If a vehicle is changing hands in California, certain steps are required to transfer ownership. So whether you’re buying a car, selling a car, or receiving a hand-me-down vehicle from a family member, you need to do a California DMV title transfer to legally get the paperwork in order. Here’s how to transfer a car title in California and what you should know.
What is a car title and when do I need to transfer it?
A car title is a legal document that proves ownership of the vehicle. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, it includes:
- Full name and address of the legal owner of the vehicle
- The date the vehicle was registered
- Information about the lienholder, if the vehicle is financed
- Branded title information, such as “salvaged”
- Value of the vehicle
A California DMV title transfer needs to happen in the following situations:
- Buying a vehicle
- Selling a vehicle
- Inheriting a vehicle
- Donating or gifting a vehicle
- Car loan is paid off
What do you need for a California title transfer?
The California transfer title process requires some paperwork and prep work. According to the DMV, you’ll need:
- Your driver’s license
- Your license plate number
- Full name and address of the owner or the lienholder
- Car make, model, and year
- The purchase date and price of the vehicle
- The current California title (pro tip: If the title is missing, fill out Application for Replacement or Transfer of Title (REG 227))
- Signatures of the buyer, the seller, and lienholder (if applicable) — all signatures are required to do a California DMV title transfer
- Odometer reading (there are some exceptions though, such as the vehicle being 10 years old or more)
- Pay a transfer fee, which can vary
After compiling the paperwork, you can submit the title transfer documents and pay the fee via mail to:
PO Box 942869
Sacramento, CA 94269
It’s also possible to drop off paperwork at your local DMV and you can now do a California title transfer online here (yay, internet). It may take about a month for the DMV to review the paperwork and transfer the title.
Is a smog certification required when transferring title in California?
When transferring a title in California, a smog certification may be required in certain circumstances. For example, if you’re selling your vehicle a smog certification is necessary. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles website, a smog inspection is not required for the following vehicles:
- Gasoline-powered vehicle is a 1975 year model or older (This includes motorcycles and trailers.)
- Diesel-powered vehicle is a 1997 and older year model OR with a Gross Vehicle Weight of more than 14,000 pounds.
- Powered by natural gas and weighs more than 14,000 pounds.
- An electric vehicle.
- Gasoline-powered and less than eight model-years old.
If a smog inspection is required, you can find a spot to get one here.
How to do a California title transfer
If you need to transfer a car title in California, it needs to be reported to the DMV within 10 days. As noted above, this happens anytime car ownership changes hands.
To transfer a car title in California, you need the documents listed above. Make sure you have everything filled out and ready to make the process seamless. Additionally, the CA DMV states that the following forms may be required:
- Application for Replacement or Transfer of Title (REG 227)
- Statement of Facts (REG 256)
- Lien Satisfied/Title Holder Release (REG 166)
- Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability
- Smog certification
- Vehicle Emission System Statement (Smog) (REG 139)
- Declaration of Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW)/Combined Gross Vehicle Weight (CGW) (REG 4008)
- Affidavit for Transfer without Probate (REG 5)
- Bill of Sale (REG 135)
- Verification of Vehicle (REG 31)
Get the California Certificate of Title
To transfer a car title in California, you need the documents listed above. The most important part is having the California Certificate of Title. If you lost the title, you can fill out and submit the Application for Replacement or Transfer of Title (REG 227). Need the title ASAP? It may be possible to get rush title processing here, however, it’s currently not an option because of health and safety concerns.
Pay transfer fees
As part of transferring a car title in California, there may be transfer fees tacked on to complete the process. These fees may include:
- Registration fee
- Transfer fee
- Replacement title fee
- Use tax fee, which depends on where the buyer lives
- Potential penalty fees
Title transfer when buying a car in California
When you purchase a vehicle at a dealership, they generally handle the title paperwork for you. As part of that process, you’ll receive the car title via mail from the CA DMV.
If you purchase a vehicle from a private seller, they need to hand over the signed car title to prove they’re releasing ownership to you. Then, you must take the car title with the seller’s signature to your local DMV and ask them to transfer ownership.
Title transfer when selling a car in California
If you’re selling your vehicle in California, you need to have your title ready and signed for the buyer.
Additionally, you’ll need to provide an odometer reading on the title or use the Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment (REG 262) form. After that, you have a 5-day period to submit the Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability (NRL) online so you’re not responsible for the vehicle anymore.
What to do if you don’t have a California title
Title transfer in California if the owner has passed away
If you’re the rightful heir of a vehicle after the owner has passed away, it’s possible to transfer the title 40 days after the owner’s passing without going through probate or having the court involved. According to the DMV website, this is possible if the owner’s property value doesn’t exceed $166,250.
You’ll need to sign the title with the deceased owner’s name and sign the back. Additionally, you’ll need to provide a death certificate, odometer disclosure (if applicable), fill out and submit an Affidavit for Transfer without Probate (REG 5), and pay a transfer fee.
Dealing with an out-of-state title
If you moved to California, you’ll need to take your out-of-state title and register in California within 20 days of becoming a resident. As part of that process, you’ll need to fill out an Application for Title or Registration.
If you purchased a vehicle from another state, you’ll need to do an out-of-state title transfer in California. You’ll also need to fill out an application for the title and have the original out-of-state title as well, with the seller’s signature on it. Find out more info about the process and what’s allowed and what’s not.
Transfer title between family
Want to give your old car to your teenage son or another family member? Similar to the processes listed above, you need the title and have your signature and the family member’s signature to complete the California transfer title process.
You may also need to fill out a Statement of Facts (REG 256) form, do an odometer disclosure, and pay any necessary transfer fees.
The bottom line
Figuring out how to transfer a car title in California can be a process and one that varies if you’re buying or selling or receiving a gift. Take the necessary steps to transfer ownership and make the California title transfer official. Transferring ownership or getting a new car is a good time to reassess your car insurance needs. Low-mileage drivers can score savings by driving less and opting for pay-per-mile insurance. Grab your free quote and learn more about Metromile.
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.