How to Transfer a Car Title in California

A California car title transfer must be completed when a change in ownership has taken place with a vehicle in the state. Learning how to transfer car title is important for both car buyers and car sellers to ensure the car’s title is transferred correctly and efficiently. When a car owner attempts to transfer title in CA, he or she must go through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to complete the transaction and change ownership successfully. Before a car owner decides to transfer car title, he or she should learn when this action is necessary, what documents the DMV will ask for and the parties that need to be involved in the transaction. Once completed, a transfer of title is definitive and changes the ownership of a vehicle to the new owner, relinquishing the old owner’s rights, liabilities and investment in the vehicle. Before transferring car title, the vehicle owner must be sure the buyer understands his or her responsibility as the vehicle’s new owner and how to complete the title transfer transaction. To learn about where to transfer car title in California, why this transaction may be necessary and the additional steps to complete the title transfer process, review the information that follows.

Why Transferring Car Title in California is Necessary

“How do I transfer car title in CA?” is a question asked by some car owners who have recently bought or sold a vehicle. This is a crucial and necessary step when a vehicle changes hands, since transferring a California car title is the only way for the DMV to know the vehicle has a new owner. Although gifting a car to a family member or close friend may not feel like a change of ownership, it technically counts as a new car owner. Therefore, transferring a car title is an important step when a vehicle is given as a gift between family members or friends, even if the vehicle will be garaged in the same household. When a vehicle is paid off and there is no lienholder present, the vehicle title is transferred to the car owner’s name. However, no transfer of car title needs to be requested by the new owner through the DMV.

Whether donating or selling a car, the car owner is required to transfer vehicle title in CA with the DMV no later than five calendar days after the transaction has been completed. Failure to complete the car title transfer within this time period may result in complications with the transfer of title or penalty fees. Additionally, it is important to transfer a vehicle title in CA as soon as the transaction is completed so the previous vehicle owner is no longer responsible for the car or anything that happens after it is sold. For example, if the new owner gets into an accident before the transfer of title process is completed, the previous vehicle owner may be responsible.

Completing a Transfer of Title in CA

To complete a car title transfer in California successfully, a car owner must visit a local DMV office prepared to present several documents. When attempting to transfer a vehicle title, the car owner should be ready to bring:

  • A Certificate of Title or Application for Duplicate or Paperless Title.
  • Signature of the buyer and seller, if applicable, on the Certificate of Title Form.
  • Odometer disclosure document (if vehicle is fewer than 10 years old).
  • Smog Certification.
  • Transfer fees, including additional taxes or other applicable fees.

When following the steps for how to transfer a car title, the car owner may find that he or she is responsible for a completed certificate of title that includes all the information on the vehicle and its new owner. Depending on the specific situation, the car owner may also need to bring additional documentation to transfer the car title including a Vehicle Transfer or Reassignment Form or a Title Holder Release Form if a lien was present on the vehicle at the time of sale. To learn more about transferring car title in CA, including the documents that need to be presented to the DMV and where to sign on the Certificate of Title.

Additional Steps to Transfer Title in California

When attempting to transfer a car title in California, one of the most important forms that must be completed is the Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability. When a car owner transfers a car title, he or she must submit this notice to the DMV to notify the office of the change in ownership. This notice is a crucial part of successfully transferring a title in CA because the notice is immediately filed with the DMV, relieving the current car owner of any liability associated with the vehicle. If any civil or criminal actions take place involving the vehicle after this transfer title notification has already been submitted to the DMV, the previous car owner will not be held accountable for such actions.

While it may take more time and fees to successfully complete the car title transfer in California, turning in the Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability immediately to the DMV eliminates the previous owner’s responsibilities with the vehicle. To initiate the transfer of title process, this notice can be submitted in person, by mail or online. If the notice is submitted by mail, any illegible items on the form may result in a delay of the transfer of liability. Once submitted, the additional steps in the process for transferring a car title in California can be followed to complete the transaction.