Are you selling your car to a family member or a friend? Gifting it to the new driver in your home? Or listing your car on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace? No matter how you plan on bidding farewell to your wheels, you’ll need to know how to sign over a car title. And it’s not as difficult as you might think.
All you’ll need are the car’s title, other relevant documents and the know-how to sign over the car title.
And that’s where we come in, by the way. We’ll show you the steps you’ll need to take and how to swerve past common roadblocks.
What Is a Car Title?
A car title is a legal document that demonstrates ownership of a registered vehicle. The title is issued by the department of motor vehicles (DMV) or motor vehicle authority in the state where you bought your car.
Each state may include different information on its titles, but you can expect to find some information on all vehicle titles, including:
- Owner’s name and address
- Vehicle identification number (VIN)
- Car year, make and model
- Odometer disclosure
- Lien holder information
- Title assignment section (sometimes called a transfer of ownership form)
The car’s title is key to transferring legal ownership in any sale. When you buy from (or sell to) a dealership, they’ll usually take care of the car title transfer for you. If it’s a private sale or you’re gifting a car, you’ll need to know how vehicle title changes work and do the heavy lifting yourself.
How Does Transferring a Car Title Work?
When both the seller and the buyer are well prepared, it’s relatively easy to transfer a car title. To confirm the steps to change the title of a car, check out your state’s rules.
At its simplest, a title transfer works when the seller and buyer sign the title, then the buyer files the transfer at the DMV.
Precision is vital at each step of the process. You must complete all required fields on the transfer of ownership form accurately and submit any supporting documents to help ensure a smooth transfer. Get it wrong, and you could run into delays at the DMV, additional forms or fees.
Step 1: The seller signs
First, the seller signs the transfer ownership section to release ownership. Some states require sellers to include the sales price and submit additional paperwork. For example, Florida requires sellers to fill out a Notice of Sale (also known as a bill of sale in other states).
Step 2: The buyer signs
The buyer receives the title from the seller after paying for the car and filling out their portion of the title form. Some states also require additional documents from buyers. For example, buyers in Florida must complete the Application for Certificate of Title With/Without Registration.
We can’t stress how important it is to verify that the person selling you the car is, in fact, the legal owner of the car (aka title holder).
Safeguard yourself from scams by confirming the title holder’s identity and learning how to figure out if a title is fake. Some red flags are blurry or smudged text, missing watermarks and questionable paper quality.
Step 3: The buyer files the title change
After the title is signed and any required supporting documents are collected, the buyer takes the signed title to their state’s motor vehicle authority to officially file the transfer, pay any sales tax or fees and register the vehicle under their name. Buyers usually have 30 days from the sale to file, but the amount of time you have will vary by state. So put the pedal to the metal!
The buyer (aka new owner) will receive a temporary registration and should receive their permanent registration and new title in the mail.
What Documents Do I Need To Transfer a Car Title?
Depending on the state, you may need different documents to transfer a car’s title. To avoid delays or unpleasant surprises, check with your local motor vehicle authority first.
There are some standard documents you’ll need, including:
- The car’s original title
- A state-issued driver’s license
- The vehicle’s current odometer reading
- Proof of insurance
- A VIN verification form
- A bill of sale (or Notice of Sale) indicating the car’s purchase price
Can I Transfer a Car Title if There’s Still a Loan on the Car?
Yes … and no. You can technically transfer a car title with a loan, but it’s more challenging because a lien is involved. In most cases, the loan must be paid off to settle the lien before transferring ownership.
If the car you’re selling has an outstanding loan you can’t pay off, don’t panic. You may not have to put the brakes on the deal. Some lenders will allow a buyer to assume the outstanding loan balance. Speak with your lender to learn all your options.
But buyer beware! If the seller does not pay off the loan to settle the lien, the lien holder could have a legal claim to the vehicle.
What Happens if the Car Title Co-Owned by 2 People?
It’s pretty common for a car to have co-owners. That’s usually the case when a vehicle is shared by spouses. If there are co-owners, there are likely two names on the car title. And what happens when transferring the title depends on how the names are listed. Are they listed with an “and” or an “or”?
Let’s say Sam and Riley co-own the car they’re selling. If the title listing says “Sam and Riley,” both of them must sign the title to release ownership. If the title listing says “Sam or Riley,” only one of them needs to sign the title. The rest of the steps to transfer the car title should generally remain the same.
The title change could get more complicated if there is an issue with a co-signer. The seller may need to remove a co-signer from the loan before transferring ownership.
Car Title FAQs
Don’t let these common questions get in the way of your deal.
How do I get a copy of my car title?
You can request a copy of your car title from the DMV.
How do I transfer the title when the owner is deceased?
Transferring a title when the owner is deceased depends on state law and whether the deceased’s estate is going through probate. Confirm any requirements with your state’s motor vehicle authority.
Can I sign over a car title as a gift?
Yes, you can sign over a car title as a gift. You’ll need to sign over the title, fill out some paperwork at the DMV and pay a fee. Check your state’s motor vehicle authority to learn more.
How do you transfer car titles if 2 people trade vehicles?
The same process applies if transferring titles when two people trade vehicles. You just do the process twice. Consult your state’s laws to learn exactly what’s expected.
Now It’s Official 🤝
Whether you’re on the buyer’s or seller’s side of a car sale, you’ve got to feel satisfied that the deal is done. And, bonus: You both have the know-how to avoid any roadblocks or delays and cruise to a smooth transfer of ownership.
The Short Version
- A car title is a legal document that demonstrates ownership of a registered vehicle
- A title transfer works when the seller and buyer sign the title, then the buyer files the transfer at the DMV
- Depending on the state you live in, you may need different documents to transfer a car’s title
Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. “Selling a Vehicle.” Retrieved August 2022 from https://www.flhsmv.gov/safety-center/consumer-education/selling-vehicle-florida/