Whether you are buying or selling a used vehicle, it’s important to understand how to transfer a title.
A vehicle title is sometimes mistaken for a vehicle’s registration. While there are some similarities between the two documents, your vehicle title contains more information about your vehicle.
Your registration states that your vehicle is safe to drive on public roads, but your title has information about the car make, model and year, the odometer on the issue date, vehicle identification number and, most importantly, who legally owns the vehicle.
Until a vehicle title is transferred into your name, you do not legally own the car in question.
Getting a Vehicle Title as a Buyer
Both the buyer and seller are involved in a vehicle title transfer. Typically, the process is faster when you are the buyer.
When you purchase a used vehicle, the seller will sign his or her existing title over to you. You must bring the signed title to your Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or a similar approved office if your state allows it.
Once you are at the office, you then must sign the title and complete a transfer form. In some states, the seller must also be present when the title exchange occurs, or a notary must be present.
You usually pay a small fee when you complete the title exchange. Once the change is processed, you are provided a new vehicle title listing you as the owner.
If you are buying a used car from the dealership, the dealership typically manages most of the paperwork. Many dealerships will also cover the cost of any fees. However, some may factor transfer fees into the cost of your vehicle.
Transferring Your Vehicle Title as the Seller
Transferring a vehicle title if you are the seller has a few extra steps.
First, you must usually complete a bill of sale. A bill of sale contains identifying information of the buyer, such as his or her name and address.
You usually need to include the date of sale, your vehicle’s odometer reading and the total cost of the sale. Both you and the buyer must sign the bill of sale.
Once the bill of sale is complete, you then need to complete any state title transfer applications or registrations. In most states, these registrations carry a small fee.
Depending on your state rules, there may be additional steps to take before the title legally transfers. For example, some states require you to remove your existing license plates once you sell your vehicle.
Check with your DMV for a complete list of requirements, as well as which forms are necessary to complete the change. Some states are integrating online title transfers, but most require visiting the DMV in person for at least some of the process.