A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Sell a Car in California

Right now the car market is hot, with prices and demand higher than ever. Whether you’re ready to upgrade your current car and buy a new one or simply want to get rid of your extra car that spends too much time in the garage, now is a good time to sell a car. If you live in the Golden State and are selling your car on the private market as opposed to going to a dealership, you want to prepare ahead of time and learn how to sell a car in California. 

How to Sell a Car in California

Step 1: Get your paperwork in order 

Before selling your car, you want to get your paperwork in order and understand what documents you need to make the sale seamless. It’s more than just the car bill of sale in California. 

As the owner of the vehicle, you have the California Certificate of Title, that proves the car belongs to you. When you sell a vehicle, you’ll need to transfer the title to the individual buying your car. 

You’ll need: 

  • Your current vehicle title
  • The signature of the seller and lienholder, if applicable
  • The buyer’s signature 
  • To pay a transfer fee of $15 

You can send your paperwork to the DMV with your payment via mail to:

PO Box 942869
Sacramento, CA 94269

You could also stop by your local DMV office to process everything. 

If you don’t have your title, you’ll need to fill out the Application for Duplicate or Transfer of Title (REG 227). If there are errors in the title, you can use form Reg 101 Statement of Error or Erasure to remedy the issue. Other documents you may need as part of selling your car in California can include:

  • The Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment (REG 262) form, which you’ll need to get from the DMV as it’s not online — you can call 1-800-777-0133 to get it mailed to you — disclose the odometer reading on this form 
  • Car bill of sale (California DMV form)
  • Statement of Facts (REG 256), if you’re selling the vehicle to someone in your family 
  • Lien Satisfied/Title Holder Release (REG 166), if you still have a lien on the car, you’ll need it signed by the lienholder to be released and the form must be notarized 
  • Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability, which can be filled out online or mailed (REG 138) and notifies the DMV that you’re no longer responsible for any parking violations or infractions related to the car after the sale — must be completed within 5 days of sale 
  • Vehicle Emission System Statement (REG 139) – valid smog certification must take place within 90 days of the transfer 

Step 2: Get a valid smog certification 

In most cases, you’ll need to obtain a valid smog certification in order to sell a car in California. You’ll need to go to a STAR station, which sets the smog certification standards for California. You can use this tool to find a qualified smog check station. 

The smog certification is valid within 90 days, so you want to make sure it lines up with the timing of the sale. There are certain situations where you may not need a smog inspection. For example, if you have an electric vehicle, your car is less than eight years old or is from 1975 or older, you’re exempt from this process. 

Step 3: Get a vehicle inspection 

Your potential buyer will likely want to get a vehicle inspection to make sure everything is good to go with the car. Though the buyer pays for this process with a trusted mechanic, it’s still something you have to coordinate with the buyer. 

If the buyer doesn’t request an inspection, it can still be a good thing for you to do. If nothing else, make sure you get a CarFax report that shows your vehicle history, including any accidents and major issues. 

Step 4: Set a price range 

Learning how to sell a car in California is more than just paperwork. It’s about selling the car at a price that feels good for you. A price that makes it okay to part with your vehicle. 

As noted earlier, car appreciation has gone up so you want to check out a site like Kelley Blue Book to see what your car is worth these days. It’s a good idea to have a minimum price and maximum price in mind so you have a range to negotiate. 

Step 5: Post your car listing 

After gathering your paperwork, doing an inspection, and setting a price range it’s time to post your car listing and get your car sold! Make sure your vehicle is clean and you take nice photos that clearly show the outside and inside of the car. 

You could use Craigslist, OfferUp, Facebook Marketplace, AutoTrader, or any other site that allows you to sell your vehicle. 

You want to sell a car to make money but that doesn’t mean you won’t spend any money. You’ll need to pay any fees related to selling your car. The California DMV website states that you could be on the hook for the following fees:  

  • Duplicate title
  • Transfer
  • Use tax, based on the buyer’s county of residence
  • Registration
  • Penalties

As noted above, the transfer fee is $15. You can find out other potential fee costs here. All of the paperwork and fees must be paid within 10 days of the car sale date. 

Step 7: Fill out the necessary paperwork with the buyer 

When you have a buyer, you’ll need to collect payment and fill out the necessary paperwork with the buyer to make it official. 

You as the seller and the buyer need to fill out form REG 262 which is the Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment you need to get from the DMV ahead of time. 

If there is a lienholder, make sure you have the release form ready. You’ll then need to remove the license plates and you’ll both need to report the transfer of ownership to the DMV. 

Step 8: Submit all of your paperwork to make it official 

After filling out the necessary paperwork, you need to submit the transfer documents to the DMV. You can fill out the Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability online within 5 days of the sale. 

In order to complete the process, you’ll need to have the seller’s full name and address, the VIN number, and license plate numbers. Both you as the seller and the buyer need to formally submit documents and pay the required fees to make it official with the DMV. 

The bottom line 

Learning how to sell a car in California can be a process but it can be done with a bit of patience and persistence. Right now, you could get the most out of selling your car and put money back in your pocket. 

If you’re ready to upgrade and buy a new car or simply want to see about other options for car insurance, check out pay-per-mile car insurance, a more affordable way to protect yourself on the road. Grab a free quote to see how much you could save. 

Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer, podcast host of the Mental Health and Wealth show, and author of Dear Debt. She’s a cat mom to two jazzy cats, Miles and Thelonious, an amateur boxer, music lover, and needs coffee to function.