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11 Easy tips to transfer a car title.

If you’re a seller…

Consider accompanying the buyer to the state or county agency than handles titles

Until the buyer registers the car, it’s still your responsibility. As such, you should use your state’s notice of sale service (if it’s available) to show that you no longer claim ownership of the vehicle. This service registers the change of ownership with the state agency even if the buyer doesn’t register the car — otherwise, you could be responsible for parking tickets or toll violations.

Remove the license plates if required

In some states, the plates stay with the vehicle and transfer to the new owner. In other states, the seller removes the plates and either turns them in or moves them to another vehicle they own. It’s important to check with your local DMV to learn more about the specifics in your state.

Report the sale of the vehicle

If you sell or donate a vehicle, report it sold to the title agency in your state, such as the DMV or appropriate county agency responsible for recording titles. The notice of sale service records the change in ownership, so you’re no longer responsible for the car. If you trade it in, the dealer will take care of this step at some point. However, a dealer may not transfer the title until the car is sold, which could be months after the trade-in — that’s why it’s important to file the notice of sale as soon as possible.

What to do if you’ve lost the title or have no proof of ownership

If you’ve lost the title, you can apply for a duplicate title from your state agency.

If you’re a buyer…

Verify the VIN

Make sure the vehicle identification number (VIN) on the title matches the VIN on the driver’s side front dash, visible under the windshield of the vehicle or on the driver’s side door jamb.

Verify the name on the title

Check to make sure the person’s name on the title is the person selling the car. In addition, note that if more than one person is named, both may have to sign the title for the transfer; this will depend on whether the names are listed with “and,” “or” or “and/or” between them. (For example, if Bob Smith “and” Jane Smith or Bob Smith “and/or” Jane Smith are listed, your state may require both people to be present to sign.) Check before you head to the DMV to make sure who will ultimately need to be present. Meanwhile, when you’re transferring the car into your name, think about how you want to title it for when it comes time to sell it.

Verify the lien release

Make sure the title can be transferred with a lien release letter if the vehicle you’re buying has been paid off. If there’s still a lien, the owner will have to get permission from the lender to transfer the title to the buyer.

Make sure you have the proper documentation

The required documentation varies by state and the type of transaction. You may need different documents for a private party sale compared to inheriting a car, buying one that’s never been titled or an out-of-state transfer.

Here’s a list of the types of documents you may need — check out your state’s DMV website for specifics for your situation:

  • Photo ID

  • Proof of name change (marriage license or divorce decree)

  • Completed and signed title and registration application

  • Signed and notarized vehicle title (including odometer reading)

  • Lien release (if necessary)

  • Other documents (power of attorney or personal representative papers)

  • Title and registration fees

  • Buyer proof of insurance

You should also check out your state’s DMV website for any additional items specific to your situation.

Check insurance requirements

Most states require proof of insurance when transferring a title. If you have insurance on the vehicle you’re trading in or on another car, use that policy number as proof of insurance to finalize the transaction at the dealer. Insurance carriers usually offer a grace period of five to 30 days to update your policy with the new vehicle information. Check with your insurance carrier for details.

Know the deadline for title transfer

States have a deadline to apply for a title after buying a car. A dealer will typically take care of this step, but in a private sale, the deadline is usually 10 to 15 days, or even up to 30 days, depending on the state. If you don’t get the new title in time, you may face penalties.

Check for liens

Your state may have an online system to check for liens and other financial obligations — such as a mechanic’s lien or child support lien — that may not be indicated on the title. Don’t pay for a vehicle until you’ve verified the title can be transferred.

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