How To Transfer a Car Title in Pennsylvania

Now might be a good time to sell your vehicle, given the rise in gas prices and the hot used car market. Whether you’re selling your car, buying a new one, or getting one as a gift, a title transfer must occur whenever there’s a change in ownership. In this guide, we cover how to transfer a car title in Pennsylvania. 

What is needed to do a Pennsylvania title transfer? 

To do a Pennsylvania title transfer, buyers and sellers will need to meet and exchange documents. In general, you’ll need:

  • A vehicle title (or other “proof of ownership” documents such as Manufacturer Certificate of Origin, out-of-state title, or court order) 
  • Application for Certificate of Title (Form MV-1)
  • Mileage 
  • Pennsylvania driver’s license
  • Proof of insurance 

What you need can vary based on whether you’re the party that is buying or selling, which we’ll go over below.

What is the Pennsylvania title transfer fee? 

According to PennDot, it costs $58 to do a Pennsylvania title transfer. The fee is the same whether getting an original title, duplicate title, or at a registered dealer. If there’s a lien on the vehicle, the cost will be $86. 

Does Pennsylvania have emission inspection requirements? 

The state of Pennsylvania requires an emission inspection plus a safety inspection once a year for most vehicles. The type of test may vary by county and the type of vehicle you have. 

For example, according to the DriveClean Pennsylvania FAQ sheet, the requirements in Philadelphia are as follows: 

  • Vehicles from 1996 and newer will need an OBD I/M check as well as a gas cap test each year
  • Vehicles from 1975 to 1995 will have emissions testing each year and will include: 
    • Tailpipe Tests
    • Tailpipe Tests Utilizing a Dynamometer
    • Gas Cap Tests and 
    • Visual AntiTampering Checks.

You can find emission information based on your region below, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT):

Pennsylvania has adopted California’s stricter emission requirements and is a CARB state

How to transfer a car title in Pennsylvania 

The process for transferring a car title in Pennsylvania can depend on the situation. Below are common instances where a title transfer will need to happen and what you need to do. 

Buying a car from a dealer 

Got a new set of wheels in PA from a dealer? The good news is that in this instance, the dealer will take care of the title paperwork for you. They’re responsible for sending the title application to PennDot. 

Buying a car from a private seller 

You might buy a used car from a private seller. In that case, you’ll need:

  • The Pennsylvania Certificate of Title (a paper one is required) 
  • Vehicle Sales and Use Tax Return/Application for Registration (Form MV-4ST)
  • PA driver’s license
  • Proof of insurance 

These documents must be processed by a PennDOT agent or an authorized Bureau of Motor Vehicle staff member to complete this process.  If the emission inspection isn’t up-to-date, as the buyer, you must get an inspection within 10 days of purchasing the vehicle. 

Selling a car 

When selling a car in Pennsylvania, you’ll need a paper title. That means if your title is held electronically, you need to get a paper copy before completing the title transfer process. 

You must sign the title and also handprint your full name and have it notarized. Write down the mileage on the vehicle. Then, take your documents and visit an authorized PennDOT agent who will verify your identity and require proof of ID. 

When the Pennsylvania title transfer is complete, remove the license plates and either transfer them to a new vehicle or send them to:

PennDOT at Bureau of Motor Vehicles

Return Tag Unit

 P.O. Box 68597

Harrisburg, PA 17106-8597

If the vehicle title is missing 

In order to sell a vehicle, you need a Pennsylvania car title. If you lost it, you need to apply for a duplicate title using Form MV-38O and pay $58. Check “Lost/Destroyed” and submit the document plus check or money order to:

PA Department of Transportation 

Bureau of Motor Vehicles 

P.O. Box 68593 Harrisburg, PA 17106-8593 

Transferring an out-of-state title 

Are you new to Pennsylvania and have an out-of-state title? Once you establish residency in the state, you’ll have 20 days to get a Pennsylvania car title and registration. To do this, you must have:

  • A Pennsylvania driver’s license (so get that first!) 
  • Your out-of-state title 
  • Application for Certificate of Title
  • Pennsylvania car insurance
  • VIN
  • Applicable fees 

As with other situations, to get a Pennsylvania car title you need to see an authorized PennDOT agent. Find a location near you here. 

A gifted vehicle 

There are times you might decide to give your old car to your son or daughter or a sibling in need. In that case, the process is similar to selling your vehicle. 

Each party will need to complete the vehicle title and the seller’s signature needs to be notarized. Since it’s a gift, you can list the price as zero or put “gift.” The recipient must submit a title application and pay any applicable fees. Both parties must fill out an Affidavit of Gift (Form MV-13ST)

Vehicle owner passes away 

What happens to a car when the vehicle owner passes away? It depends on if there is a will or not and whether it needs to go to probate, which means through court, to divide up the estate. 

If there’s a will and no probate 

If you have a will and are the heir to the vehicle, you may be able to avoid probate and get the vehicle by providing:

  • The will 
  • The title 
  • Form MV-39
  • Form MV-4ST, which aren’t available online and need to be filled out by an authorized agent  
  • Death certificate 
  • Any applicable fees 

If there’s a joint owner such as a spouse, an executor to the estate, or no will, find out further directions on how to proceed here. 

The bottom line 

When you move to Pennsylvania or buy or sell a car there, you need to get an updated Pennsylvania car title. In many of these cases, it’s not a simple task of doing it online but must be done with the assistance of PennDOT agents to assist you. 

So make sure you leave extra time to prepare. Figuring out how to transfer a car title in Pennsylvania and getting the documents ready is stressful enough. If you recently moved or are considering a change, now is a good time to switch car insurance carriers. For drivers who don’t get behind the wheel that often, pay-per-mile car insurance may help you with additional savings. Pay for insurance based on the miles you drive, so you get a fair rate that makes sense. Get a free quote

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.