California (CA) Car Title Transfer

The California Certificate of Title is an important document when owning a vehicle.

The title, or “pink note,” serves as the primary proof of ownership of the vehicle. It will also contain important information, such as:

  • The vehicle identification number (VIN) of the car.
  • The year, make, model, color and details of the engine.
  • The last odometer reading when the title was issued.
  • Any information of the pledgee.
  • Information about the owners of the vehicle.

You will need the California car title to buy, sell, transfer and register the vehicle.

Upon transfer of ownership or when you move from a different state, you will need to transfer title with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

This page will cover the steps involved in transferring a car title in California.

For resources and official forms to complete a title transfer in California, visit the following link:

Once you’ve transferred the title to your name, you’re ready to get your California car registration. (Often this process can be completed at the same time.)

Obtaining vehicle plates will typically involve:

  • Get a California auto insurance policy.
  • Carrying out the necessary inspections of the vehicle.
  • Paying your registration fees.

What do you need to transfer a California vehicle title?

Title transfers can be a confusing process if you don’t have the correct documents.

That’s why we’ve simplified the steps here!

In most cases, you should always have the following items:

  • CA Certificate of Title Application.
  • Proof of vehicle ownership , which may include:
    • The assigned Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin (MCO).
    • The title transferred from the previous owner.
    • Title from another state in your name.
    • Application for Substitution Transfer of Title (Form REG 227).
  • Sales invoice.
  • Signed odometer disclosure statement, if applicable.
  • Previous registration documents.
  • Payment of title transfers and taxes.

If you are transferring a vehicle from another state, you may also need to complete a VIN inspection before you can obtain the California title.

And, each time you visit the DMV office to complete a transaction, you should be prepared with:

  • Proof of identification (your California driver’s license).
  • Proof of your residential address.

Read on to find out how to complete different types of title transfers, how to complete title, and whether or not your documents need to be notarized.

How to Transfer Title in California

The steps and requirements for transferring a car title in California will vary slightly depending on the circumstances of the transfer. The main scenarios include:

  • Title transfers during a private sale.
  • Giving a car to a relative.
  • Transfer title after owner’s death.
  • Lien removal after paying off your car.

In either case, you should be prepared with:

  • Proof of ownership, which may include:
    • The title signed by the previous owner.
    • An out-of-state title in your name.
    • The dealer’s MCO.
  • A bill of sale.
  • An odometer disclosure statement, if applicable.
  • An application for title.
  • Payment of title transfer rights.

Once you have gathered all the necessary documents, you can present them at your local county DMV office.

IMPORTANT: Avoid using “smears” or crossing out incorrect information when filling out the car title. The DMV will often reject titles that have been completed incorrectly. If you made a mistake or need to change the information, you will usually need to request a duplicate title.

Odometer Disclosure Statement Requirements

Odometer disclosure is a federal law that applies to most vehicles upon transfer of ownership.

The Odometer Disclosure Statement is included as a section on the certificate of title for many states. If not, it can usually be included on a separate form or on the bill of sale.

Federal law requires that those starting with the 2011 model year include odometer information for the first 20 years with every transfer of ownership.

Vehicles with model year 2010 and earlier are still subject to the 10 year prior disclosure requirement.

Odometer disclosure statements must include:

  • The full description of the vehicle being transferred.
  • The date of the sale.
  • Reference to federal law.
  • The current mileage reading and the status of that reading (actual, not actual, exceeds mechanical limits).
  • The original signatures of both the buyer and the seller.

Sales to Individuals in California

If you buy or sell a vehicle in a private transaction, both the buyer and the seller will need to follow a few steps to complete the title transfer.

The most important documents in these cases include:

  • The Certificate of Title with the corresponding sections completed and signed by the buyer and the seller.
  • The bill of sale.

Seller Responsibilities

The seller will be responsible for completing and signing the following sections of the title:

  • The release of interest/transfer of ownership section.
  • The odometer disclosure statement, if applicable.
  • The details of the sale.

The seller must also prepare a bill of sale.

Copies must be kept and signed by both the seller and the buyer.

California sellers must also complete a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability (Form REG 138) within 5 days of sale.

This can be completed online, by mail, or by mailing in the part of your registration certificate.

Buyer Responsibilities

After purchasing a vehicle from a private seller, the buyer will be responsible for transferring the title to their name.

In California, the new owner will have 10 days to transfer the car into their name.

The buyer will need to complete and sign the “New Owner” section on the certificate of title.

The buyer must also sign the odometer disclosure statement and bill of sale in the appropriate places, if applicable.

The title completed and signed by the previous owner will be sent to the DMV along with the title application to complete the transfer.

Title Transfer Without Title in California

If the title is missing, the transfer of ownership may be more difficult.

To make the process as simple as possible, the current owner must apply for a duplicate title before the transaction can take place.

You can also complete the transaction with a Request for Replacement Transfer of Title (Form REG 227).

Purchases at Dealerships

When you buy a car from a California car dealer, the dealer will usually be able to submit your title and registration paperwork for you.

If not, you can follow the steps for a private sale. You just need to make sure you have:

  • Proof of ownership with a properly assigned title or MCO.
  • Invoice or Purchase Contract of the vehicle.
  • Proof of taxes paid, if applicable.

How to Gift a Car to a Family Member in California

Gifting a car to a family member is similar to the process of selling the vehicle.

The main difference is usually the price and tax implications.

When transferring a vehicle as a gift in California, along with the above title transfer requirements, you will generally need to:

  • Write “gift” or $0 for the sale price.
  • Include the date of the transfer.
  • Still completing a bill of sale.

How to Transfer Title When the Owner Passes Away in California

If the owner of a vehicle is deceased, it will be necessary to transfer the title to his surviving beneficiary or co-owner.

In the case of co-ownership, title will usually pass to the surviving owner.

In the event the decedent was the sole owner, title may pass to a surviving spouse, child, next of kin, or other beneficiary as described in the owner’s will.

In most cases, you will need to submit a certified copy of the death certificate along with any other necessary title transfer documents.

If the deceased owner’s estate is in probate, you should contact the probate court or estate attorney for details on the title transfer process. Transfer of title may require an order from the probate court.

Remove Lien Holder After Car is Paid Off

If you have financed your vehicle, there will be a lien holder listed on the title for the duration of your loan.

This means that the lender maintains an interest in the vehicle and your signature will be required for any title transaction.

When you pay off your car loan, you will be able to remove the lien from the Certificate of Title.

In most cases, your lender should send you a signed title and lien release statement within a few weeks of your final payment.

After that, you will be able to complete a lien release with your local California DMV office.

For details on releasing your title, contact your auto lender.

Out-of-State Car Title Transfers (New California Residents)

If you are new to California, you will need to transfer your car title and registration out of state with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

New residents will have 20 days to do so after establishing residency.

In addition to the California title and registration application, fees and taxes, you should be prepared with:

  • Your certificate of title from another state.
  • Your out-of-state registration documentation.
  • California auto insurance proof.
  • Certificates of completion of any necessary VIN inspections, emissions tests, and vehicle safety inspections.

How much does a title transfer cost in California?

In California, a title transfer costs:

  • $22 title fee.
  • $15 per urgent title.
  • $15 transfer fee.
  • $15 late payment fee, if applicable.
  • $10 for a transfer upon death of the beneficiary.