In the state of California, when you buy or sell a privately owned motor vehicle, the DMV must be informed of the change of ownership by a seller within 5 days and by a buyer within 10 days of the sale. The title must then be fully transferred by the buyer within 30 days or penalties could be assessed. If you’ve inherited, donated, or received a vehicle as a gift, the process of transferring the title is similar to buying and selling a vehicle but differs in certain aspects. Similarly, if you are bringing in a vehicle from out-of-state, you will find that the fees and forms needed are generally the same, still with some differences.
Transferring Ownership of a Motor Vehicle
In order to complete a California title transfer for a motor vehicle that’s being bought or sold, you will need to follow the procedures listed below and have the proper forms ready:
- Complete a Notice of Release of Liability form (REG 138). This release of liability can also be done online. The NRL will protect the existing owner of the vehicle from civil or criminal liability involving the vehicle once the new owner begins to operate it. Since the title transfer process may happen days after the car is handed over to the new owner, this is an important form for every seller to complete.
- The California Certificate of Title must be signed by the buyer, seller, and if any exist(ed), a lien holder’s signature as well. If the Certification of Title is lost, then an Application for Duplicate or Paperless Title (REG 227) will be need to be completed by the seller and the buyer.
- Smog certification (unless the vehicle is exempt). New smog inspections are not required if the seller obtained one within the last 90 days or one or more of the following applies to the vehicle:
|Diesel or gas powered vehicles from(1975 or older)||Vehicles with two-cycle engine||Off highway vehicles (OHV) and golf carts|
|Diesel or natural gas powered vehicles(more than 14,001 lbs.)||Motorcycles and mopeds||Vehicles assigned Historical Vehicle license plates|
|Hybrid or electric powered vehicles||Trailers and special equipment vehicles||Cranes, cement mixers, street-sweepers, and forklifts|
- Odometer Mileage Reading
- For vehicles under 10 years old, the odometer mileage reading must be listed on the title and signed by both the seller the buyer. If you do not have the title or the title you have does not have a place or space for it, then you must fill out a Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment Form (REG 262). This form is only available by visiting your local California DMV office or by calling 1-800-777-0133 and having one mailed to your residence. This form will also serve as the bill of sale.
- If the vehicle is more than 10 years old, an odometer disclosure is not required but it is recommended by the state.
- A Bill of Sale form (REG 135) is required. If you were required to use REG 262 to report the odometer mileage reading, this form serves as both the bill of sale and the odometer disclosure.
- The transfer fee of $15 must be paid as well as the use tax which varies based on the county/city of residence of the new owner. Additionally, the new owner must pay to have the vehicle registered and licensed in their name. The plate the previous owner held may be transferred if the previous owner so chooses.
Inheriting, Donating, and Gifting Vehicles
The process of transferring the title for reasons other than a purchase or sale, is basically the same as what is outlined above. You will have 30 days from the date of change of ownership to pay your transfer fees and submit the necessary documentation to the California DMV.
However, smog tests and usage taxes are not required if the vehicle is being transferred between qualifying family members. In cases where the vehicle is being gifted, donated, or inherited by someone other than a qualifying family member, a smog certification could be required if a smog test has not been done within the last 90 days or one is due. Qualifying family members who would be exempt from paying the usage tax and obtaining smog certification upon transfer include:
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The list above also includes step, half, and adopted family members. However, family members who are not included in this list will need to complete a California title transfer in accordance to the process outlined for those buying or selling a vehicle. In the case of a transfer where the owner of the vehicle is deceased, the REG 262 form is needed which must be picked up a local DMV office or a person must call 1-800-777-0133 to request that one be mailed to them. Additionally, transfers between family members will require a Statement of Facts form (REG 256) be filled out.
Remove a Vehicle Lien
Before you can transfer the title on a vehicle being sold, you need to have any liens that may exist lifted. Buyer Beware!; Any liens that exist on a vehicle once you have transferred it to your name, become your responsibility. A lien may exist on a vehicle for the following reasons:
- You financed your vehicle and still owe money to the dealer or financial institution whom you borrowed the money from. Until the debt is complete paid, this entity is the legal owner of the vehicle. Once all the payments have been made, you will receive a signed vehicle title in the mail from the lienholder. Once you receive this document, send it along with a $15 transfer fee to your local DMV within 30 days. You will then receive an updated title in the mail with your name as the owner and this type of lien removed
- If a company has repaired, towed, stored, or furnished supplies or materials for your vehicle and they have not been paid for the services and/or products provided, they may issue a lien against your vehicle. In order to remove the lien, a satisfactory financial agreement must be reached with the lien holder and they must sign the title with notarization for it to be transferred to a new owner.
Vehicles Brought Into California from another State
When you buy a vehicle from out of state or you move to California and bring your vehicle with you, you will need:
- A Title or Registration Application Form (REG 343) signed by all owners registered on the vehicle.
- If the registered owner of the vehicle is changing (in the case of buying a vehicle from out of state), you’ll need the out-of-state title
- The last issued out-of0state registration or the most recent renewal notice sent for the current year showing the vehicle owner’s names and the registration expiration date
- A completed Vehicle Verification form (REG 31) filled out band signed by a DMV employee (no charge), a law enforcement officer, or a private and licensed vehicle verifier
- A smog test and certification from an approved California smog station for gasoline powered-vehicles from 1976 or newer (excluding motorcycles), diesel powered vehicles from 1998 or newer under 14,0001 lbs., and natural gas or propane powered vehicles under 14,001 lbs
- You will be required to hand in your out-of-state license plate unless the plate is expired, the state which it is licensed in requires that you return it, or if it will be an inter-state registered vehicle
- Payment of the appropriate fees to transfer the title and license and register the vehicle will be required
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