The vehicle certificate of title is a document that establishes the owner of a car. If you’re buying or selling a vehicle, it is crucial to transfer the ownership of the car to the new owner.
This process is fairly simple but can vary from state to state. Here’s everything you need to know about the vehicle title transfer process.
What Is a Car Title Transfer?
A car title transfer is a process of transferring the ownership of a vehicle from a previous owner to a new owner. A car title is a legal document, and perhaps the most important one, especially if you’re buying a car.
As the seller of a car, you will formalize the transaction when you transfer the ownership of the vehicle by signing over the title to the buyer.
As the buyer in a private auto sale, you will become the legal owner of the vehicle as soon as the seller transfers the title to you.
What Documents Are Needed for a Vehicle Transfer?
There can be multiple required documents involved in a vehicle sale, but the title is the most significant. Though documentation requirements can vary from one state to another, here are the documents most commonly required:
- A completed title transfer application form
- Proof of car insurance from the buyer
- Proof of identity from buyer and seller (driver’s license or government-issued ID card)—note that PrivateAuto verifies buyers and sellers
- Bill of sale–done through the PrivateAuto mobile app with e-signatures
- The original title (or a duplicate title, if the original one is lost)
- An odometer disclosure statement–required by some states
- A highway safety inspection–required by some states
How Do You Transfer a Title Over?
To transfer vehicle ownership, the previous owner and the title recipient will need to complete the following steps:
- Agree on terms of the sale (negotiate a purchase price)
- The buyer pays the seller (for vehicles purchased through PrivateAuto, you can do this step securely through PrivateAuto Pay)
- The seller fills out the necessary information on the title and signs it over to the buyer—if the title lists two owners, both owners may need to sign the title)
- The seller completes an odometer reading or a highway safety inspection if it’s required in your state
- If the vehicle has an outstanding loan, lending institutions (listed as lien holders) will either need to be paid off or consent to the transaction
- The buyer gets liability insurance on the vehicle
- The buyer registers their new vehicle—this step requires proof of insurance, and the buyer will need to provide an identification document (driver’s license or ID card)
- The buyer gets a temporary permit to drive the vehicle
- The buyer pays the title transfer fee required for their state—if you’re transferring an out-of-state title, you’ll need to pay the fees appropriate for your state, not the state you’re buying from
- The buyer pays the vehicle sales tax on the purchase price of the vehicle as applicable (except if eligible for tax exemption)—taxes vary by state, with some states not charging sales tax at all on private vehicle sales
- Complete a transfer of ownership and submit it to your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)—depending on the state, this step may need to involve both the buyer and the seller, or just the buyer
How Long Can You Wait to Transfer a Title?
The length of time you can wait to transfer a title varies from state to state. While some states allow you to submit title transfer documentation within 30 or even 60 days, you’ll need to do so within the first 10 days of purchasing a vehicle in other states. Generally, you should transfer the title of a recently purchased vehicle as soon as possible.
Title Transfer by State
For complete instructions on the transfer of vehicle titles by state, click on your state below.
How to Schedule a Title Transfer Appointment
Many states allow you to schedule a title transfer appointment online via the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website. Some states even allow you to complete the entire title transfer process via their DMV website.
For other states, you may need to call your local DMV office to schedule an appointment or to inquire about your state’s title transfer procedure.
Title Transfer Online
Many states allow for the entire title application and transfer process to be done online. To see if this is the case in your state, check your state’s DMV website to see if an online title transfer is available.
Title Transfer Cost
Title fees vary from state to state, as each state sets its own title transfer fees. For instance, it costs $6 to transfer a title in Utah, $7 to do a title transfer in Colorado, and $58 to complete a title transfer in Pennsylvania. If you’re calculating fees for a title transfer in your state, check your state’s DMV website for more information.
Title Transfer Fee Exemptions
Depending on the state you live in, you may be exempt from paying vehicle title transfer fees. Generally, you will need to pay transfer fees for all autonomous vehicles and all-terrain vehicles, but military and veteran service members can get an exemption on one vehicle in most US states.
If you are using your vehicle for transport as a disabled person and hold a disabled parking permit, you may be exempt from transfer fees.
Additionally, if you use the vehicle exclusively for shelter (for example, mobile homes and vehicle trailers) or exclusively for work (for example, motor carrier vehicles and agricultural vehicles), some states allow you to complete the title transfer process without paying fees.
What Information Is on a Car Title?
A vehicle title displays identifying information about the vehicle and the vehicle’s owner. The information displayed on a car title includes:
- The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
- Manufacturer’s certificate of origin
- The vehicle’s make
- The vehicle’s model
- The vehicle’s year of manufacture
- Technical information about the vehicle, such as weight
- The vehicle’s license plate number
- The owner’s name and address—also any address changes that may have occurred since the owner held the title
- Lienholder information, when applicable
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Is Title Transfer the Same as Registration?
No, a vehicle title and registration are not the same, though they are often confused with each other. A title certificate is a vehicle ownership certificate, while a car registration is a document that allows you (and others) to drive the vehicle on public roads. Let’s examine the differences between the two.
Car Title vs Registration
Vehicle registration is proof that you’ve registered your car with your state and have paid any outstanding fees or taxes. Here are the main distinctions between title and registration:
- A title certificate proves you own the car
- A registration card allows you (and others) to drive the car on public roads
- Vehicle registration needs to be renewed, usually annually
- A vehicle title does not need to be renewed
- A title transfer fee is paid once, when a vehicle transaction happens or in the immediate aftermath
- Registration fees are paid on a regular basis, usually annually
Does a Title Transfer Include Registration?
No, a title transfer does not include registration, but you can usually finalize the transfer of the title and register your vehicle simultaneously with your state’s DMV.
Simply submit the registration application at the same time you submit the title transfer application, either online, by mailing it to your DMV, or by going to the DMV in person. But, remember, you will need to pay a vehicle registration fee in addition to the title transfer fee.
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FAQ on Title Transfers
How can I transfer a title into my name?
If you are purchasing a vehicle, the seller will need to sign the title over to you, and then you will need to complete the title transfer with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). You will also need to register your vehicle with the state and pay registration fees.
If you were given a vehicle by a family member and didn’t pay for it, the process of transferring a vehicle title to your name stays the same, but you may not need to pay for transfer fees, depending on your state of residence.
Does a title transfer need to be notarized?
A title transfer does not need to be notarized in every state, but some states do require a title transfer notarization. States that require a title transfer to be notarized are:
- North Carolina
Notarization makes the title transfer a legally binding document, so it’s highly beneficial to have a notarized title transfer as a buyer, even if your state doesn’t require it.
Can you do a title transfer without the title?
No, you can’t complete a title transfer without a certified title. If your car title has been damaged, destroyed, lost, or stolen, you’ll need to get a duplicate title. Each state has its own process for getting duplicate titles.
Though the specific requirements of each state may vary, most of them require the following documentation to issue a duplicate certificate of title:
- Proof of ownership of the vehicle
- Driver’s license or identification card (ID)
- Proof of liability insurance on the vehicle
- Proof of registration
How do I do a title transfer for a deceased owner?
Transferring vehicle titles from deceased owners is similar to transferring them from previous owners.
The only difference in documentation needed for a title transfer is that you’ll need to obtain the deceased owner’s death certificate, in addition to other necessary documents mentioned above.
If the title is being transferred to the surviving spouse or a domestic partner, they will be exempt from paying title transfer fees in most states.
What is title jumping in Michigan?
Title jumping is selling a vehicle that you don’t own (without your name on the title). Title jumping is illegal in all states, including Michigan.
How much is a title transfer in Michigan?
Transferring a car title in Michigan will cost you $15. Remember, this fee does not include registration fees, which you’ll need to pay for annually in the state of Michigan.
How much is a title transfer in NC?
A title transfer in NC will cost you $56. This state also requires you to pay a license plate fee when purchasing a vehicle in North Carolina, which starts at $39. In North Carolina, transferring plates is necessary to register your vehicle.
Can I do a title transfer online in Texas?
Yes, you can transfer a car title online in Texas. This state encourages online title transfers as a way to avoid overcrowding local DMVs.
How much is a title transfer in California?
A title transfer fee when buying a car in California is $15. This state allows you to complete the title transfer process and pay the transfer fees within 30 days after purchasing a vehicle.
How much is a title transfer in Texas?
The title transfer fee in Texas ranges from $28 to $33, depending on what county you live in. This state gives you up to 30 days to apply for a title transfer when buying a vehicle in Texas, after which you will be charged a late fee of $25 per day.
How long does it take to get a title transfer in Texas?
The title transfer processing times in Texas can be quite lengthy. The Texas DMV website notes that you should allow a minimum of 20 business days for processing your vehicle title application, but this process usually takes a bit longer.
How long does a title transfer take in California?
It can take around a month for your application for title transfer to be processed in California. The California DMV website notes that it takes approximately 30 days from the day they get your documents for them to process your title transfer.
Can I get a copy of my vehicle title online?
Yes, you can get a certified copy of your car title online in most states. Your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website will note whether getting certified copies of vehicle titles online is available in said state. The website usually features specific forms and publications your state uses as well.
Do farm vehicles have a title?
Farm vehicles may or may not have a title. Generally, if a farm vehicle will also be traveling on public roads, it will need to be titled and registered and will require you to replace your license plates and get a special plate that allows you to do so.
If the farm vehicle is used strictly within the farm and will not be traveling on public roads, it may be exempt from titling and registration, and likely won’t need special license plates. For more information, check with the laws of your respective state.