How to Transfer a Car Title? Complete Step-by-Step Guide

how to transfer a car title
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Step by Step Guide to Transfer your Car Title

Are you buying or selling a car and looking to properly transfer a car title? 

Our guide below walks you through the process step-by-step and even provides links to state resources if you need to request a duplicate. 

A car title is an extremely important document that is proof of ownership. It comes in handy when you sell off the car, as the title has to be legally transferred to the new owner, so they can complete the registration process. If you don’t possess the title of your vehicle, you have to face several issues during the sale. The title is issued by your state’s department of motor vehicles, and also includes information like vehicle identification number (VIN), the mileage at the time of sale and what type of car it is.

How does the car title transfer work?

There are a couple of steps involved here – one for the buyer and the other for the seller. The latter has to release ownership of the car by signing the title, after which the former then takes that signed title to the DMV, and is issued a new registration and title. Few states might require more documents to complete the process, such as a bill of sale or transfer of ownership form.

When you buy a new car, a dealer handles the paperwork and you usually receive the vehicle title from your state’s DMV in the mail. But when private parties buy or sell cars, it is up to them to transfer the title. The seller might need to provide basic information about the car, like sales price and current odometer reading, in some states. Prior to signing the title, check properly with your state’s DMV to know exactly where to sign and how to pen down the correct details.

Please bear in mind that you have to present the title while donating a vehicle to charity and some states might require a notarized signature to complete the transfer. If you can’t locate or have misplaced the certificate of title, you have to get a duplicate one.

You have to complete the section of the title that says “Assignment of Title by Owner” or “Transfer of Ownership”. There are few areas of the title dedicated to dealer reassignments which should be left blank. Any fields in the “Assignment of Title by Owner” or similar section that need details about the seller/owner/transferer, mean they are asking your information. When the title asks for the seller’s name you would either print or sign your name exactly as it appears on the title where you are listed as the owner. Most states require that all owners listed on the title must print and sign their name when transferring ownership.

Fields that ask for information about a buyer/purchaser/transferee are asking for details about the person you are selling or donating the vehicle to. This section should never, under any circumstances, be left completely blank as this can lead to abuses and liability for you.

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Whose name is listed on the title?

If you are the seller, you have to check at how your name is listed on the title of the car. In case it is your name alone printed on the title, it means you are the sole owner, and can easily transfer ownership. But if there is a bank’s name or lender’s name on the title, which is referred to as a lienholder, it means you still have an auto loan to settle before selling the vehicle. The situation gets complicated, but you can always call your lender and ask how to sell a car that has a loan and how the transaction should be handled.

Sometimes, a vehicle is owned jointly by two people, such as spouses. There are a couple ways to write the vehicle title in such cases. The two names might have an “and” or an “or” between them. Generally, “and” means both parties have to sign the title to release ownership, but “or” means either person can sign the title.

How to avoid unnecessary delays?

It is advisable to visit the website of your state’s DMV, so you can be sure of what documents are required, where to sign the title, and how to deal with multiple owners. If you make a mistake, such as signing on the wrong line, or if you try to erase something from the title, it can slow the process. You might need to fill out a second form, stating you made a mistake, or apply for a new title from the DMV before the sale can be concluded.

How to verify if you have a transferable title?

You can only transfer the title if the following conditions are met:

  • Title has to be in your name, barring cross-outs or errors.
  • All liens have to be released. In case there is a lien listed on your title, it has to be signed off on the title or you must provide a separate lien release document.
  • You have to adhere to the title instructions while signing as the seller.

What is the next step for the buyer?

Once the title is properly signed by the seller, the buyer has to register the car in the new owner’s name. In a few states, the application for a new title and registration is on the back of the old title. Otherwise, you might have to download a transfer of ownership form from the state’s DMV website. Usually, a temporary registration is issued as soon as the title and proper forms have been presented to the DMV. A new title, in the new owner’s name, is mailed later.

If you have changed your name since the car has been titled, please proceed with caution. You have to sign the title with your name as shown on the front of the title. If you don’t abide by this condition, the title becomes void, so you have to get a correction form or duplicate title.

Another aspect you have to keep in mind is if the title is in a deceased person’s name. Different states require varied paperwork. Usually, this involves a copy of the death certificate, executor rights paperwork, and the signed title. Find out the paperwork specific to your state before proceeding.

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