How to Transfer the Sale of a Car in California

By Johana Patler
Transfer the Sale of a Car in California
a car in a car show image by Gary from

Transferring a vehicle properly is an important part of selling your car. It's not as easy as swapping keys for a wad of cash. The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has useful information and specific guidelines to make a vehicle transfer safe, simple and legal. A transfer is "a change in the registered or legal ownership of a California registered vehicle." A car that you are giving away or transferring to a family also must also be documented in the DMV records, though a little differently.

Sign your California certificate of title. If you co-own the vehicle or are still making payments on the vehicle, the other owner or lien holder also must sign the certificate. If the car was made after 1988, the title will be a 7 by 8 inch blue certificate. If the vehicle is from before 1988, the title will be a 4 by 5 inch ownership certificate, commonly known as a "pink slip."

Have the buyer sign your certificate of title or pink slip. There are transfer fees, but are the buyer's responsibility. Write the odometer reading at the time of sale on the certificate of title.

Fill out and sign a "Bill of Sale" form. The California DMV has a form online which you can fill out and print. You also can acquire a blank Bill of Sale template online. A Bill of Sale includes your personal information, the buyer's information, sale price and the year and car make and model (see Resource 4).

Complete and sign a "Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability" form. There is a tool on the California DMV website which guides you on filling this form. If you do not submit this form, any traffic or parking violation which may occur while the new buyer is in the car's possession is still your liability.

Acquire the buyer's signature on the "Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability" form and on the "Bill of Sale" form. Make copies of these forms for the buyer and keep one copy for your records.

Check your car for smog if it is more than four years old. You are required as the seller to show the buyer a valid smog inspection certification. According to the California DMV, "smog inspections are required unless your vehicle is Hybrid, a gasoline powered 1975 year model or older, a diesel powered vehicle manufactured prior to 1998 or with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of more than 14,000 lbs, electric, natural gas powered with a GVWR rating of more than 14,000 lbs, a motorcycle or a trailer."

send in your documents or bring them a local california dmv. make an appointment for faster service and to avoid
standing in line image by Antonio Oquias from

Send in your documents or bring them a local California DMV. Make an appointment for faster service and to avoid long lines. You can make an appointment online or by calling 1- 800-777-0133.

About the Author

Johana Patler has been writing since 2004. She spent four years volunteering and living full-time in the International Sivananda Yoga Centers. She is certified and registered with Yoga Alliance and has co-owned two Yoga schools, where in addition to teaching she was responsible for all Web content and written material. Patler studied sociology at the Universities of California in Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz.