Time Needed : An hour, Difficulty : Easy, Cost : $20+

In the movies, swapping ownership of a car seems so easy. Two overly confident people make a life-altering bet, they race, the loser hands over a piece of paper to the winner without signing anything, and the car goes home with somebody new. In reality, it’s a bit more complicated, but it’s nothing to get stressed out about.

That’s why we’re here to teach you how to transfer a car title . As long as you know about what documentation is involved, and what your individual state requires, it can be a very easy process. Preparation is key, so we’ll tell you everything you should gather.

The Documentation You Need

Before you even buy or receive the car, it’s a good idea to have important identity documentation ready, such as:

  • Driver’s license
  • Birth certificate
  • Social Security card
  • Proof of residence (utility bill, mortgage statement, copy of lease)

One, two, or three of those might not be necessary, depending on the state. It’s good to be prepared. Then, the more sale or ownership transfer documentation, the better:

  • The car’s title from the seller (often called the pink slip) with identifying info and signature or an application for transfer or replacement of the title (this form varies by state)
  • Proof of insurance
  • A copy of a sales contract with both signatures (usually optional, but highly recommended)
  • Ensure that if your state requires certified or notarized documents, those are taken care of (check the DMV website)
  • Proof of recent emissions testing (depending on the state)

Also, be sure you have all the necessary info about the car, such as the vehicle license plate number, vehicle identification number ( VIN ), legal owner (or lienholder) name and address, vehicle make/model/year, purchase date and price, as well as the mileage at the time of sale or transfer.

Make Sure Emissions Are Clear

In some states, emissions status is involved in the title transfer process. Ensure you’ve met all requirements for your state’s emissions and (if applicable) safety inspections and prepare the documentation needed to prove the car is good to go.

What To Know About Fees and Payment

If you purchased the vehicle, depending on your state, you might have to pay various fees, as well as sales tax. Figure sales tax is anywhere from 8-11 percent (or more) of the purchase price, so budget accordingly. Your state’s DMV website will have all of these figures available (and sometimes include convenient calculators) so you’ll know how what to bring for payment. Be sure you know what forms of payment that the DMV accepts. Some might not accept certain credit cards or take debit purchases.

How To Transfer a Car Title

This is the typical process for transferring a car title . Follow these steps, and you should be all square.

  1. Peruse your state’s DMV website and see what exactly is needed to transfer a car title.
  2. If possible, make an appointment with the DMV for a quick and painless visit.
  3. If it’s a circumstance that involves taking ownership of a deceased person’s vehicle, have the driver’s license (even if it’s expired), an original or certified copy of the death certificate, the deceased’s title, and any other documents that your state’s DMV requires.
  4. Present all documentation in a clean and organized fashion to the clerk, be friendly, and they might have additional questions for you.
  5. If you already own the car, but you’re transferring a car title from another state, important documentation like the car’s sale receipt, as well as your residential information, will most likely be asked for.
  6. Prove your emissions status, if necessary.
  7. Make your payment.
  8. Once everything checks out and all fees are paid, it typically takes a few weeks for the state to send you a fresh new title with your name on it.
  9. License plates usually transfer as well. Or, you might just receive new plates with your new registration, it depends on the state.
  10. Make sure the vehicle is insured in your name, too!

FAQs About Car Titles

We want to try to answer any questions you have. We’ve selected common points of confusion from our experience, as well as commonly asked questions from popular search results. We answered those questions below.

Q: I was gifted a car, meaning the cost was free-ninety-nine, do I still have to pay sales tax?

A : Usually you won’t, but check with your local government. Furthermore, gifts like these are usually only allowed between spouses or relatives.

Q: Does the seller need to fill out and submit something that releases them of liability?

A : Yes, but that’s their concern.

Q: Sales tax is expensive where I live, should I just fudge some numbers and put a lower figure?

A : Don’t lie. If the state finds out, or even potentially audits you, you could face fines and fees.

Q: Wait, so all I really might need is just a signed piece of the title from the seller to prove I bought the car fair and square?

A : It depends on the state, but yup! Again, be sure to read your state’s DMV site thoroughly.

Q: What sort of steps should I take to make sure I’m not buying a stolen car?

A : Always make sure the title matches the seller’s name on the driver’s license, and that the vehicle’s VIN matches the VIN on the title.

Q: I have a salvage or rebuilt title, can I still expect a smooth process at the DMV?

A : Read up on the DMV’s website. The state might require a special safety inspection to ensure the vehicle is roadworthy.

Q: I bought a car from someone who had a loan on it. How should I prepare for the DMV?

A : Make sure that the lienholder has signed off on the title, saying that it’s free and clear and ready to transfer ownership. If this hasn’t happened, contact the seller and figure out the best method for taking ownership. Worst case scenario, pursue legal assistance.

Q: How long does it take to receive the new title in the mail?

A : This could take two weeks to several months. Because of this, keep any documentation you have (including a copy of a sales contract) in case your legitimate ownership is called into question by the authorities.

Learn More From This Helpful Video

Car Bibles’ editors understand that not everyone is a text-based learner. For those kinesthetic people out there, we have your back with a video showing you exactly how to transfer a car title. We pulled it from one of our favorite, and most trusted, sources and it’s a great additional resource.

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