How to transfer a car title

Woman doing a car title transfer at car dealershipImage: Woman doing a car title transfer at car dealership

In a Nutshell

Selling your car? You’ll need to transfer your car title to the buyer. Here’s what you need to know to make this process as easy as possible.

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Whether it’s bittersweet or just a relief to sell your car, offloading your old wheels requires some paperwork — including transferring the car title to the new owner.

The process for transferring a car title varies by state, but generally involves a handful of steps. You can’t just hand it over.

Let’s take a look at how to transfer a car title, as well as what issues may arise, so you can get it done as quickly and easily as possible.



What is a car title, and why do you need to transfer it?

A car title is proof of vehicle ownership. When a car is sold, the new owner needs the car title in order to establish ownership and register the vehicle.

How do you transfer a car title?

The process of transferring a car title varies slightly by state. The American Automobile Association has a handy list of title transfer laws by state, but it’s also a good idea to visit your local DMV or transportation agency website to verify what’s required where you live.

Generally, though, how you start the process can depend on how you go about selling your car, whether to a private party or to a dealer either for cash or as a trade-in.

If a private seller buys your car: You’ll need to fill out a title certificate, which may include listing the odometer reading, disclosing any damage and signing your name.

If you have a loan on your car: Your lender may hold the title, and you may need to contact it about next steps. Typically, once you pay off the loan, the bank will send you the title. Then, the bank will usually need to send your state’s transportation agency (like the Department of Motor Vehicles) a letter showing the loan has been paid and that the lien is satisfied.

Signing and transferring a car title

To transfer a car title to the new owner, you’ll need the physical title document. Then …

Sign the release. You’ll need to sign as instructed on the title as the seller to release ownership of the vehicle. Check to make sure any previous owners have also signed. Your signature may need to be notarized, so be sure to check your state’s requirements. Fill in the purchase date and price you’re selling the car for.

Transfer ownership. To transfer ownership, the buyer will typically need to fill out an application for a title with their state’s transportation agency. The buyer may also need to get a safety and/or emissions certificate.

The new buyer typically has a limited amount of time to transfer the title to their name. For example, in Washington state the title transfer should be completed within 15 days, otherwise the buyer may be charged additional fees.

Other required paperwork

In most cases, once you’ve filled out the title with the appropriate information, you’ll also need a bill of sale listing your vehicle’s sale price, along with the buyer’s title application. Each party can mail their paperwork to the appropriate transportation agency office, but it’ll be faster if you file the paperwork in person.

If you sell your car to a dealership, dealers aren’t required to change the title to the dealer’s name in some states — so the vehicle technically remains in your name until it’s sold to a private individual. In such cases, you may need to file a Vehicle Transfer Notification form with your state’s DMV showing that you’ve sold the vehicle to a dealer.

Transferring it online

In most cases, you’ll be required to either file your paperwork in person at the state’s DMV or mail it.

The state of California allows residents to start the process online at NeedTags.com, but they’ll still need to mail the paperwork.

How much does a car title transfer cost?

The cost to transfer your title varies by state, but here are a few examples: Alaska and Michigan charge a $15 to $16 fee, while Minnesota charges about $8 and Connecticut charges $25. There may also be sales tax.

Additionally, in some states, transferring a title between immediate family members may reduce the fee or exempt you from taxes.

Potential challenges with car title transfers

If you’re buying or selling a car out of state or if you can’t find your original title, you may have to navigate a few more steps to the title transfer process.

For out of state plates, you may need to verify the vehicle’s identification number, or VIN — and fees may be slightly different.

If you can’t find your current title, most states allow you to request a duplicate. Again, though, that’ll probably cost an additional fee.

Keep in mind that if the car title isn’t properly transferred to the buyer’s name, depending on the state, you may be held responsible for any fees or crimes associated with the car, like tolls, tickets and more. The state of Texas recommends going with the buyer to the DMV to ensure the car title is filed properly.


Bottom line

Now that you’ve got all your ducks in a row, you’re ready to head to your local transportation agency with the proper paperwork to make sure you’ve legally and properly handed off your car to its new owner.


About the author: Lyn Mettler is an Indianapolis-based writer specializing in finance, food and travel. She is the author of “The Step-by-Step Guide to Flying Free on… Read more.