How to Change Vehicle Ownership

What Constitutes a Change in Ownership?

Any change of the registered owner or lienholder (legal owner) of a vehicle or vessel is considered to be a change in ownership that must be updated on the records at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The change is usually due to:

  • Sale or Gift
  • Adding or deleting the name of an owner
  • Inheritance
  • Satisfaction of lien (full payment of car loan)

Transfer—Whenever there is a change of ownership, the DMV refers to the transaction as a “transfer.”

Seller—The person(s) and/or company shown as the registered owner on the Certificate of Title (and DMV’s records) is always referred to as the seller, even if the vehicle is a gift.

Buyer—The person(s) and/or company who is going to become the new registered owner is referred to as the buyer.

Fees that may be due

The amount of fees that may be due depends on a variety of factors. An exact amount can only be calculated when you submit your application to the department.

Transfer fees are due within 10 days of the “sale.” Penalties are assessed if payment is not received by DMV within 30 days of the “sale.” If multiple sales occur before DMV is notified, a separate transfer fee is collected for each sale when the application for transfer is received by DMV.

Is a Smog Inspection Required?

The seller is required to obtain smog certification when a vehicle
is transferred UNLESS the vehicle is:

  • Hybrid
  • 1975 year model or older
  • Diesel powered
  • Electric
  • Natural gas powered and has a Gross Vehicle Weight rating of 14,001 lbs. or more
  • Motorcycle
  • Trailer
  • Vessel
  • Being transferred between family members (spouse, parent child, sibling, grandparent, grandchild) or by court order. A Statement of Facts form (REG 256) must be completed for the exemption; however, if registration renewal fees are due, the smog exemption may not apply.

Most smog certifications are submitted electronically to DMV. Keep your receipt because it contains an inspection number that may be used to locate your smog certification record at DMV.

More information regarding smog requirements.

What Documents Are Required?

The documents that are required depend on each individual situation and the type of application. The following checklists provide the basic requirements.

Changing Vehicle Ownership

Transferring a Vehicle Between Family Members

Complete a Transfer Without Probate

Transfer a Vehicle From an Individual to an Estate

Odometer Disclosure
Disclosing the vehicle’s odometer mileage is required by federal regulations for all transfers with the following three exceptions:

  • A vehicle 10 years old or older.
  • A commercial vehicle with a declared gross or combined gross vehicle weight of more than 16,000 pounds.
  • A new vehicle being transferred prior to its first retail sale by a dealer.

Additional Odometer Mileage Reporting information.

Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability

You must notify DMV within five days when you sell or transfer ownership of your vehicle.

Complete a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability. Make sure you print the confirmation page for your records.

Additional Release of Liability information

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I determine a selling price for my vehicle?

Check similar vehicles in newspaper classified advertisements, on the Internet, or at local used vehicle dealerships. Libraries also have various value/pricing guides to reference.

What do I do with the license plate?

Most vehicles have sequentially issued “standard” license plates that remain with the vehicle when ownership is transferred. If the license plate is a special interest or personalized license plate, you must decide if you want to retain the plate for use on another vehicle, or release your interest in the plate. Complete a Special Interest License Plate Application (REG 17) or a Special License Plate Application (REG 17A) indicating your retention or release of the special plate and give the form to the buyer.

How long will it take for everything to be complete?

When you give the buyer all of the required documentation and DMV receives your completed Notice of Release of Liability, the seller’s part of the transaction is complete.

Once the buyer has provided DMV with all the proper documentation and fees, the vehicle record is updated to reflect the change of ownership, and a registration card is issued. A new title is issued from DMV headquarters within 60 calendar days.

When can I actually turn the car and keys over to the buyer?

You may safely turn the vehicle over to the new owner when:

  • When you have provided the buyer with all the appropriate documentation, signatures, and certifications noted in this brochure.
  • You have obtained the necessary information from the buyer to complete a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability.
  • You are satisfied with the payment that you have received from the buyer.
Will I have to pay for anything after I have sold my vehicle?

All of the transfer fees are the responsibility of the buyer.

Should I keep any papers after the vehicle is transferred?

Keep a copy of the completed Notice of Release of Liability.

Do I owe taxes of any kind on the money I receive for the sale of my vehicle?

Contact your tax advisor.

What is the difference between “and” and “or” between co-owner names on a title?

When the names are joined by the word “or,” one owner can sell the vehicle without the other’s signature or consent. “And” or a slash (/) requires the signature of each owner to sell the vehicle.

Where do I sign?

There are four variations of the California Certificate of Title (Rainbow Title). The DMV began printing the 7 by 8 inch Certificate of Title in 1988. The older 4 by 5 inch Ownership Certificate was commonly referred to as the “pink slip.” The example below indicates who signs where to properly change the ownership of your vehicle. The newer versions of the Certificate of Title have a special box for odometer mileage reading disclosure and acknowledgment and are referred to as complying titles. If you are using the “Pink Slip” or an earlier version of the Certificate of Title (non-complying) and you wish to disclose the odometer reading, both the seller and buyer can complete a Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment Form, REG 262.

California Certificate of Title (Rainbow Title)Earlier version of the Certificate of Title (pink slip)

FFVR 32 Online Version 11/2/2006