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Even though it’s an exciting time, buying or selling a car can be a real hassle. After you’ve worked your way through ads and tire kickers, you then have to negotiate a price and do all of the paperwork. One of the most important items you’ll cross paths with along the way is the title, which shows the car’s legal owner.
No matter if you’re buying or selling, you’ll want to make sure that the title is filled out properly, and completely, so that there’s no doubt about who actually owns the vehicle. If the vehicle is being bought or sold by an individual, you’ll need to fill out a transfer of title form to accompany all of the other documents.
What do you need to do? How long will it take? Unfortunately, every situation is different, but The Drive’s editors have spent enough time buying and selling cars to have a good feel for what it takes. Let’s get into the basics of transferring a car title.
Car Title Basics
Estimated Time Needed: Depending on the state and paperwork needed, 2-3 hours
Skill Level: Beginner
Vehicle System: Documentation
What Is a Car Title?
You’re not actually working on a vehicle, so losing an eye is less of a possibility here, but you’ll still need to keep your wits about you.
- Keep an eye on your documents and paperwork to prevent them from being lost.
- If you’re buying a vehicle, be sure to get a pre-purchase inspection to prevent buying a headache.
- If you’re accepting cash for the sale of a vehicle, it’s best to meet at or near a bank or police station to help protect yourself from injury or theft.
Everything You’ll Need To Transfer a Car Title
You won’t need a bucket of tools and a torch to do this job, but there are a few things you’ll likely have to grab to transfer a title.
- Original title
- Bill of sale
- Supporting documents, which may include:
- Driver’s license
- Proof of insurance
- Maintenance records
- Envelopes and mailing supplies
Organizing your paperwork and finances so everything is easily accessible and organized will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you a document or blowtorch. (You won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)
Here’s How To Transfer a Car Title
Title transfers happen most often when people buy or sell vehicles. We’ll focus on that process since it’s both the most common and most straightforward title transfer situation.
Let’s do this!
- Complete the Bill of Sale—States have different forms for this part of the process, but the concept is the same everywhere. If you’re buying or selling a vehicle, you’ll need to have a completed bill of sale to show that the transaction took place and to record details of how much was paid.
- Money Changes Hands—It’s illegal to buy or sell the vehicle for a different amount of money than is listed on the bill of sale.
- Head To The DMV—If you’re the buyer, make sure you have the old title from the seller. The title document itself may be any number of colors, and may have several patterns to help prevent counterfeiting, but the information will be the same. On the title, fill out the transfer section with the necessary details.
- Submit the Forms—Submit the old title, the bill of sale, and any other required documents to the DMV. The agency will take the forms, create a new title, and send it to you or your lender, if you’ve purchased a vehicle with a loan.
Pro Tips To Transfer a Car Title
If you’re planning on selling a vehicle, make sure you have the title and any related documents ready well in advance. If you need to request a new title or replace any of the paperwork prior to the sale, it can take time to submit the necessary paperwork to do so.
- Don’t try to fudge numbers, even if you’re selling a vehicle to a friend. It’s tempting to claim a lower sale price to save both parties money down the road, but the penalties for getting caught in that lie are often more severe than any potential savings can compensate for.
- If you’re mailing paperwork, be sure to get everything sent by certified mail and don’t send any originals through the post.
- If you’re buying a vehicle, make sure that the seller doesn’t have any loans or liens. If this is the case, the lender is the actual owner and the process takes on a different direction.
FAQs About Transferring Car Titles
You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!
Q. How Much Does It Cost To Transfer A Car Title?
A. Every state is a little different in what they charge for transferring a car title. States like Maine, for instance, charge a fee in the mid $30 range, while some states charge as much as $100.
Q. What If I Mess Up and Need To Correct Something?
A. Don’t follow your first instinct, which might be to cross out the mistake or to use white out. The title is a legal document, so you’ll want to keep it as neat as possible. If you’ve made a mistake when filling out a part of the transfer section, head to the DMV and get an opinion on whether or not you need to replace the document.
Q. I Lost My Title. Can I Drive Without It?
A. Yes. The police aren’t going to confiscate your car if you lose the title, but you should try to make every effort to get a new one as soon as possible.
Q. This All Seems Very Official. Do I Need To Have The Title Notarized?
A. Some states require a notarized title, but many do not. Check with your local DMV to find out if you need to have a notary present to complete the title transfer paperwork.
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You have several options when it comes to products that can make life easier when transferring a car title. We don’t want to overwhelm you with sales pitches, so The Drive’s editors have chosen three of the most useful, most affordable, and best-reviewed products around to get you going.
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