritance) OR as a donation to a charity of your choice. In this section, we'll go over the DMV's requirements for the car transferor and the recipient to successfully transfer a gifted car's title. 

*NOTE: The CA Department of Motor Vehicles considers family members to be children, siblings, spouses, domestic partners, parents, grandparents, and grandchildren. 

Giving a Vehicle as a Gift

To transfer ownership of a vehicle as a gift, you will need to provide the car recipient with:

You have 5 days from the date you gifted the vehicle to notify the California Department of Motor Vehicles of the change in ownership. In this time, you need to submit a release of liability to the DMV by either of the following methods:

Once the DMV receives your release of liability, you'll no longer be held responsible for the gifted vehicle. 

*NOTE: Lien Satisfied/Legal Owner/Title Holder Release (Form REG 166) IS NOT viable proof of lien satisfaction for cars that are 2 model years and under OR vehicles with paperless titles. You  MUST apply for and correctly sign a replacement title if the vehicle is 2 years old or less and the original title is unavailable. 

Receiving a Gifted Vehicle

If you received a vehicle as a gift, you'll need to transfer the title and registration into your name within 10 days of receiving the car. To transfer the title, head to your local CA Department of Motor Vehicles agency with all the items from the previous car owner (listed above, under "Giving a Vehicle as a Gift"AND:

  • A completed Statement of Facts (REG 256), to claim exemption from the state's:
    • Use tax: Applicable to BOTH family transfers and donations. 
    • Smog certification: Applicable ONLY to vehicle transfers between family members. 
  • If the vehicle is part of an inheritance, an Affidavit for Transfer without Probate (Form REG 5).
    • Depending on your situation, you may need additional documents. Head over to the DMV's page on handling matters of the deceased for more information. 
  • Cash, debit/credit card, or cashier's check or money order made payable to "DMV" for the applicable title transfer fees:
    • Transferred title: $15.
    • Smog transfer fee (if no smog certification was required): $8.

Once everything's said and done, the car's title will officially be in your name! 

If you need further assitance transferring ownership of a vehicle you received as a gift, give the CA DMV a call at (800) 777-0133.

Skip the Line!Don't spend hours waiting in line to transfer your vehicle title. Make an appointment ahead of time so you're in and out of the DMV in no time! 

Lost Your CA Title?

If you can't find your CA vehicle title, don't worry—it happens! While the DMV allows temporary workarounds for transferring ownership of a car without a title, ultimately, you'll still need to apply for a replacement. For instructions on ordering a duplicate, head over to our page on lost titles in California

Removing a Lien From a CA Vehicle

When you've made all the payments on your vehicle, the lienholder will mail you a signed vehicle title, releasing the lien on the car. Within 30 days of receiving the title, submit it along with the $15 transfer fee at your local DMV office branch and the lien will officially be removed from the title.  

If the title is missing but the lien has been satisfied, your course of action will depend on how old the vehicle is:

The Department of Motor Vehicles can further assist you with questions regarding lien releases; just call (800) 777-0133.

Title Corrections

California law requires that your correct and legal name be on your vehicle title. You must update your title if your name has changed for any reason, or the name on the title is incorrect

To request a correction to your CA car title, submit the following items to the Department of Motor Vehicles:

  • Your current vehicle title with the correct name typed or printed above the incorrect name. 
  • Statement of Facts (REG 256) with the "Name Statement" section filled out. 

Mail the above items to:

  • Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Vehicle Registration Operations
  • P.O. Box 942869
  • Sacramento, CA 94269

The DMV will send you your corrected title for free (unless you had to request a duplicate title) once all your documents are approved. 

CA DMV Title Fees

The fees associated with DMV title processes are as follows:

  • New title only: $20.
  • Title transfer: $15.
  • Duplicate title: $20.

The Department of Motor Vehicles accepts payment in the form of cash, debit/credit card, or money order or cashier check made payable to "DMV."

Forms

Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability - REG 138

Notifies the CA DMV that you have transferred or sold your vehicle so you are not held liable for what occurs with or in the vehicle while the buyer is registering the car in their name.

Statement of Facts - REG 256

You can use this form to provide additional information for other California DMV forms OR to correct information on existing CA DMV documents.

Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment Form - REG 262

Combination form for odometer disclosure, bill of sale, and power of attorney. Not available online. You must contact the California DMV for a copy.

Contact your local DMV

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