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 the steps and forms required for how to sell a car in the state of California so you can sell your car quickly for the most cash.
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
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:
You may also need:
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:
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.
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.
Print and have the buyer and seller fill out the forms in their respective sections. The signature of only one owner (seller) is required to transfer ownership when the co-owner names are joined by “and/or” or “or”. The signatures of all owners (sellers) are required to transfer ownership when the co-owner names are joined by “and”. 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. 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.
If the vehicle being sold is a model year 2011 or newer, you’ll need to disclose the odometer reading. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) odometer disclosure requirements were updated in December 2020 impacting certain private vehicle sales in California: For a vehicle transfer that occurs from January 1, 2021 through December 31, 2030, any vehicle of model year 2011 or newer (2012, 2013, etc.) will require an odometer disclosure. Starting on January 1, 2031, any vehicle that is less than 20 model years old will require an odometer disclosure. Previously, the NHTSA required disclosure was for only the first 10 years. Cars older than 2010 are exempt from odometer disclosures.
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.
For more information, visit the State of California’s Department of Motor Vehicles website.
There are several:
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.
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.
It depends. If the seller is not the owner whose name is on the vehicle title, you will need a Bill of Sale signed by both the seller and the person whose name appears on the title.
No. If you are in possession of the vehicle’s title, a notary does not need to witness the seller and the buyer signing the title during a private vehicle sale in the state of California.
No. When you privately sell a car in California, the Bill of Sale does not need to be notarized. Some buyers and sellers do so anyways as it can add another level of protection to both parties.