How To Transfer the Title of Your Car
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How To Transfer the Title of Your Car

By Jason Collins | October 18, 2021

A vehicle title is a formal document declaring ownership of a car, mobile home, trailer, or truck. Sometimes a vehicle's title may be called the "pink slip," however, it isn't always pink anymore.

Regardless of the color of the certificate of title, your state's department of motor vehicles or DMV is responsible for issuing one. When you sell your car, the vehicle's title needs to be legally transferred to the new owner so they can complete the registration process in their home state. The ownership of a car is released once the title transfer is signed and completed.

Whether you are buying a car or selling one, it is crucial to understand what a title transfer is, how the process works, and where to complete a transfer title. This article provides a basic guide into the transfer title of cars.

How a Car Title Transfer Works

Transferring a car title to another owner is a relatively standard process throughout the country; however, exact laws vary by state for title application, so ensure you confirm the process with your local DMV first.

We look at the process in general and what documents you require to transfer a title legally.

Title Transfer to a New State

If you move after purchasing your vehicle or buy a car from out of state, you need to transfer the car title to your home state and start a new registration for your car.

Before visiting your local DMV, ensure you have the following paperwork ready:

  • Your proof of address.
  • New license and license plate .
  • Complete the forms necessary for your state - you can find them online through your state's DMV website.
  • Registration documents and a signed vehicle title.
  • Valid driver's license and identification card.
  • Pay the title fees and registration fees.
  • You may need to provide proof of auto insurance.
  • Any other documents which may apply, including an original or certified copy of a power of attorney, personal representative papers, etc.

The process is relatively simple, requiring you to hand over the out-of-state title in exchange for an in-state title. However, depending on where you live, you may need to have an approved state verifier complete a VIN verification, such as a law enforcement officer in Florida or CHP in California. Some states may require an emissions inspection test.

Buying or Selling a Car

Buying a vehicle from a dealership is simpler than purchasing a car from a private seller because a dealership will provide you with the signed title and coordinate the rest of the paperwork and required documents, like the odometer disclosure.

Buying a vehicle from a private party is more complex since you must handle the vehicle registration and title transfer yourself. If the seller has full ownership of the vehicle, the steps are slightly more accessible than if the car was still financed. In the case of a fully paid car, you just need the owner to complete the seller's section of the title and provide you with the bill of sale. You will then take those documents to your local DMV.

What a Seller Should Know

To ensure a smooth title transfer, the seller should provide the following:

  • A copy of the certificate of title confirming lien and proof of ownership.
  • Provide a signed title: The seller must assign the title to the new owner and provide a notarized signature (if necessary).
  • Their contact information for a quick response to queries.
  • Some states may require the seller to provide basic vehicle information, such as the purchase price and current odometer reading.

If the bank or lender's name (the lien holder) appears on the seller's title, the seller has to settle their auto loan before legally selling the motor vehicle.

What a Buyer Should Know

As the vehicle buyer, you are responsible for completing the transfer of ownership and the title transfer. The requirements for a car title transfer vary by state and sometimes by municipality too.

The office which handles car titles is called different things in different states too, for instance:

  • Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
  • The Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV).
  • State/ County Title Office.

To complete a title transfer, buyers will need to supply the following required documents to their state department:

  • Completed application for Certificate of Title or Registration, or something similar to that document. It is typically a lengthy form detailing the buyer's and seller's information, purchase price, type of sale, and the required fees.
    Proof of identification: You can provide your driver's license and ID card as proof of identity. Some states may request a certified copy of your driver's license or ID card.

  • Pay the related fees and provide proof of payment: You will need to cover the title fees and registration fees. Your sales tax and use tax will also need to be paid.

  • Damage Disclaimer: You may need to disclose details of any damage to the vehicle; otherwise you may find yourself liable for future repairs to an old problem.
    Odometer disclosure: You will need to note the current odometer reading on the vehicle at the time of sale.

Completed bill of sale: Not all states require a completed bill of sale in addition to the signed car title, but it's recommended.

Additional vehicle information:

  • An emissions inspection: In some states, a smog check is necessary.

  • Proof of insurance cover: In most states, you may need to provide proof of auto liability insurance. Liability insurance is a type of car insurance coverage that is required by law in most states.

  • In some states, the DMV allows you to give a general or a limited Power of Attorney to a family member or trusted friend if you need them to handle your title and registration on your behalf. You will need to supply an original or certified copy of the power of attorney or personal representative papers in this case.

Remember that if you are financing the vehicle - either because there is an existing lien from the original purchase or because you have taken an auto loan to pay the seller, the lienholder must be added to the car's title. You can do this yourself, or you can ask your local DMV for assistance. You also need to notify your insurance company if you have purchased a car, especially if there is a lien because it will impact your interest rates.

What if you Lose the Original Title?

What happens if you go through the entire title transfer process only to lose the original certificate of title? You can replace it if it was lost, destroyed, or stolen and may need to take along an affidavit to confirm what happened to the original title.

To obtain a duplicate title from the DMV, online or in person, you will need the following information:

  • Vehicle information, including the make, model, and model year.
  • VIN of the car.
  • Your driver's license.
  • Any loan information.
  • Payment of the duplicate title fees.

What is a Vehicle Title?

One of the most important documents you own is the certificate of title of your vehicle. Car titles are especially important when buying or selling a motor vehicle since it acts as definitive proof of ownership and that you are legally entitled to sell it. State Motor Vehicle Departments usually require an original title to be present, regardless of whether you are selling, donating, or salvaging a vehicle.

Today, both paper and electronic car titles are valid and legal forms of the document.

A title transfer occurs most often when a vehicle is bought or sold; however, other situations may require a title transfer, including a name change due to marriage or divorce.

A vehicle title displays the following standard information:

  • The vehicle ownership (who owns the car, including the owner's name and address).
  • The lienholder information (if you purchase a car with a lien against it, the lienholder's information will be on the title).
  • The vehicle identification number (VIN) .
  • The vehicle's license plate number.
  • The mileage at the time of sale (the odometer reading).
  • The vehicle information (make and model, and model year).
  • Technical information, such as gross weight of the motor vehicle.

There are some exemptions in certain states for vehicles that do not require a title. For instance, in Connecticut, any trailer with a gross weight less than 3,000 pounds does not require a certificate of title, and mopeds are an exemption in Florida.

Types of Car Titles

There are four types of brands of car motor vehicle titles, although the wording may differ from one state to another:

  • Clean title: The car is in good shape structurally and mechanically.
  • Clear title: There is no debt listed against the car
  • Salvage title: A wrecked car will carry a salvage title, and you will consequently have trouble getting auto insurance for a salvage vehicle.
  • Rebuilt or Reconstructed: If you repair a salvaged car and it is safe enough to drive again, the title will change to rebuilt or reconstructed.