Private car sellers in Virginia face certification requirements exclusive to their state. Many transplants and some natives aren't aware of these prerequisites until the DMV asks for the paperwork. We're here to guide you through these unique challenges and set you up for success when selling your car privately.

Paperwork Checklist for Transferring a Car Title in VA

As with all states, you'll need quite a few things to make the transaction legal. Here's what Virginia requires:

Regulations for Selling Used Vehicles in Virginia

Virginia's regulations for private sellers are quite strict compared to other states.

Virginia requires a yearly inspection of all personal-use vehicles to make sure they are road safe and up-to-code. Inspectors perform a 23-point inspection, looking at everything from the mirrors to the floorboards to see that the equipment is intact and functioning as it should.

You'll need to have a current safety inspection decal to legally transfer the vehicle. The cost for a safety inspection ranges from $10-$20 and can be performed at many privately operated automotive shops.

Depending on where you live, you may also be required to have a smog test before you can transfer or re-register your car. The Air Check Virginia program monitors vehicle emissions in five counties and five cities in the state.

If your area mandates emissions testing you'll need to have an inspection every two years for the certification to remain current. The certification decal will prevent you from receiving tickets and  allow you to re-register or transfer the vehicle

As with any state, drivers must either return or transfer their old tag when selling or giving away a car. Failure to surrender or transfer the tag on time is a Class 3 misdemeanor and can result in fines or even jail time.

When a passenger vehicle is sold in this state, both the buyer and seller must fill out a sales price certification document in addition to a bill of sale. The exact form you'll need to complete depends on the age of the vehicle.

The regulations for dealers are stricter than those for the average person. Dealerships can face legal action if they fail to disclose any mechanical problems with the vehicle. Though not a warranty, failure to inform the buyer that the car is sold "as is" with no guarantees can leave them open to lawsuits and fines up to $1,000.

Steps to Transfer a Car Title in VA

1.Take care of any loans.

If you have a title loan out on your vehicle, you'll need to figure out a manageable payment plan before selling it. There are a few ways the state of Virginia lets owners go about this process. The simplest and most efficient way is to pay off the debt in full. Once paid, the lienholder signs a release form and has the updated title sent directly to you.

For many people, paying off a large debt out-of-pocket isn't do-able. If you're comfortable with taking payments for the vehicle, you can draw up a contract for the buyer and use the installments to pay off the lien.

Alternatively, you can discuss the lien with the buyer and ask them if they're willing to wait a couple of weeks to get the title in hand. This way, you can take the full sum from the sale to the lender and transfer the title to the buyer when you receive the updated copy. You’ll still need to complete a bill of sale at the time of transfer if you chose this route.

The nifty thing about Virginia is the state has an electronic lien program that automatically updates when a lien is satisfied. Unfortunately, this system isn't linked with the DMV database, so you'll still need to update them on any changes regarding your lien and pay the $10 fee to remove the lienholder from the title.

2.Double-check the information on the title

If your address or legal name has changed since you applied for your paper title, you'll need to apply for a "substitute" title before you can legally sell the car. This same application is used to remove a co-owner or deceased owner from the title. Keep in mind that you’ll need to update your license information to reflect changes to your name or address.

3.Fill out the transfer information on the title.

Make sure you correctly complete the "Assignment of Title by Owner" section and list the exact mileage on the title. Rounding the odometer reading on a title (no matter if it's rounded up or down) is a federal crime.

If there are two owners listed on the title, both must sign off on it before transferring the vehicle. The DMV won’t acknowledge the sale or register the car to the buyer unless the title contains the signatures of both transferring parties.

4.Make sure your vehicle safety inspection sticker is current.

All personal vehicles registered in Virginia must have a yearly safety inspection and certification sticker to prove it. If you or the buyer are pulled over with an expired sticker you can face traffic tickets and fines. The certification sticker must go with the car when it changes hands.

5.See if your town requires an emissions inspection sticker.

The state-run Air Quality Virginia program emphasizes the importance of reducing emissions in the northern part of the state. This program only applies to the following areas: Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Stafford, Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas, and Manassas Park.

If your area doesn't have emissions requirements, but the buyer's hometown does, it's their responsibility to have a smog test. The DMV will NOT register the vehicle without an emissions certificate.

Emissions decals must be renewed every other year. Thankfully, Virginia makes it easy for drivers to do this. The state offers RAPIDPASS drive-thru testing, which conducts the emissions test in a fraction of a second, and the results are electronically transferred to DMV by the following day. Cars that have failed an emissions test and the repair costs are determined to exceed the maximum repair cost allowed, may have the test requirement waived.

6.Create a bill of sale

A bill of sale has many purposes in addition to being a "receipt" of the transaction. This document serves as an odometer disclosure, proof of transfer, verifies ownership and is needed to update both the DMV and your insurance agency on the vehicle status.

7.Complete either a Vehicle Price Certification or Affidavit of Vehicle Purchase Price

The Vehicle Price Certification and Affidavit of Vehicle Purchase forms are unique to this state. A Vehicle Price Certification is for vehicles over five years old, and an Affidavit of Vehicle Purchase Price is for cars five years old or newer. The DMV requires these documents for all private auto sales in the state.

To complete this form, you'll need the VIN, vehicle description, sales price, and signatures of both the buyer and seller. The bottom portion of this document includes a statement of fact which both the buyer and seller must sign, affirming that the price listed is the actual amount paid.

8.Remove the license plate.

Virginia penal code section 46.2-707 mandates that when transferring or selling a vehicle, the previous owner must either transfer the tag to a different car they own or return it to the DMV.

If you choose to surrender the tag at a local office, you may be eligible for a full or partial refund of your registration fees. The VA DMV website has a convenient online program where users can surrender their old plates. Unfortunately, the system can't issue refunds to online users.

If you prefer to transfer the plate to another car, you'll need to submit the same form you would for a new tag (form VSA-10) to your local DMV office.

9.Notify the DMV of the sale.

There are several ways you can notify the DMV of the transfer. You can either call the customer service line, submit a notice of transfer online, or visit your local office. Failure to notify the DMV may result in driver's license suspension or further legal action.

10.Notify your insurance agency, too.

Neglecting to inform your insurance agent of a recent car transfer can cause unnecessary hassle in more ways than one. Besides being charged for coverage that you aren't using, you could be held accountable if the new owner has an accident in the vehicle. Save yourself the trouble and notify the company as soon as the ink dries on the bill of sale.

Let Private Auto Take the Guesswork Out

Paperwork is a snap, with PrivateAuto. Our database will help you map out the documents you’ll need to close the sale and square things away at the DMV. Don’t undertake the sales process alone. PrivateAuto has the information you need to finalize your sale, all in one convenient place!