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California Buying a Vehicle

Home 9 US State 9 California DMV Services 9 California Buying a Vehicle

When you’re buying a vehicle, a transfer of title has to take place. To transfer a title, the seller needs to complete the appropriate sections of that title and show proof that the vehicle has passed a smog inspection.

As the new owner, you’ll need to present these new ownership documents to the California Department of Motor Vehicles. You will need to pay a title transfer fee, which is $15, as well as taxes on the purchase.

Getting a Title and Registration for a Vehicle Purchased From a Dealer

When you buy a vehicle from a dealer, you normally won’t have to complete any paperwork yourself. The dealership usually takes care of titling the new vehicle into your name. You do have a right to make sure your contract is accurate before you take your vehicle home.

Getting a Title and Registration for a Vehicle Purchased From a Private Party

If you decide to buy a vehicle from a private seller in California, then you need to have the title transferred into your name within 10 days of the purchase. The seller will give you the majority of the information needed to transfer the title, such as the smog inspection certificate and title with signatures. They may also provide you with any applicable lien releases.

Filling Out the Title

The seller should give you a title with their signature on the applicable lines. If the person who is selling you the vehicle is not the person listed on the title, then you also need to have a bill of sale to prove that you are the new owner of the vehicle.

On the title, you need to sign your name in the box that states “Transferee/Buyer Signature(s).” This does need to be notarized, which is something you can do at the California DMV nearest to you.

Registering the Vehicle

Registering the vehicle is a part of the title transfer process. If you purchase a vehicle from a person and not a dealership, then you have 10 days to transfer ownership. You will need the title, a smog certificate if it’s applicable, and to pay for registration fees. Registration fees are based on:

  • The kind of vehicle you have
  • The declared value or purchase price
  • The date the vehicle was purchased
  • The county you live in
  • The county where your business is based
  • The declared gross vehicle weight/axles on the vehicle
  • Special license plates

You can determine the registration fees by using a DMV fee calculator.

Submitting Payment

When you’re ready to submit payment for your vehicle’s registration and title transfer, you will need to pay the registration fees as well as a $15 vehicle transfer fee. The DMV field office that you visit can accept cash, credit cards, debit cards, money orders and cashier’s checks.

Last Verified:
Feb 15, 2023