The title to a car proves ownership. That’s true in California, and throughout the rest of the nation. If you are buying a car from a dealership, they will handle the transfer process and you don’t need to do anything (the bank will hold the title in this case, usually). However, if you’re buying a car from a private seller, gifting the car to another family member, or dealing with an inherited car, there are some things you’ll need to know about how to transfer a car title in California.
Steps for buyers
If you’re buying a vehicle from a private seller, follow these steps to ensure that the process goes smoothly.
- Verify that the seller has signed the title and completed all the required fields.
- Verify that any lienholders have signed the title.
- Check the odometer and match it to the odometer verification provided by the seller.
- Have the car’s emissions tested (smog check) if the car is over 4 years old. If the car is 4 years old or newer, you’ll need to pay an $8 smog check transfer fee.
- Take the documents to the DMV and pay the $15 transfer fee. You’ll also need to pay state taxes and fees. Note that you have only 30 days to do this, and you must notify the state government within 10 days of purchasing a vehicle.
- Not transferring the current smog check.
- Not notifying the DMV within 10 days of purchasing a vehicle.
Steps for sellers
Sellers have several specific steps that must be completed. They are as follows:
- Sign the car title and give it to the buyer.
- If any liens are against the car, have lienholders sign off before giving the title to the buyer.
- If the car is less than 10 years old, complete the Vehicle/Vessel Title Transfer Form, which is only available through the California DMV and must be obtained in person (it cannot be printed at home). You can also call 800-777-0133 to have one mailed.
- Provide the buyer with current smog check certification.
- Submit the Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability form within 5 days of selling the vehicle to a buyer.
- Not completing a release of liability.
Gifting a vehicle
In the state of California, you are able to give your car away as a donation or as a gift. As a gift, you are limited to transferring the vehicle without the need for a new smog check to be completed to qualifying family members, which include parents, grandparents, spouses or domestic partners, children, and grandchildren. All other steps are the same as for regular buyers and sellers. However, the person receiving the gifted vehicle will need to complete a Statement of Facts for use with their taxes.