What Constitutes a Transfer of Title in California?

Under California state regulations, the transfer of a vehicle's title occurs under certain circumstances, such as when a car changes ownership because of a sale, gifting or inheritance. In cases where a title transfer occurs, the new owner is required to file paperwork reflecting the change, plus pay any applicable fees to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

  1. Ownership Change

    • When the lienholder or registered owner of a vehicle changes, the California DMV considers it a transfer of title for the vehicle, and the change must be registered with the DMV. The transfer can result from numerous reasons, including the sale, gifting or inheritance of a vehicle; one or more owners' names being removed for the title; or the paying off of a car loan.

    Required Documents

    • When transferring a title, the new owner must file a California certificate of title for the vehicle or an application for duplicate title. If the title is missing, the owner must file a duplicate title form with the DMV in order to transfer the vehicle's title. All paperwork is required to be filed within five days of the transfer of ownership.


    • Various fees are required to be paid to the DMV at the time of the transfer of title, but the fees vary on a case-by-case basis. Costs for vehicle ownership changes can include transfer fees; a use tax that's based on the city and county the new owner lives in; renewal of registration; and fees for a duplicate title and replacement license plates, if needed.

    Smog Check

    • A smog check is mandatory for all transferred vehicles when the model being transferred is more than four years old, unless a check has already been performed within 90 days of the transfer date. Hybrid vehicles are exempt from this rule, as are motorcycles, diesel-powered vehicles, electric and natural gas-powered cars, and gas-powered vehicles that are less than four years old.

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