Car Buying and Selling Regulations in California

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Whether you are buying or selling a new or used vehicle, you have to think of transferring ownership of a vehicle.


You should report the sale to the California DMV within 5 days of vehicle sale. To do so, you will need to complete the Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability Form and send it to the address below: DMV P.O. Box 942859 Sacramento, California 94259 This form must be filled out correctly. If it is not completed with correct information, your records won’t be updated. You will be held liable should the new owner cause an accident before registering the vehicle in their name.

Smog Certification

If you are purchasing a vehicle that is more than 4 years old, you should ask the seller to provide you with proof of a current smog certification. If the vehicle’s registration was renewed within the past 90 days, this certification will not be required. Proof of smog certification will also not be required if you are obtaining the vehicle from a family member. If you purchase a vehicle that does not pass smog certification standards, the seller will be responsible for repair until it passes the set standards.

Buying or Selling Without a Title or Registration

A title is a vital document that is required in order to title and register your newly purchased vehicle in your name. If it is missing, ask the seller to apply for a duplicate copy and assign it to you during the time of sale. To do so, the seller needs to complete REG 227 (Application for Duplicate Title) and submit to the DMV.


Once you have purchased a vehicle, you will have 10 days to transfer the title or apply for a new title in your name. If you purchase a vehicle from the dealership, they will handle this on your behalf. But if you bought the vehicle from a private seller, you will need to handle this with the DMV office. You will need to take the following with you:

  • A completed Certificate of Title or Application for Duplicate Title.
  • Transfer fee.

Transfer Fees

All applicable fees must be paid within 30 days of the sale, even if you have not obtained documents for registration and titling. The fees are as follows:

  • $15 Title transfer (if registering the car as well).
  • $20 certificate of Title only.
  • $20 License plates plus additional $1 for reflectorized license plate fee.

Newer model requires you to pay more fees and taxes. You can use the DMV calculator to estimate the amount of fees for the car you are purchasing. You can also request personalized license plates.

Bill of Sale

You should obtain the bill of sale from the buyer. You might not need this document when registering or titling your newly purchased vehicle, but it is a vital document for your records.

Buying from Out of State

If you are purchasing a vehicle from out of state, you must register the vehicle and transfer ownership within 20 days of purchase. Ask the dealer about the procedure of registering and titling the vehicle in California. The DMV has a brochure with reliable information about registering and titling vehicles purchased from out-of-state dealers.

Nontransferable Registration

If you buy a vehicle from Out of State and you are unable to title it in your name, you will need to follow nontransferable registration process. In this case, you will need to submit:

  • Most recent title from California or out-of-state.
  • Nontransferable registration card, if it exist.

If there is a different owner listed on the nontransferable registration, you must submit:

  • The most recent title.
  • A completed Application for Registration.
  • A bill of sale.

In some cases, the title transfer also requires:

  • A transfer fee.
  • Renewal fees.
  • Smog inspection.
  • An odometer disclosure.
  • A motor vehicle bond. If the owner is not known.