If you are buying or selling a car, one of the most important steps is transferring the car's title. That document is the legal proof of who actually owns the car, so it's important to have and to keep in a safe place. Whether you're the buyer or seller, here's what you need to know about transferring a car title.

Key Takeaways

  • Car titles are important documents because they are official proof of who owns the car.
  • When someone sells a car they must transfer the title to the new owner.
  • Transferring a car title usually involves signing the old title so the buyer can have a new title issued in their name.
  • If you have a car loan, your lender will need to be involved in transferring your car's title, and you may have to pay off your loan in full.

A Simple Transfer of a Car Title

Transferring a car title is usually fairly straightforward. The seller will release their ownership of the vehicle by signing the existing car title. Depending on the state that you're in, there may be additional information that needs to be filled out. That might include the car's odometer reading, the buyer's name and contact information, the sale price, or other details.

If the car is titled in two people's names, they are both required to sign the title. In some states, the signatures will need to be witnessed by a notary, so you'll want to check on your state's rules before signing.

Once the owner (or owners) of the car have signed the title, the buyer can take it to the appropriate state office, such as the department of motor vehicles, to have a new title issued in their name.

More Complicated Scenarios in Transferring a Car Title

There are some situations where it's slightly more complicated to transfer a car title. If you have a car loan, it's possible that your lender is holding the car's title. If you're looking to sell your car, most states will require you to also include a lender affidavit. This shows that the lender is aware of the change in ownership. In most cases, the lender will require you to pay off the existing loan in full before you can transfer the car title.

Another scenario to be aware of is what happens after you sign the title and give it to the new owner. Until the buyer takes title to the car in their name, you are still legally responsible for it. For that reason, it's often recommended that the seller accompany the buyer to the title office. That way you can make sure the buyer puts the title in their own name. 

One exception to this might be if you are selling your car to a dealership (such as trading in your old car when buying a new one). The rules vary by state, but in many cases the dealer will not actually take title in their name. Instead, they will have you sign the title, then hold onto it until it can be processed in the name of the end-buyer. Most states have a time limit, such as 30 or 45 days, in which the new buyer must apply for a title.

Important

If you want to sell your car but can't locate your title, you can obtain a replacement from your state.

Know What You Need to Bring to the Title Office

The requirements for transferring a car title vary by state and sometimes by municipality. The office that handles car titles is called different things in different states. Some common examples are the department of motor vehicles (DMV), the bureau of motor vehicles (BMV), or the state/county title office.

To transfer a car title into their name, buyers may need to supply:

  • Bill of sale/sale price
  • Additional information about the vehicle
  • Fees for the title transfer and/or sales tax on the vehicle sale

To save yourself an extra trip, it's best to call or go online to verify the documents you'll need before you go.

The Bottom Line

In order to transfer a car title, the seller needs to sign the title and fill out any required information. The buyer can then take the signed title to the appropriate government office to transfer the car title into their name. If there is a lien on the vehicle, the lender will usually need to sign an affidavit as well.