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When is a vehicle title transfer required?

When a vehicle has, or is required to have a title, when ownership changes, a title transfer is typically required. Here are the most common situations where a vehicle title transfer may be required:

  • Selling or buying a car.
  • Transferring a car to a family member.
  • Inheriting a vehicle.
  • Paying off a car loan or car note.
  • Gifting, donating, or junking a vehicle.
  • Making name corrections.

How do I transfer vehicle ownership when buying or selling a car?

Most states require a Vehicle Bill of Sale or some other documentation when buying or selling a car. A Bill of Sale documents the terms and conditions of the exchange between two private people. It includes the purchase price, the VIN, the model and year of the vehicle, the warranty, an odometer reading, the signed legal names and addresses of both the seller and the buyer, and sometimes a notarized signature. A Vehicle Bill of Sale, however, only represents the transfer of the right to ownership. The vehicle’s certificate of title represents actual ownership and is required in every state. 

After or at the time of the sale, the seller must provide a current odometer disclosure on the title, and both the buyer and seller must sign and date the title document. The buyer then needs to make an appointment at their state's DMV and apply for a title in their name. Be prepared to present the above paperwork and pay a small transfer fee. Note that some states, like California, also require a smog certification.

How do I transfer vehicle ownership to a family member?

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 buying or selling a car.

How do I transfer vehicle ownership if I inherit a car or boat?

The process of getting the title to an inherited car or boat in your name may vary depending on the exact situation. You may want to ask a lawyer about your specific situation. 

Generally, to claim the deceased owner’s vehicle, you may be required to provide the DMV with proof of your identity and relationship to the owner, a completed and signed title including the current odometer disclosure, and other supporting paperwork, such as the will, death certificate, or other certified court documents. Be prepared to pay a transfer fee. Inherited vehicles may also be exempt from sales tax.

How do I remove my loan company from the title when I pay off my car note?

After you pay off your car loan or car note, the lienholder must be removed from the title. Usually the lienholder takes care of this process. When the lien release is signed and mailed to you, you may still need to make an appointment with the DMV and submit the lien release, a completed vehicle title transfer application, and pay the transfer fee. You may be able to do all of this by mail, just be aware of the additional processing time.

How do I transfer vehicle ownership when gifting a car?

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 new title in their name and pay the transfer fee.

How do I change or correct a name on a vehicle title?

If your name changes due to marriage or divorce, or you discover a mistake on your title, you can have your name changed or corrected on the document. 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 the title or title transfer document. Then, 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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