California Car Title Transfer and Registration

A transfer of title is a legal requirement when vehicle ownership changes in the state of California. The title transfer process comprises a number of steps including:

  • The title transfer document must be completed in full
  • Unless exempt, a smog check must be carried out on the vehicle
  • The required documents proving ownership must be provided for the CA DMV
  • The buyer of the vehicle must go to the DMV office in person
  • All taxes and the standard $15 transfer fee must be paid within 30 days

Buying Vehicles from Dealers

One of the benefits of buying from a dealer is that all the required paperwork and fees will be taken care of by the dealer on behalf of the buyer. However, it is still the responsibility of the buyer to ensure that all legal and administrative boxes have been ticked, before driving away in the vehicle.

Private Vehicle Sales

Those buying vehicles privately need to ensure that:

  • The title has been properly filled out by the seller
  • There is no lien on the vehicle
  • Unless exempt, the required odometer disclosure statement has been provided
  • The required smog check is completed
  • All taxes and the title transfer fee of $15 are paid to the DMV no more than 30 days after the date of the purchase

From taking possession of a new vehicle, you are required to inform the DMV of this within 10 days.

Vehicle Sales

If you are the party selling the vehicle, you will need to:

  • Ensure you have a signed copy of the vehicle title (duplicates can be applied for if necessary)
  • If necessary, the lien holder must also sign the title
  • For vehicles less than 10 years old, an odometer reading must be provided, signed and verified by the purchaser
  • Ensure you have carried out a smog check within the last 90 days
  • The seller must ensure that the purchaser has signed all necessary documents including the title
  • No more than 5 days following the date of the sale, a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability form REG 138 must be submitted.

Bill of Sale

Should it not be necessary to provide a verified odometer reading, the Vehicle Vessel Transfer Form (REG 262) can be replaced with a Bill of Sale (REG 135). The form should be filled out in full and given to the buyer, making sure you retain a copy for your own records.

A Vehicle Vessel Transfer Form (REG 262) is however required if you need to make a mileage disclosure. These forms are not available online, but must instead be picked up in person from your local DMV office.

Gifting a Vehicle

Vehicles that are passed on to others as gifts are divided into two classifications:

  • Donations or Gifts
  • Inheritance or Family

It’s largely the same process as that of a standard vehicle sale, though with a couple of slight differences.

If any toll or parking violations are outstanding, a vehicle cannot be gifted until they have been paid in full.

Inheritance or Family

Vehicles can be transferred to direct family members along with half, step and adopted members of the family, without having to pay use tax or submitting a smog test. Qualifying family members include Parents, Children, Grandparents, Grandchildren, Spouses, Siblings and Domestic partners.

In order to go about a family vehicle transfer, you must:

  • Give the recipient the completed and signed vehicle title
  • Ensure there is no outstanding lien or that the lienholder has signed the title
  • Provide odometer readings in the instance of a vehicle under ten years old
  • The title must be signed by the recipient of the vehicle
  • No more than 5 days from the date of the transfer, a Transfer and Release of Liability (REG 138) must be completed

Donation or Gift

For standard donations and gifts, the process is exactly the same as that of family inheritance with the exception of having to also provide proof of a recent smog check – no older than 90 days.

Vehicle Gift Recipients

In an instance where a family member receives a vehicle as a gift from another, smog testing and use tax are both waived. Those who do qualify as close family members (as listed above) will have to provide a smog check unless exempt, though will not be liable for use tax.

If a vehicle is passed on to you by a member of your family, you will need to:

  • Ensure that the title has been filled out properly by the person giving you the car
  • Check for outstanding lien
  • Add your signature to the title
  • If applicable, check that the odometer reading and disclosure has been provided
  • Arrange the necessary smog check (if required) and pay the $8 fee
  • Complete and submit a Statement of Facts (REG 256)
  • Submit the required paperwork and pay the $15 fee

Transfer fees are to be submitted to the DMV no more than 10 days following the date of the transfer.

Lien Removal

If it is necessary to remove lien from a vehicle in CA, a signed vehicle title will be mailed to you be the lienholder after all outstanding vehicle payments have been made. This must then be submitted to the DMV no more than 30 days after receiving it – a transfer fee of $15 is also payable.

The payment and documents should be sent to:

Department of Motor Vehicles
Vehicle Registration Operations
P.O. Box 942869
Sacramento, CA 94269-0001

Replacement Title

If you need to obtain a duplicate copy of your vehicle title, you can do so by contacting your local DMV office, or visiting in person. A small fee applies and you will be required to take along full identification.

Corrections and Information Updates

You are also required to ensure that when it comes to your personal information, any errors or required updates are addressed as promptly as possible. This must be done in person at your local DMV office.

Required Forms

The forms you will need for registering a vehicle in CA include:

  • Bill of Sale (REG 135)
  • Statement of Facts (REG 256)
  • Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability (REG 138)
  • Vehicle/Vessel Transfer (REG 262)

For the fastest and easiest way of tackling every type of vehicle title transfer, head over to Transfer My Auto to generate a free checklist of documents based on your circumstances!

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