Car Title Transfer: Everything You Need to Know

Most people buying a car for the first time in life believe that it is not a complicated procedure. Basically, the seller finds a buyer, he or she gives the agreed amount of money and takes the car. It sounds so uncomplicated, but then the bureaucracy comes on the scene.

Besides taking care of registration and car insurance, you need to complete the ‘pink slip.’ The crucial question is how to transfer a car title correctly to finish the handover of the vehicle legally. It is an essential issue since that document is proof that you own that particular car. Let’s take a look.

Crucial Things About a Car Title Transfer

Why should you transfer a car title?

Why should you transfer a car title

There is not a long discussion about this issue. You can’t become an owner of the car without transferring the title. In other words, the seller stays the owner of the vehicle until finishing the transfer. Since the title is a legal document, it will prove that the transfer of ownership was done according to the law.

Don’t think that one side has the advantage of avoiding the paperwork. Without this document, the seller can re-sell the same car without the new owner’s knowledge. However, as long as the seller’s name is on the car title, he or she is responsible for the vehicle. It can become a problem in the case of a car accident.

On the other hand, the buyer can’t re-sell the car without the seller’s permission, although he or she has already paid for it.

The conclusion is not too complicated. To become a legal owner, you need a car title in your name. If it is not possible, be wise and skip that particular car.

Whose name is listed?

When you want to buy a used car, the first thing you need to check is whose name is listed on the title. There are a few possibilities:

  • If there is the name of the seller, that means he or she is the only owner, and there will be no complications about transferring ownership.
  • If there is the name of the lender, that means that there is a loan on that particular vehicle.
  • If there is a name of the bank, that means that an auto loan needs to be settled before selling (it is so-called lienholder). Selling that car can be tricky, but not impossible. Ask a lender the ways of handling the transaction.
  • If there are two names, that means that two people share ownership, usually a husband and wife. (If there is ‘AND’ between these names, both of them need to sign the title. If there is ‘OR’ between these names, one signature is enough).

What do you need to transfer a car title?

What do you need to transfer a car title

Unfortunately, there is no unique list of requirements for every state. Each of them has its own demands regarding a car title transfer from the seller to the buyer. Therefore, you should consult the DMV in advance about which papers you need to have. It is the only way to avoid weeks or even months of waiting and delaying.

Usually, state DMV departments require the following documents:

  1. A completed application for Certificate of Registration or Title – It will show information about the buyer and seller, type of sale, the price of a car, and required costs.
  2. Title transfer fees – It is an officially compulsory fee, but you can negotiate who should pay it.
  3. A damage disclosure – If the seller avoids disclosing details of existing damage, he or she will be responsible for future repairs.
  4. Odometer reading – It is standard data you need to enclose to the document.
  5. A smog check – Some states that have an issue with high air pollution will require this information while transferring a title.
  6. A completed bill of sale – Not all countries require this information. You need to ask if you need it or not.

To make the whole process a bit more comfortable, you can check the state DMV website for all necessary information and required documents. Unfortunately, there is still no way to finish changing a car title online. You have to do it in person.

When do you need to perform a car title transfer?

  • When you purchase a used car
  • When you sell a vehicle
  • When you receive a car as a gift (only from a spouse or family members)
  • When you want to relinquish ownership after the insurer writing off a car
  • When you need to put new license plates on the car

What does the car title contain?

  • Your legal name, surname, and address
  • VIN (vehicle identification number of your car)
  • The body type, make, model, year, color, and usage of the vehicle
  • The license plate number
  • The mileage on the odometer with a date of reading

How to Transfer a Car Title?

When you buy a new car

A DMV customer service center is in charge of the transfer of a car title. When you decide to purchase a new car, you just need to wait to get a title in the mail because a dealer handles all the paperwork.

When you buy a used car

On the other hand, you need to do that job by yourself when you buy or sell a used car. The entire process consists of two steps.

The first step depends on the seller. He or she needs to sign the title to release ownership of the car. After that, the buyer needs to take that signed paper to the DMV. An agent will check the paperwork, receive the payment, and start a title check.

In most cases, you will get a temporary registration right away. In the end, the state will issue a new title and registration, and you will receive them by mail.


One thing is crucial. Never, under no circumstances should you delay transferring a car title after buying a car. It is a legal document proving lawful ownership, and it is mandatory for each vehicle operating on the roadways in the US. You can’t insure and register your car without that paper. Plus, it is a critical document in the case of a legal dispute.