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Selling a car and the California DMV

Selling a car in California and the California DMV can seem overwhelming, so many bases to cover. If you choose an online service like ours to sell your car, the paperwork is part of the deal, we handle the DMV for you.

If you choose to sell using another avenue, you are on your own.

DMV series
Here are some tips to help get you through it.

First things first, do you need a smog certificate?

When you sell a car, you must change the title to a new owner. When you do this through the DMV they will require proof of smog certification in the state of California unless your vehicle is:

  • A hybrid
  • Older than 1975
  • Diesel powered
  • Electric
  • Powered by natural gas and its Gross Vehicle Weight rating exceeds 14,001 pounds
  • Motorcycle
  • Trailer
  • Vessel
  • Being transferred between family members

It is the sellers responsibility to have the vehicle smog certified, and the certification is good for 90 days after issue.

The paperwork

Lets face it, there is paperwork involved in anything important and the DMV is no different. One of the most important parts of selling a car is releasing your self of liability, which you can do here.

Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability - This release absolves the seller of liability for the following after the transfer date:

  • Traffic tickets
  • Parking tickets
  • Civil litigation resulting from use of the vehicle
  • Registration renewal fees and penalties
  • Click here for a printable version of the form which can be mailed in.

    What you’ll need to fill it out:

    • A Description of the vehicle
    • License plate number
    • Vehicle identification number
    • Vehicle make
    • Year model
    • New owners name and address
    • Vehicle odometer reading as of transfer date
    • Sellers or lessee’s name and address

    Final sale steps

    The legal transfer of the vehicle requires the signature of the selling owner, releasing ownership. It is important to note that the seller is responsible for completing the above Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability within 5 days of the date of the transfer.

    California plate

    Your History

    Should you need to get a history of your driving record or a history of a vehicle in your name you may pay the required five dollars and fill out this form.

    Legal ownership

    Legal owner and lienholder are the same thing. When a vehicle loan is paid off a change of legal ownership must occur.

    To change ownership the Certificate of Title must be submitted to the DMV. They offer three options:

    1) A REG 166 form on which the existing legal owner has signed in the appropriate spaces releasing ownership, or a notarized lien satisfied.

    2) A REG 227 Application for Duplicate Title again signed by the legal owner and notarized.

    3) A document from a financial institute stating and notarizing the following:

  • A description of the vehicle
  • States they are no longer lienholders
  • Claims no interest in the vehicle
  • You do realize that in the time it took to read this article you could have already sold us your car, right?

    Just use our online form, get paid and eliminate your need for this article altogether.

    4 thoughts on “Selling a car and the California DMV

    1. Steffen Olofsson

      We are four guys from Europe planning a trip to the states this summer. The plan is to start off in the New York area and buy a car (we thought about renting one, but we are “under-aged”). The car we are buying is a Chevrolet Tahoe 96-99 but we are now concerned about selling it when we arrive in San Fransisco, where we are ending our trip.
      About the smog certificate, will we have any problems selling our car in the state of California? And other than that, are there any more laws/regulations that will give us any problems during our trip throughout the US?

      Steffen Olofsson

    2. Clarence Dudek

      My car is a 1978 and has not been registered since 1993. I want to sell it. Am I required by Calif. law to register it and have it smogged before I can sell it? I know it is out of the system and I don’t want to go to all this trouble so I can sell it? Are there any alternatives?

    3. Diana

      I have lived in California but I am moving back to Spain in 15 days. I sold my car 10 days ago. It was in perfect condition, so said the mechanic, the smog check went perfectly but the new owner says now that it is giving her some problems. She says it does not go up to 20 miles per hour!! Nothing went wrong when I sold it. She says she is going to take it to the mechanic and we should split the cost or she will give me the car back. Can she do something like that? She says there is a 30 day period to return the car when you buy it from a private party but I find no information about it. Is she right?

    4. Victor General

      I plan on selling my vehicle to a family member. However, the sale will be financed for approximately 2 years. Is it advisable to become the lienholder at this point? If so, are there any special steps required to accomplish this other than filling out the lienholder section?

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