What Do I File When I Sell a Car in California?

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In California, the buyer is responsible for transferring title when a car is sold or gifted.
In California, the buyer is responsible for transferring title when a car is sold or gifted. (Image: Photos.com/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Whether you are gifting your vehicle to a family member or friend or selling your vehicle to a stranger, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) requires that you file paperwork with that agency to exchange ownership and transfer liability. In some cases, the buyer is responsible for filing the form. The certificate of title must be shown at the time of sale but does not need to be filed with the DMV.

Certificate of Title

In order to sell, transfer or gift your car to another person in California, you need your certificate of vehicle title, which is also known as a pink slip. If you do not have the vehicle's title, you can apply for a duplicate by printing and filling out form REG 227 at the California DMV website (dmv.ca.gov). The buyer, the seller and any lien holders must sign the title at the time of sale. The lien holder's section must be notarized.

Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment Form

The California DMV requires that you file a Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment Form (REG 262) after you sell your car to a private buyer, gift your car to a friend or family member or transfer ownership between any two parties. If your car has been sold in the past, you will need to file both the original and new REG 262 with the DMV. This form can be downloaded from the DMV website.

Smog Certificate

If you are selling a car that is more than four years old at the time of sale, California law requires that the new buyer file a smog certificate. For cars less than four years old, the new buyer must only pay the smog transfer fee. Some vehicles do not require smog certificates, such as hybrids, cars manufactured earlier than 1975, diesel- or electric-powered cars, motorcycles, natural-gas powered cars weighing more than 14,001 pounds and vessels. If you are gifting your car to a family member or domestic partner, you can exempt the smog certificate by filling out a statement of facts form (REG 256), which is available online.

Notice of Transfer of Release of Liability

Once you have sold your car, you have five calendar days to file a transfer of notice and release of liability (REG 138) with the California DMV. This can be downloaded or filed online at the DMV website. By completing REG 138, you are legally releasing all liability to the buyer, who will be given all future DMV registration notices as the legal owner of the vehicle.

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