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How to Sell a Car in California


Whether you live in the Bay area, the Central Valley, Southern California, or the desert or mountains of Eastern California if you are thinking about privately selling your used car or truck, you’ve come to the right place. With an estimated 15 million registered trucks and cars in the state of California, it is no wonder that thousands of private car owners from the Golden State have used Autotrader to sell their car. Below, we’ve outlined below the 6 steps required to sell a car in the state of California. Remember, most U.S. states consider the vehicle title a legal document which is why it is advised to use the legal names (no nicknames) of both parties involved along with legible handwriting using a black or blue ink. Mistakes, errors and using white out may void the document so be careful and take your time filling it out.


Step 1: Review and gather the California DMV forms
Step 2: Get a smog certification if your car isn’t exempt
Step 3: The buyer inspects the car
Step 4: Be prepared to pay transfer, title registration, taxes and other fees
Step 5: Fill out all the required forms, review and sign them with the buyers
Step 6: Submit all forms and report the transfer to California’s DMV



Step 1: Review and gather the California DMV forms

When a car changes ownership in California (whether by being sold or by being inherited, given as a gift, etc.), the DMV considers this a vehicle transfer. The DMV uses certain forms to document transfers. You'll always need the following documents to change vehicle ownership and complete the sale in the state of California:

  • California Certificate of Title or Application for Duplicate Title or Paperless Title (REG 227). If you have your original title, you can use that; you don't need a duplicate title form. If the title is missing, you must use a REG 227 to complete the transfer of ownership. The seller and the buyer complete the title or REG 227. The lienholder’s release, if any, must be notarized, if a REG 227 form is used. If the vehicle is two model years old or less, and has a lienholder, a REG 227 cannot be used. A replacement title must be obtained through the lienholder.
  • Signature(s) of seller(s) and lienholder, if any
  • Signature(s) of buyer(s)
  • Transfer fee (FFVR 34)

You may also need:

  • Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment Form REG 262. This form isn't available online because it contains security features. To receive form REG 262, you need to call the DMV at 1-800-777-0133 and they’ll mail the form to you. If the vehicle has been sold more than once with the same title, a REG 262 is required from each seller.
  • Statement to Record Ownership/Statement of Error or Erasure (REG 101) form. Used when a name or other information is entered on the title in error. The REG 101 is completed by the person(s) whose name(s) appears in error or, if other than a name, by the person who made the error.
  • Statement of Facts (REG 256) form. Used when the vehicle is obtained from a family member. The new owner (buyer) completes the REG 256.
  • Lien Satisfied/Title Holder Release (REG 166) form. This form may be used by the legal owner/lienholder of record instead of the Certificate of Title to release interest in a vehicle. The form must be notarized if it will be submitted with an Application for Duplicate California Title.
  • Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability (REG 138) form. When the owner of a California registered vehicle sells or transfers title or interest in the vehicle, the seller must complete a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability (REG 138) and submit it to the department within five calendar days. This releases the owner from civil or criminal liability for any parking, abandonment, or operation of the vehicle occurring after the transfer date. Keep a copy of the REG 138 for your own records.
  • Affidavit for Transfer Without Probate California Titled Vehicle or Vessel Only (REG 5) form. Used when the registered owner of a vehicle has been deceased for 40 days or more, and the value of the decedent’s property in California does not exceed $150,000. The vehicle must be titled in California. The REG 5 is usually completed by the next of kin.
  • If you are purchasing a commercial motor vehicle, you may be required to complete a Declaration of Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW)/Combined Gross Vehicle Weight (CGW) (REG 4008) indicating the GVW or CGW at which your vehicle will be operated.
  • Odometer disclosure unless your vehicle is 10 years old or older, a commercial vehicle of more than 16,000 pounds or a new vehicle being transferred prior to its first retail sale by a dealer. Complete the odometer statement on the title or, if you are using a REG 227 or the vehicle was sold more than once, complete a REG 262.
  • Determine if you need a smog inspection certification (not applicable to all vehicles).
  • Vehicle Emission System Statement (SMOG) (REG 139) form. You can locate a STAR smog testing station here.
  • Use tax and/or various other fees
  • Bill of Sale REG 135 (PDF) form or a Power of Attorney REG 260 (PDF) form.

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Step 2: Get a smog certification if your car isn’t exempt

Most cars require a certification from a STAR smog testing station. When you transfer ownership of a gas-powered vehicle that is four or less model years old, a smog certification is not required; however, a smog transfer fee is collected from the new owner. When a gas-powered vehicle that is more than four model years old or a diesel-powered vehicle that is a 1998 year-model or newer and has a GVW of 14,000 pounds or less is sold, the seller must obtain a smog certification for the transfer unless biennial smog certification was obtained within the last 90 days. The most popular type of vehicles which do not need to be smog tested include:

  • 1975 and older year-model and gas-powered.
  • 1997 and older year-model and diesel-powered.
  • Electric-powered vehicles
  • Natural-gas powered vehicles
  • Motorcycles
  • Vehicles which are less than four years old or

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Step 3: The buyer inspects the car

Most auto shoppers who buy a car privately pay for a pre-purchase vehicle inspection by a qualified and licensed auto mechanic. Although the buyer pays for this inspection, the seller and buyer do have to agree as to when and where the inspection is held. If the inspection does find any issues with the car, it is a good idea to keep the report for your records.

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Step 4: Be prepared to pay transfer, title registration, taxes and other fees

The amount of the transfer, registration fees and taxes are dependent on the type of vehicle which is being sold and the city and county where the vehicle is sold. Review the related registration fees, county fees and use tax as well as other fees here. Transfer fees are due within 10 days of the final sale date. Penalties are assessed if payment is not received by DMV within 30 days of the "sale." Most of these fees are paid for by the buyer.

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Step 5: Fill out all the required forms, review and sign them with the buyers

Print and have the buyer and seller fill out the forms in their respective sections. It is a good idea to give both yourself and the buyer enough time for Form REG 262 to arrive from the DMV via the US Postal Service. If the car has a lienholder (usually a bank), make sure you have filled out and signed those forms. Review all the forms including the final agreed-upon price with the buyer. If the vehicle being sold is less than 10 years old, you’ll need to disclose the odometer reading. Review the California DMV’s vehicle owner transfer checklist and vehicle registration checklist. Remember, most vehicles have sequentially issued "standard" license plates that remain with the vehicle when ownership is transferred. If the vehicle has a special interest or personalized license plate, these plates belong to the plate owner, not the vehicle. Review California’s requirements after selling a vehicle.

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Step 6: Submit all forms and report the transfer to California’s DMV

After reviewing all the paperwork and forms, file them with your local California DMV office. The DMV agent will register and log your vehicle transfer in the official records. The seller of the vehicle has five days to report the transfer. You will need the car's license plate number, the last five digits of the VIN, and the new owner's name and address. Buyers have 10 days to report the transfer. Reporting the sale or transfer of a vehicle or vessel to the DMV does not constitute a transfer of ownership. The record is not permanently transferred out of your name until the DMV receives a completed application for transfer of ownership and payment of appropriate fees from the new owner. While you can submit your paperwork by mail, if the forms are not filled out correctly this can delay the transfer of ownership which is why most buyers and sellers meet at a local DMV office.

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For more information, visit the State of California’s Department of Motor Vehicles website.

<span class="text-size-300">Questions about selling your car in California? We have answers.</span>

What documents do I need to sell my car in California?

There are several:

  1. The vehicle’s title
  2. Certificate of Title or Application for Duplicate Title or Paperless Title (REG 227)
  3. Transfer fee (FFVR 34)
  4. You may need Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment Form REG 262
  5. Valid smog certificate
  6. Bill of Sale REG 135 (PDF) form
  7. Lien Satisfied/Title Holder Release (REG 166) form
  8. Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability (REG 138) form.

Do I need to go to the DMW to sell my car?

Technically, no. However, while buyer and the seller can submit each of their paperwork by mail, if the forms are not filled out correctly this can delay the transfer of ownership which is why most buyers and sellers meet at a local DMV office to ensure they are filled out correctly.

Do I remove my license plate when I sell a car in California?

Usually, no. Most vehicles have sequentially issued "standard" license plates that remain with the vehicle when ownership is transferred. If the vehicle has a special interest or personalized license plate, these plates belong to the seller, not the vehicle.

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