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Selling your car involves more than taking some photos, allowing someone to test-drive it, and then agreeing on a price. You also need to transfer the car’s title as part of the transaction.

A car’s title is the legal document that provides proof of ownership of the vehicle. In addition to the owner’s name and address, the title includes the vehicle identification number (VIN) and license plate number, the car’s mileage at the time of the sale, and its year, make, and model.

In order for someone to have legal ownership of the vehicle, the title must be transferred into their name. This article will explain what you need to know to transfer a car title.

Car Title Transfer Process

Although there are some similarities, the details of the car title transfer process vary somewhat from state to state. You can find out what the specific steps are in your state by visiting your local DMV website.

In a general sense, however, the title transfer depends on who is buying your car – a private party or a car dealer. Other factors involved with the transfer include whether you own the car outright or have a loan on it or if you co-own the car with someone else.

In most private party cases, the buyer will need a vehicle bill of sale listing the sale price along with a title transfer application. The buyer can file the paperwork in person at the state’s DMV office or mail it. Some states allow at least part of the process to happen online.

If you sell your car to a dealership, the vehicle usually remains in your name until it’s sold to a private individual. In some states, you may need to submit a Vehicle Transfer Notification form that shows you’ve sold the vehicle to a dealer. Many states allow you to complete this contract online.

How to Know if a Car Title is Transferable

Before you even put your car up for sale, you should make sure the title is transferable. Examine the title. If your name, and only your name, is listed as the owner, then you have the legal rights to sell the vehicle to someone else.

If another person is listed on the title – such as a spouse or other family member – you will need their signature on the title before you can transfer the ownership.

If a financial institution is listed on the title, you will need to contact them to find out their requirements for the transfer of the title.

Types of Vehicle Title Transfer

Here is a run-down of the different types of car title transfers you might encounter in a used car transaction.

Simple Transfer

In many situations, the title transfer is a simple and straightforward process. There is a box on the back of most titles that includes the date of sale, sales amount, and the odometer reading at the time of sale. When you own a car outright, all you need to do is complete and sign the title certificate.

The buyer then must take the amended title to their local DMV office to officially transfer ownership.

States set their own timelines for how long after the sale this task must be accomplished without the possibility of late fees. For example, California sets 10 days as the limit, while New York allows 30 days.

Read more: How to get a car title with only a bill of sale

Transfer with a Lender

If you took out a loan to buy your car and still owe money on it, there is a lien on your vehicle. You will need to contact your financial institution to find out their title transfer rules.

You may need to pay all or a more significant part of the loan before you can transfer the title. Or the lienholder may agree to the new owner taking responsibility for the loan.

Transfer with a Dealership

If you are selling your car to a dealer for cash or as part of a trade-in for a new car, you will be transferring the title to a dealership rather than an individual.

In some states, the dealer is not required to amend the title until it sells the car to another person. In this case, it’s best to notify the local DMV that you have sold the car to a dealership. That way, you will not be responsible for any problems that might occur with the vehicle while it is with the dealer.

Transfer Out of State

If you are selling your car to someone in another state, the title transfer can involve a few more steps, such as verifying the VIN. The VIN is printed on the title, and you can find it inside the driver’s side door on your auto insurance information.

It’s a good idea to provide an out-of-state buyer with a bill of sale that includes the date, your name and address, the buyer’s name and address, the car’s VIN and license plate number, and its current odometer reading.

Your title may have out-of-state instructions printed on the back of the document. However, the buyer should check with their local DMV to see if there are any other requirements their state requires for the legal transfer.

Although there are some similarities, the details of the car title transfer process vary somewhat from state to state. You can find out what the specific steps are in your state by visiting your local DMV website.

What to Do If the Title is Lost

You need the original car title to complete a legal transfer of ownership. If your original title is lost, you will need to apply and pay the fee for a replacement title before you put your car up for sale.

States vary in how they handle these requests and how long fulfilling the requests take. Contact your local DMV to find out their requirements for getting a duplicate title.

How Much Does It Cost to Transfer a Car Title?

Title transfer fees -- like other aspects of the process – vary from state to state. The buyer is the one who pays this fee when they register the vehicle in their name.

The title transfer fee ranges from $5 in Hawaii to $164.50 in Wisconsin. California charges $15 as its title transaction fee, and New York charges $50.

Check with your state DMV to find out what your state charges. In some instances, you may qualify for a reduced fee if the car is a gift.

As you can see, the car title transfer process can be easy or require a few more steps, depending on your situation. No matter whether you have a simple title transfer or a more complicated one, a bill of sale can help streamline the process. It is always helpful for both buyer and seller to have a written record of the transaction. You can visit lawdistrict.com to create a professional-looking car bill of sale in just a few minutes.


Create your Car Bill of Sale Now

Helpful Resources:
Title transfer and changes - DMV
Transfer ownership - DMV