Buying & Selling California Vehicles

Buying and selling vehicles in the state of California is regulated by law, ensuring consumer and seller safety to give both buyers and sellers a key advantage in the process for the better of the transaction. After the sale and before the sale both present great tools and strategies that can be used to give both buyers and sellers assurance and comfort in the transaction, as well as a much easier transaction that presents an excellent transaction in the end.

Vehicle History Report

Always remember that the California DMV, as well as various other third-party companies will offer a free and comprehensive vehicle history report to verify the information and status of the vehicle. This is the right of any vehicle owner or interested party to obtain and can be beneficial to both the seller and the buyer. In fact, sellers are able to provide verification of the information they provide when attempting to sell the vehicle while buyers are able to verify the information they receive about the vehicle to remain wise consumers.

  • Never pass up the opportunity to obtain a vehicle history report as it can be vital in saving you time and money during the sale or purchase of a used vehicle. Even if you are purchasing from a dealership, you have the right to request the report for your better understanding of the vehicle’s value and condition.

California Private Sellers

Selling a vehicle privately is done a bit differently than within a car dealership, and sellers must be aware of the state-specific requirements that they must adhere to. These regulations help ensure that you are also safe in a sale, as well as the car buyer. There are various steps to follow and forms to be completed, as well as paperwork to provide to the new owner of the vehicle in order to ensure an efficient process.

  • Car sellers must report the sale and transfer of ownership within 5 days after the sale is complete, which is done through the appropriate form-Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability. This form is offered through the California Department of Motor Vehicles website online to be downloaded for completion at Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability.  This form must be mailed to the DMV at the following address:
  • California Department of Motor Vehicles
    Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability
    P.O. Box 942859
    Sacramento, CA 94259-0001
  • This form can also be brought into your local DMV office in person, with or without an appointment. If you would like to set an appointment, or even if you need to obtain the form by mail, you can call 1-800-777-0133.
  • This form is a very essential part of the selling process; otherwise, the vehicle will remain under your liability until the new owner registers the vehicle or transfers the title completely including registration and the appropriate fees. Without this form, anything the vehicle gets into, you also get into and can be held financially, civilly, and criminally responsible.

Smog Certification Requirements for Sellers

Smog certification is another important step for private sellers in California, and follows various regulations to ensure that the vehicle is ready for the road and up to California state emissions standards.

  • Smog certificate required from seller, unless vehicle has current smog certificate received within prior 90 days to sale
  • Transfers between family members will not require a smog certificate or smog transfer fee
  • Vehicles under 4 years may be transferred without smog certificate if new owner pays $8 smog transfer fee. This does not include transfer of diesel powered vehicles.
  • Vehicles sold without a valid and current smog certificate, which fail inspection after sale will be the seller’s responsibility to fix.

Odometer Disclosure Statement

The sale of a vehicle does require an odometer disclosure statement in order to ensure the validity of the miles shown on the vehicle. This is for the buyer’s protection to ensure that the vehicle is sold in a true form, and not tampered or damaged.

  • Odometer disclosure statement must be provided in the provided section within the Certificate of Title during transfer
  • If vehicle is less than 10 years old or has no space for an odometer disclosure statement, a Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment Form will be required. This form cannot be a copy and must be obtained and submitted in its original form. This form can be obtained by mail by calling 1-800-777-0133, or by visiting the DMV in person.

Vehicle Buyers

There are different methods to purchasing your new vehicle, and whether you are going for a new car or a used car, you will find that there are appropriate processes you must follow to obtain ownership and get on the roads legally. Purchasing a vehicle from a car dealership is going to offer the swiftest method of purchase with all documentation and information required generally provided by the dealer directly to the California DMV, simplifying your tasks greatly.

  • Purchasing a used vehicle from a private seller, on the other hand, is going to present much different responsibilities and tasks for you and the seller to ensure a proper transfer of ownership. If you purchase a vehicle from a private seller, you will be responsible for transferring the ownership within 10 days of the purchase. In order to do this, you must visit the DMV in person and bring the appropriate documentation to ensure a swift process.

What You Will Need

You will require the appropriate forms and documents to ensure that the title can be transferred, as well as registration of the vehicle during your visit. You don’t want to waste your time visiting the DMV without everything you need as it could cause you to need another appointment or visit, which is just a waste of your valuable time.

  • Certificate of Title endorsed by original owner through Line 1 signature
  • Lien Holder Release through Line 2 signature if applicable
  • Application for Duplicate Title if transferring without the Certificate of Title, which can be downloaded or obtained by mail by calling the DMV and requesting at 1-800-777-0133. Seller and applicable lien holder signatures must be notarized.
  • Bill of Sale if no title is provided

The Bill of Sale is a safeguard that can also be useful if the title is not available at the time of transfer. Although it is not considered a Certificate of Title or any type of alternative replacement, it can prove the sale date and sale of the vehicle to you from the seller.

All fees must be paid before the title transfer can be complete, with various costs to expect. You will also be responsible for obtaining registration of the vehicle as well, which will increase your title transfer fees considerably.

Out-of-State Purchase

If you happen to find that perfect vehicle for you outside of the state of California, you will follow the same steps to transfer the title, however, you will be provided with a length of 20 days to complete the title transfer and registration. You will first want to ensure that the vehicle meets all California motor vehicles standards, as well as obtain a valid California state smog certificate.

If you are purchasing a vehicle from another state that doesn’t have the title, you will have to complete the nontransferable registration procedure, which is a bit like title transfer, and may require different documentation.

  • Most recent title filed for vehicle, whether in or out-of-state
  • Nontransferable registration card from state of California if applicable

If you aren’t the legal registered owner of the vehicle, you will need to also provide the California DMV with an Applicable for Title or Registration, which can be obtained by mail or online, 1-800-777-0133 or completed and signed by you, the most recent title on record signed by the previous vehicle owner, a signed transfer of ownership, and a Bill of Sale signed by both you and the seller. You will also require the documentation required for a title transfer to complete the process.

Lien Sale

If there is a lien on a vehicle you are purchasing, there will be a slight difference in your title transfer process. The owner of the vehicle or lien holder that is in possession of the vehicle will be required to obtain a lien sale authorization from the DMV before sale may take place. All parties interested in the sale of the vehicle, which includes the owner and lien holder, will be notified of the transaction before it takes place. If you have questions about a lien sale, you can call 1-916-657-7617 for answers to any questions.

Understanding the Lemon Law

If you purchase a vehicle that is under the warranty expressed, however, several attempts to obtain repairs to malfunctions covered by the warranty are not satisfied, you as a consumer have the right to replacement or repurchase of the said vehicle in order to compensate for the warranty of the vehicle. All sellers are bound by the Lemon Law to honor any and all expressed warranties on sold vehicles, including those still under the original manufacturer’s warranty.

  • For more information, you can refer to the comprehensive guide, “Lemon-Aide for New Car Buyers”, which can be viewed online, ordered by mail in English or Spanish by calling 1-800-952-5210, or obtained by mail by writing to the Department of Consumer Affairs at:
  • DCA Publications
    1625 N. Market Blvd, Suite N 112
    Sacramento, CA 95834

The Department of Consumer Affairs Arbitration Certification Program is responsible for any complaints or concerns involved with the Lemon Law in California.

Making Your Appointment

When you are purchasing the vehicle, you will be given all required documentation to transfer the title by the previous owner. This documentation as well as a valid driver’s license must be submitted to the California DMV. In order to make a convenient appointment to save you time in your transfer, you can visit the online Appointment System or by calling 1-800-777-0133.

  • Once you have completed the process and paid all concerned fees for title transfer and registration of the vehicle, you simply wait for your title, registration card, plates and stickers to arrive, attach the stickers to the plates, and drive off with your new ownership recorded through the California DMV. Remember that there are requirements for insurance that you must always follow at all times to ensure registration of your vehicle remains current and active.

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