A car title or “pink slip” is a legal document that states who the legal owner vehicle. This is the document that allows you to register your car after you buy it and sell it in the future. It demonstrates that you are the legal owner of the vehicle.

How to Transfer a Car Title

When a person buys or sells a new or used car the title of that vehicle must be transferred from the old owner to the new owner. If it is a new car, typically the dealership handles the paperwork you. After the car is paid in the full the lender will then send the title to you. 

If you purchase a used vehicle you must go down to your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) with the required documents, as well as, pay any associated fees to complete the transfer.

What Documents Do I Need for a DMV Transfer?

The following documents are typically required to complete a DMV transfer, however, it may vary depending on the state:

  • DMV Title Transfer Application;
  • Bill of sale (this is the document that shows proof of the sale of the car);
  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN);
    Current mileage on the vehicle’s odometer; and/or
    If there is a lienholder on the car, then the name and contact information of the lien holder is also required

What Fees are Associated with Title Transfers?

Fees also vary from state to state, but typically the Title Transfer Application is $15-$25. Additional fees may apply, such as, registration fees and sometimes lienholder fees.

This fee will be included for transfers between two individual people, as well as, between two family members.

If a car is being gifted (between family or non-family members) or donated the transfer application fee still applies, but additional forms are required and can be found on the DMV website.

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What If I am Buying a Car From a Different State?

This process also varies depending on your state, but typically there is an additional form that will need to be filled out. Also, the car will need to comply with your state’s car safety and emission laws.

This process may be completed by getting a smog certification from a local car smog shop. The certification must be submitted with the rest of the required transfer documents. The DMV will tell you if your car requires a smog, as not every vehicle needs to one to complete a transfer. Currently, cars made after 1975 may be required to pass smog. 

What If the Previous Owner Does Not Have Title to the Car?

If a title has been lost, you may apply for a replacement at your DMV. Additionally, you may get a “Certificate of Title Surety” which may be substituted for an original title. 

There is a risk of buying a car that does not have a title because there is a chance that you could be scammed and potentially charged with stealing a car. Without the title, there is a likely potential that the “seller” not only keeps your money, but also keeps the car you tried to purchase.

Do I Need an Attorney to Transfer a Car Title?

The Department of Motor Vehicles is the main source of information for title transfer, and it should be a quick and easy process. Almost any issue with the transfer of a car title can be handled by the DMV. However, there may be complications like the buyer took the car but suddenly wants additional benefits from the seller or the buyer took the car and never transferred the title and now their illegal car activity can make you liable.

In those cases, it's in your best interest to contact a personal injury lawyer if you want to protect yourself from liability. But it's important to take as many steps as possible before you contact a lawyer, as they are limited in what they can do if you haven't already contacted the DMV.