How to Transfer a Car Title
A car title is a legal document used to prove vehicle ownership. The title includes information about the vehicle, like the make, model, year, vehicle identification number (VIN) and mileage.
It may also list the owner’s name and address and the lienholder who financed the car purchase if the loan still has a balance.
Here’s how to transfer a car title, plus tips for transferring titles across state lines and to family members.
How a car title transfer works
Both the seller and buyer must take specific steps to complete the car transfer process. While the cost and required paperwork vary by state, here are the typical steps to change the title of a car:
1. Seller signs the car title. The seller releases ownership by signing the car title. If the title has two names, both owners must sign it unless there’s an “or” separating the owners’ names. Some states require notarized signatures.
2. Buyer takes the title to the appropriate state office. The buyer takes the released car title to the state office that processes car titles, typically the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Even if your state doesn’t mandate notarizing a car title, it’s still worth getting it notarized to avoid confusion or dispute over legal ownership. Check with your state for any additional paperwork required to transfer ownership.
3. The DMV issues the new title. The new title will be mailed to the new owner of the car or the lender if financing with an auto loan. The timeline varies by state but could take up to six weeks. Some states now offer electronic car titles. If your state only issues e-titles, you may have to pay a fee to receive a paper copy of the title to complete the sale.
Car title transfer with a dealership
One benefit of buying from a car dealership is the title transfer logistics will be handled for you, saving an extra trip to the DMV.
Your dealer will add the cost of your new or used car’s title and registration fees to your total balance. Some dealers charge an additional fee for completing this requirement on your behalf.
If you get an auto loan, the lender will likely keep the title. After you repay the car loan in full, the lender will mail you the title or a lien release letter. You will need the lien release letter to get a new title in your name or to verify the vehicle has no liens.
If you are still paying off your car, here are the steps to selling a car when you still have a loan.
Car title transfer with a private party
When purchasing a vehicle from a private party, it’s your responsibility to research and complete your state’s vehicle title transfer process.
Each state has a vehicle title transfer deadline, ranging from 10 to 30 days or more. Some states require extra paperwork, such as a bill of sale, which the DMV will use to calculate the appropriate sales taxes.
If a bill of sale is required, it should include the following information:
- Date of sale
- Buyer’s name and address
- Seller’s name and signature
- Sale price
- Odometer reading
- Damage disclosure statement
Remember, some states require a notary public to witness the signing of car titles. You can have your title notarized at most banks, your local city hall or with an online service.
In addition to signing the vehicle title, you may need to complete additional paperwork like a lien release, title application and damage disclosure statement.
Tips for transferring a car title
Here are some tips to help you transfer a car title. We’ve separated them into two sections: One for sellers and another for buyers.
Title change when selling a car
1. Report the sale of the vehicle
Until the buyer registers the car, it’s still your responsibility. Once you sell or donate a vehicle, report it to your state’s notice of sale service or the appropriate title agency in your state — typically within 10 days.
The sold notice records the change in ownership, so even if the buyer doesn’t register the car, you won’t be responsible for future parking tickets or toll violations.
If you trade in a car, the dealer should take care of this step. However, a dealer might wait to transfer the title once the car sells, which could be months after the trade-in. Because of this, it’s crucial to file the notice of sale as soon as possible.
2. Remove the license plates if required
In some states, the plates stay with the vehicle and transfer to the new owner. In other states, the seller removes the plates and turns them in or moves them to another vehicle they own. Check with your local DMV to learn more about the specifics in your state.
Title change when buying a car
1. Verify the VIN
Make sure the vehicle identification number (VIN) on the title matches the VIN on the driver’s side front dash, visible under the vehicle’s windshield or on the driver’s side door jamb.
2. Verify the name on the title
Check that the person’s name on the title is the person selling the car. If more than one owner is on the title, both parties may have to sign depending on how their names are listed.
For example, if Bob Smith “and” Jane Smith or Bob Smith “and/or” Jane Smith are listed, your state may require both people to be present to sign. However, if their names are separated by “or” then only one owner needs to sign.
Check with your DMV in advance to ensure you follow the correct steps.
Meanwhile, when transferring the car into your name, think about how you want to title it when it comes time to sell it.
3. Verify the lien release
Make sure the title can be transferred with a lien release letter if the vehicle has been paid off. If there’s still a lien, the owner will have to get permission from the lender to transfer the title to the buyer.
4. Make sure you have the proper documentation
The required documentation varies by state and the type of transaction. You may need different documents for a private party sale than inheriting a car or buying a car that’s never had a title. Furthermore, out-of-state transfers will likely require additional paperwork.
Check out your state’s DMV website for specific documents to bring, or see our examples above.
5. Check insurance requirements
Most states require proof of insurance when transferring a title. If you have insurance on the vehicle you’re trading in or on another car, use that policy number as proof of insurance to finalize the transaction at the dealer.
Insurance carriers usually offer a grace period of five to 30 days to update your policy with the new vehicle information. Check with your insurance carrier for details.
6. Know the deadline for title transfer
States have a deadline to apply for a title after buying a car. A dealer will typically take care of this step, but the deadline is typically between 15 to 30 days in a private sale. You may face penalties if you don’t get the new title issued in time.
7. Check for liens
Your state may have an online system to check for liens and other financial obligations — such as a mechanic’s lien or child support lien — that may not be indicated on the title. Don’t pay for a vehicle until you’ve verified the title can be transferred.
How to transfer a title across state lines
Transferring a title across state lines is slightly more complex than for a sale within a single state. Here is what to do based on whether you’re moving, buying or selling a car across state lines.
Moving to a new state
You’ll need to follow your new state’s requirements for transferring a car title, such as filling out the title and registration forms and paying all applicable fees and taxes. Some states require additional paperwork for out-of-state vehicles, such as an emissions test or safety inspection.
Note that not all states issue car titles. For example, Vermont doesn’t require titles for vehicles older than 15 years. If your previous state doesn’t provide a title, you can use the registration or bill of sale to register your vehicle in your new state.
New residents usually have a grace period before registering the car in the new state. For example, in North Carolina, you have 60 days to change your driver’s license, title and registration.
Buying or selling a car across state lines
Buying or selling an out-of-state vehicle follows a similar process as transferring a car within your state. However, there are a few extra steps to note:
- Temporary registration: You will need to get a temporary registration and plate if buying a car from out of state and driving it home. If working with a dealer, they can take care of this. Otherwise, you can print a temporary permit from the DMV website.
- Taxes: Sometimes the dealer will collect and pay your state’s sales tax during your out-of-state transaction. Otherwise, you must pay the applicable sales tax when registering the car in your home state.
- Emission laws: Different states follow different emissions laws. If buying a car from another state, check that it complies with your own state’s law. Likewise, include any emissions reports when selling your car privately across state lines.