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How Do You Transfer a Vehicle Title in California?

Need to transfer your vehicle title in California? Whether it’s because you just bought a car or received it as a gift, you’ll need to make sure you follow the Golden State’s rules for changing ownership in a timely manner. Read this guide for how to transfer your vehicle title, and enjoy your new car!

Selling/Buying a Vehicle From a Private Owner

Selling

Sellers must notify the California Department of Motor Vehicles of the transfer of vehicle ownership within 5 days of the sale. You can do this either online or by mailing a completed Notice of Transfer and Release Liability (Form REG 138). You will also be responsible for providing the buyer with the required documentation needed to complete the transfer. This includes:

  • The original car title (should be signed by the seller). If the person on the title is not the seller, you will also need to provide the bill of sale to prove that the car has changed ownership. If the title was lost, here’s how to get a new one.
  • Proof of smog certification (not required if the car is less than four years old and not diesel-powered).
  • Odometer mileage (if the car is less than 10 years old)

Please note: If the vehicle has had previous lienholders, you will need to get their signatures on the title. If the car has lien releases, you will need to provide a notarized Lien Satisfied/Legal Owner/Title Holder Release (Form REG 166). If the car is less than two years old, you must provide a duplicate vehicle title. 

Buying

Buyers must notify the California DMV  of the transfer of vehicle ownership within 10 days of purchase. Head to your local DMV with the following documentation and materials:

  • The original car title (should be signed by the seller). If the person on the title is not the seller, you will also need to provide the bill of sale to prove that the car has changed ownership.
  • Proof of smog certification (not required if the car is less than four years old and not diesel-powered).
  • Odometer mileage (if the car is less than 10 years old)
  • $15 vehicle title transfer fee. You will also be responsible for relevant taxes and fees.

You should receive your new car title once everything has been approved.

Giving/Received Vehicle as a Gift

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Green bow

Gifting

If you’re giving the vehicle as a gift or donating it to a charity, you must notify the California DMV of the change in ownership within 5 days of the gift date.You can do this either online or by mailing a completed Notice of Transfer and Release Liability (Form REG 138). You will also need to provide the recipient with the following documentation:

  • The original car title (should be signed by the gifter)
  • Proof of smog certification (this is not required if giving the car to a family member OR if the car is less than four years old and not diesel-powered)
  • Odometer mileage (if the car is less than 10 years old)

Please note: If the vehicle has had previous lienholders, you will need to get their signatures on the title. If the car has lien releases, you will need to provide a notarized Lien Satisfied/Legal Owner/Title Holder Release (Form REG 166). If the car is less than two years old, you must provide a duplicate vehicle title. 

Receiving

If you’re receiving the vehicle, you need to transfer the title and registration to your name within 10 days of the gift date. Head to your local DMV with the following documentation:

  • The original car title (should be signed by the gifter). 
  • Proof of smog certification (this is not required if giving the car to a family member OR if the car is less than four years old and not diesel-powered).
  • Odometer mileage (if the car is less than 10 years old)
  • A completed Statement of Facts (REG 256)
  • A completed Affidavit for Transfer without Probate (Form REG 5) (this is only needed for vehicles part of an inheritance) 
  • $15 transfer title fee
  • $8 smog transfer fee (if no smog certification was required) 

You should receive your new car title once everything has been approved.

Images sourced in order of appearance: Nathan Dumlao, Jon Tyson.

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