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California Selling a Vehicle

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What Are the Basics?

If you sell a vehicle in California, you need to let the California Department of Motor Vehicles know and complete the correct paperwork. You need to release ownership of the vehicle, obtain a valid smog certificate if applicable and then get an odometer reading. You need to report the sale within 10 days. You can send notice of the sale by completing paperwork online at the DMV’s Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability System. You may also opt to mail over REG 138, the Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability form, to:
Department of Motor Vehicles P.O. Box 942859 Sacramento, CA 94259

How Do I Sign the Title?

To sign the title, you need to sign your name on line 1a, which states “Signature of Registered Owner.” If there is a co-owner, then they need to sign on line 1b. You also need to sign the title below the odometer section. There, it states “Transferor/Seller Signature(s). Everyone has to sign within the same box when selling the vehicle.

What If I’ve Lost the Title?

If you do not have a certificate of title for some reason, then you can ask the California Department of Motor Vehicles for a duplicate. The duplicate application is Form REG 227. This form, called the Application for Duplicate or Paperless Title, needs to be given to the buyer of the vehicle. You don’t have to obtain the duplicate before selling your vehicle. The form just signifies that the buyer is the owner of the vehicle. If you want to get a new title before selling, then you can replace it directly at the DMV or via third-party through the mail. It is $22 for the duplicate title, and you still need to submit Form REG 227.

What Information is Included in the Bill of Sale?

While filling out the bill of sale, Form REG 135, you will need to include:
  • The seller’s signature
  • The sell date and price
  • The vehicle’s information, such as the VIN, year, make, and model
  • The names and addresses of both the seller and the buyer
If the vehicle is being gifted to another person, there is space to indicate that.

Why Do I Need to Record the Odometer Reading?

The odometer reading must be collected when a vehicle is nine model years old and newer. If the odometer reading is incorrect, then form REG 256 can be submitted to correct that data.

Why Do I Need a Bill of Sale?

A bill of sale isn’t required to purchase or sell a vehicle in California. However, there is a state-approved option for those who would like to complete one. This helps buyers and sellers keep track of transactions and protect themselves in the case of a dispute.

May I Transfer Plates?

In California, plates are issues to vehicles rather than to individuals. If the vehicle is sold, then the license plates are transferred to the new owner.

What if I Don’t Transfer Plates to a New Vehicle?

If you don’t transfer the old plates to the new vehicle, you will need to visit the local DMV to turn them back in or to arrange to keep them with a new vehicle.

What if I Am Giving the Car to Someone Rather than Selling It?

You still need to complete the information on the title to do the transfer. You will simply mark that it is a gift on the title.

How Do I, As Executor, Transfer a Car to An Heir?

On the title, notate that it is an inherited vehicle. Fill out the remaining title as above.

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Last Verified:
Aug 10, 2022