Title Transfer


The title to a vehicle is the written proof that the named individual owns it. As the vehicle's owner, you must have a title to obtain license plates and register it in the state where you live.

Titles are issued by states for a fee. All states have regulations requiring each vehicle, at the time it is sold, to be issued a title with its new owner's name. The initial title transfer occurs when the vehicle is sold off the dealer's lot. The title is transferred from the dealer to the buyer. Thereafter, title is transferred as the vehicle is bought and sold during the course of its operation. The title is referred to as the "vehicle registration" in some states.

Transferring title is a legal process handled by your state. All states have a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) that maintains information on vehicle title transfers. Usually any information needed for title transfer is available on the state's DMV Web site, including fees charged and downloads of necessary documents.

Steps For Transferring Title

All states require title transfers to be completed within a specific number of days after the vehicle is sold. The typical time is anywhere from 7 to 30 days after purchase. If the deadline is exceeded, additional fees and fines will be assessed. The application form for vehicle title or registration transfers can be obtained at your nearest DMV branch, usually where drivers' licenses are renewed.

In most states, to transfer a vehicle's title and reflect its new ownership, you must go in person to the DMV and present the following:

  • identification of person applying;
  • original title with previous owner's notarized signature on back;
  • release of lien on back of title from lien holder, if vehicle was financed;
  • bill of sale or sales receipt for calculation of sales tax;
  • odometer statement;
  • proof of current automobile insurance; and
  • payment of transfer fee.

TIP: Never keep the title with the vehicle, such as storing it in the glove box. Vehicle titles should be kept in a safe deposit box or other secure location that cannot be damaged by fire.

The purchaser has lost the title I endorsed when I sold her my car. How do we transfer title?

You should apply for a duplicate title with your state DMV. For a fee, a duplicate title will be issued if you complete certain forms at the DMV office stating how the title was lost. Call the DMV before you go to determine if you will need to bring any records with you. Once the duplicate title is issued, you may endorse it and give it the seller to replace the lost title.

I am moving to another state. Do I have to obtain a new title on my vehicle?

Yes. States require that vehicles owned by new residents of that state have "conversion" titles issued. The conversion title allows you to get new license plates and registration stickers for your vehicle. It is important you do this within 30 days of your move. If you are pulled over and the officer determines you are a resident that has not properly converted your vehicle's title, you will be ticketed.

I have married and want to sell my vehicle. Do I need to get a new title reflecting my married name before it is sold and title is transferred?

No. Simply sign the title with your maiden name as well as your married name when you give it to the purchaser. Getting married does not require that you obtain a new title.

Can title be transferred to a 16-year old?

It depends on the state. Florida, for example, allows titles to be issued to minors. In some states, you must be 18 to own a vehicle, or have a titled issued in your name. In others, parents can sign a minor consent form at the DMV that allows title to be issued in the minor's name.

Are the laws any different if I am transferring title from an out-of-state car?

Generally, title transfers between owners residing in different states are no different from an in-state sale and purchase. However, some states, such as California, require additional certifications before the title can be transferred and the vehicle registered in that state. California has emission or "smog" laws that must be met.

TIP: Check with your DMV office to find out if extra certifications are required to get the out-of-state vehicle registered in your state before you complete the purchase.

I am in the military. Do I have to transfer title from my home state to the one where I am stationed?

No. Military personnel can choose to have their vehicle remain registered and titled in their home state. You can obtain a nonresident registration for your vehicle at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

What if I am just transferring title to my son?

Transferring a vehicle's title from one family member to another follows the same process in most states as any title transfer. However, the state generally does not collect sales tax because the vehicle transfer is considered to be a gift from one family member to another, rather than a purchase. The only fee paid is the title transfer fee.

Sidebar: Family member transfers are generally defined as transfers among immediate family members such as parents, children, grandchildren, siblings and spouses.

I sold my truck to my brother-in-law. Does this qualify as a family transfer?

No. In-laws are not considered family for title transfer purchases. Your brother-in-law will be assessed a sales tax on the transaction when he applies for a title transfer.

TIP: If you sell the car to your sister, the sales tax may be avoided because the two of you qualify as family.

TIP: In California, brothers and sisters do not qualify for the sales tax exemption available for family title transfers if they are 18 years of age or over.

My husband died. What do I do about the title to his vehicle?

When the owner of a vehicle dies, the ownership of the vehicle is typically transferred to the surviving spouse or children. In this case, the process for transfer of title includes presentation at the DMV of the following documents:

  • copy of the death certificate, which may require notarization
  • affidavit of surviving spouse, if vehicle was jointly owned and both names are on title
  • the original title to the vehicle
  • where a will exists, the executor's signature on the title

Sales tax is not assessed when the title transfers to a surviving spouse or other family member because of a death.

My wife died and only her name was on the title to our vehicle. Can I have the title transferred to me?

Yes. If her estate is being probated (the will was filed with the court), the executor of the estate must assign the title to you. The title will then be reissued in your name after you complete an application and present the necessary paperwork (death certificate, letters of administration and valid identification).

TIP: Many estates are not probated if their value is below $50,000. In that case, you only need to bring a copy of the title, the will and your wife's death certificate to have it reissued in your name.

Sidebar: The title can be transferred if your wife did not leave a will. You will be required to complete a surviving spouse affidavit.

My husband and I both own a vehicle. Why was he able to transfer title without my endorsement?

The title may have been styled John Doe or Mary Doe giving either of you full ownership. This ownership is a "joint tenancy" and each owner has full authority to transfer ownership of the vehicle.

Sidebar: If a title is styled as John Doe and Mary Doe, it means that the vehicle is owned as a "tenancy in common." To transfer ownership, the signatures of both parties are required.

TIP: It is best to use "and/or" on a title. A title with the owner listed as John Doe and/or Mary Doe requires both owners to sign for a transfer; however, if one is not living, the surviving party's signature is enough.

I signed the title on my vehicle in the wrong place. Can I mark it out and sign on the correct line?

No. Titles with names crossed out, erasures and other signs of tampering are no longer valid. You must go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and obtain a duplicate title.

I sold my truck a month ago and have been notified by another's insurance company that it was involved in a collision and that I may be responsible for damages to another vehicle. Is this true?

Yes, if the title to the truck was not transferred to the new owner. Laws typically place the responsibility in a motor vehicle collision on both the driver and the owner. Additionally, an owner is required to carry car insurance on his vehicles. If the title was not transferred, then you are still listed as the official owner in state records.

TIP: Never cancel insurance on an automobile until you are sure the title has been properly transferred.

TIP: You may be able to file a notice of sale with the Department of Motor Vehicles in your state. The notice is a public record of the sale and helps to show you are no longer the vehicle's owner should the new owner fail to transfer the title.

My husband and I are getting divorced. How do I change the title on our vehicle from both of our names to mine only?

Check with the local Department of Motor Vehicles. Generally you need to bring the title with your husband's signature, a copy of your divorce degree or settlement and valid identification.

I cannot prove I own my vehicle because the seller did not have the title. Can I obtain a title?

Yes. You will be issued a bonded title. The Department of Motor Vehicles requires you to furnish a bond or insurance for up to 3 years. The bond protects you from claims that you are not the owner. The title is issued with the notation "bonded title." The notation remains until the required amount of time has passed (e.g., 3 years), then a clear title will be issued. You will be required to complete an affidavit setting out the circumstances of the purchase and reason there is no title for the vehicle.

Can I obtain title to a vehicle that was abandoned on my property?

No. Laws require abandoned and unattended vehicles to be sold at public auction. Only the buyer at the auction can apply for a title.

My vehicle was declared "totaled" by my insurance company, and I gave them the original title when I received the proceeds. Can I rebuild the vehicle and get a new title?

Yes; however, your title will be "branded." A branded titled has the notification "rebuilt," preventing you from claiming the vehicle was never damaged should you try to sell it.

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