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  • Selling or buying a car
  • Transfer to family
  • Inheriting a vehicle
  • Paying off a loan
  • Gifting or donating a vehicle
  • Making name corrections


Selling or Buying a Vehicle.  Most states require a Vehicle Bill of Sale when buying or selling a car, which is a document outlining the terms and conditions of the exchange between two independent parties. It includes the purchase price, the VIN, the model and year of the vehicle, the warranty and odometer provisions, the signed legal names and addresses of both the seller and the buyer, and sometimes a notarized signature. The Vehicle Bill of Sale represents the transfer of the RIGHT to ownership. The vehicle’s certificate of title represents ACTUAL ownership and is required in every state. The seller must provide a current odometer disclosure on the title at the time of sale, and both the buyer and seller must sign and date the document. The buyer then needs to make an appointment at his/her state's DMV and apply for a title in his/her name. Be prepared to present the above paperwork and pay a small transfer fee. Note that some states also require a smog certification.

Transfer to Family. Even when transferring car ownership to a family member, most if not all of the same vehicle title transfer procedures and regulations apply. Typically, the recipient will not have to pay sales tax on the vehicle. Spouses, parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren, siblings and partners are considered eligible for a “family” vehicle title transfer. The rest of the process of transferring title is the same as in buying or selling a car.

Inheriting a Vehicle. The process of a vehicle title of an inherited vehicle may vary depending on the exact situation, so consider consulting a probate attorney for legal advice. Generally, to claim the deceased owner’s vehicle, you will need to provide the DMV with proof of your identity and relationship to the owner, a completed and signed title including the current odometer disclosure, a completed Statement of Facts, and all supporting paperwork, such as the will, death certificate, or other certified court documents. Be prepared to pay a transfer fee. Once the transfer is authorized, be sure to update your car insurance policy with your new vehicle. Inherited vehicles may also be exempt from sales tax.

Paying Off a Loan. After you pay off your car loan, the lienholder must be removed from the title. Usually the lienholder will take care of this for you. When the lien release is signed and mailed to you, make an appointment with the DMV as soon as possible and submit the lien release, a completed vehicle title transfer application, and pay the transfer fee. If you choose to mail the documents, be aware of the additional processing time.

Gifting a Vehicle. As with transferring a car to a family member, the recipient of a gifted vehicle may not have to pay sales tax on the vehicle. The procedures for transferring ownership are similar to buying or selling a car: the donor must include the odometer disclosure on the title, both parties must sign and date the title, and the recipient must go to the DMV and apply for a a new title in his/her name and pay the transfer fee.

Making Name Corrections. Gather the legal documents that provide proof of your name change, like a birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court order. Write the corrected name under “New Registered Owner” on your vehicle title and complete the appropriate portion of a Statement of Facts. Make an appointment with your local DMV to submit the paperwork. Note that some states wave the title fee for name corrections.

All DMV related laws vary by state. Consult your state’s DMV for specific regulations and procedures by following the links below.



New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico 
New York
North Carolina


North Dakota
Puerto Rico
Rhode Island
South Carolina 
South Dakota
West Virginia

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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