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What to know about transferring a car title

So, you’ve sold your car — or you’re buying a used one from a friend. You might think the transaction’s complete once the money changes hands. But there’s one more crucial step: you need to transfer the car title.

When you buy, sell, give away, or receive a used car as a gift, the title must be transferred to the new owner. If you go through a dealership, they’ll handle all the paperwork. But in private transactions, you’re responsible. It’s not difficult, but it involves a lot of steps and gathering of information.

Here’s what you need to know.

What to know about transferring a car title

Confused as to when exactly you’ll need to transfer a car title? Here’s the breakdown.

Buying or selling a used car

This applies to sales and purchases by individuals. If you bought a new car from a dealership, you don’t need to worry about the title transfer. The dealership will take care of that for you.

Receiving a car as a gift

Uncle Vern gifted you a car — lucky you!! Just make sure the title’s in your name. You’re not technically the owner until that’s complete.

Getting new license plates

Did you move or get vanity plates? Were your previous plates lost or stolen? If any of these apply, you’ll need a new title.

Lost or damaged original title

If the original title for your car somehow got lost or damaged, you’ll need to get a new one. That being said, keep the title in a safe place with other important documents (NOT in the car’s glove box!).

What you need to transfer a car title

Every state has  different requisites for how to transfer a car title. Be sure to verify what’s needed with your local DMV so you’re prepared in advance.

Common requirements

Again, confirm with your state beforehand to see what it expects, but these are some common requirements when transferring a car title:

  • A completed application for Certificate of Title or Registration (or something similar). Normally this is a form specifying the buyer’s and seller’s information, selling price, type of sale, and any other costs.
  • Title transfer fees. These can be paid by the buyer or the seller, so it’s best to work out in advance who will pay those fees.
  • A damage disclosure. Sometimes the seller must share details of any existing vehicle damage or end up on the hook for future repairs.
  • The current odometer reading.
  • A completed bill of sale. This varies from state to state, so confirm in advance if this is needed.
  • A current smog check. Again, this is state-dependent requirement.

Info contained in a car title

Once you’ve determined all your state or local requirements and gathered the necessary documentation, make sure you have a few final details, like what’s exactly contained in a car title.

  • Legal name
  • Mailing or physical address
  • The car’s vehicle identification number (VIN)
  • The car’s year, make, model and color
  • The license plate number
  • The mileage

Once you have everything you need, go ahead and complete the transaction for the sale of the car. In three steps, you’ll have a new car in your name, or be rid of your old one!

  1. Fill out a bill of sale.
  2. Exchange funds.
  3. Transfer the title and submit paperwork at the DMV (check with your local branch for the exact process).


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