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What is a Pink Slip for a Car?

By Autolist Staff | May 8, 2019

Your Car's Pink Slip — Or the Title to Your Car

Your car's pink slip — more officially known as your certificate of title — is the legal document that establishes that you own your vehicle. Your state's Department of Motor Vehicles issues the car title to the vehicle's legal owner. When the ownership of the vehicle is transferred from one owner to another — as when you sell your car to someone else or when you make the final payment on your vehicle — a new certificate of title, or pink slip, must be issued to document the change of ownership.

Why Is It Called a "Pink Slip"?

Until 1988, California certificates of title were called "pink slips" because they were printed on pink paper. That was a handy mnemonic since the title slips otherwise looked identical to the annual car registration documents — Knowing the title was printed on pink paper kept owners from tossing the car title away as if it were an outdated vehicle registration.

Because the state of California has traditionally been home to more cars than any other state (with nearly twice as many as Texas, which is next in line), the popular slang term became widely known. The phrase "pink slip" also spread through the movies — In the 1950s, a whole string of movies depicted illegal street races in which the winner won the pink slip of the loser's car, referring to this as "racing for pinks" or "racing for pink slips." Eventually, the phrase stuck as a common way to refer to a car's title.

What Information Does a Pink Slip Include?

Each state has its own requirements regarding what must be included on the vehicle title, but there's a great deal of overlap. Typically you can expect your certificate of title to state:

  • The name of the car's legal owner; if there's a car loan on the vehicle, this should include the lienholder or lender
  • The car's registered owner, who is usually the person using the vehicle (if there's no loan on the vehicle, the car's registered owner and legal owner are typically the same)
  • The vehicle identification number
  • The car's make, model, and year of manufacture
  • The car's license plate number
  • The car's purchase price, its weight, and other tax-related information
  • The car's mileage at the time of sale

How Do You Transfer a Vehicle's Title to a New Owner?

Both the seller and buyer are involved in any transfer of a car's title — the seller signs the pink slip to release ownership and transfer it to the new owner. Typically there's a place on the back of the certificate designed for the transfer of title. Often the back of the pink slip also contains directions for transferring title. The new owner also has to sign the back of the pink slip to make the transfer official.

In some states, you may have to have the signed pink slip notarized. Other states require a bill of sale or additional paperwork to finalize the transfer of title.

If you're buying a new car or a used car from a car dealer, the dealer typically takes care of all this paperwork. You take possession of your new car once you've paid for it (or made payment arrangements by arranging for a car loan), at which time you get a temporary certificate of title. Your state's DMV then mails you the vehicle title.

If you're selling your car to a private party (or buying a car from a private party), you need to transfer the title yourself.

What's the Buyer's Role in the Transfer of Title?

After the seller has signed the certificate of title, the buyer delivers the signed pink slip to their state's Department of Motor Vehicles. The buyer must now re-register the vehicle in their name (or the name of the new owner, if buying the car for another person). As a buyer, depending on your state, you may have to complete a separate transfer of ownership form. You can do this in person at the DMV, or you may be able to handle much of the process online. In some cases, a branch of the American Automobile Association can facilitate some of the paperwork.

The DMV then begins the process for issuing a new certificate of title. First, you'll receive temporary registration, and the new certificate of title, bearing the name of the new owner, will be sent by mail.

What Do You Do If More Than One Person Is Listed on the Vehicle Title?

Take a look at your vehicle title before you get ready to transfer ownership. If your name is the only one on the title, you're the sole owner of the car. In this case, the transfer of ownership is simple and straightforward.

You may jointly own your car with someone else, perhaps your spouse, parent, or child. Now you have to take a closer look at how the names are written. If your name is connected to the other owner's name with the word "or," either of you can sign the car title to transfer ownership. However, if the word "and" connects your names, both of you must sign the title for the transfer to be legitimate.

If you have a car loan on your vehicle, the lienholder (the bank, credit union or another lender) will be listed on the title. In this case, you have to pay off the auto loan (or transfer it to the new owner, if possible) before you can sell the car and transfer the title. In this case, give your lender a call and ask for their help in handling the transaction. They can tell you what requirements they have before you transfer ownership.

What If You Can't Find Your Pink Slip?

If you've lost your pink slip or it's been permanently damaged somehow, you need to replace it before you transfer ownership of your vehicle. Without your certificate of title, you have no tangible proof of ownership.

Each state mandates a different process for getting a duplicate title certificate. You may need to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles, provide details about the car, do some paperwork, and pay a fee for a new pink slip. It's possible you may be able to apply for a duplicate title online or even by phone.

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