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How to Transfer a Car Title

How to Transfer a Car Title
Austin Kilham
Austin KilhamUpdated March 10, 2023
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When a car is bought or sold, more than just money changes hands between the buyer and seller. The car’s title also needs to be transferred to complete the transaction. This is a critical part of the process because the title is proof of ownership of the vehicle.When you buy a car from a dealer, they typically take care of the paperwork. But if it’s a private sale and you're buying a car directly from the owner — or selling your car to someone else — there are a number of steps to take. Here’s what you need to know about how to transfer a car title.

What Is a Car Title?

If you’re wondering, what is a car title? it’s an important legal document proving that you’re the owner of a vehicle. When you buy a new or used car, you’ll get the title from the dealer or person you’re buying it from. The car title is issued by the state where you buy the car, and states have different rules. If you purchase a car in a state other than the one you live in, be sure to follow that state’s process. Then bring the title with you when you register the vehicle in your home state. Car titles usually include the following information: 
  • Owner’s name and address 
  • Identifying information like the make and model of your car and the vehicle Identification number (VIN)
  • License plate number 
  • Lien holder information if you’re buying or selling a car with a lien against it
  • Information about any damage to the vehicle 
When you finance the purchase of a car, your lender will hold onto the title until you’ve paid off your loan. At that point, they’ll sign the title over to you. If you decide to refinance your loan, you and the original lender will sign the title over to your new lender. Recommended: What Is a Salvage Title?

When to Consider Transferring a Car Title

If you’re selling your car, you’ll transfer the title to the new owner. In addition, there are other situations that require you to transfer the title. These include:
  • When you trade in your vehicle toward the purchase of another car
  • If you move, you must transfer your car’s title to your new state.
  • Should you need funds and decide to take out a car title loan, you’ll transfer the title of your vehicle to your lender, using the car as collateral for the loan. You’ll receive the title back when you pay off the loan. 
  • If you gift your car to another person or charity organization, transferring the title is necessary to complete the gift. 
Recommended: What to Do If You Lost Your Car Title

Who Can You Transfer a Car Title to?

You can transfer your car title to individuals when you sell or give them a vehicle. You can also transfer a title to car dealerships, lenders, and charitable organizations. 

Where to Transfer Your Car Title

If you’re working with a dealership, they’ll likely take care of the car title transfer for you. If you’re making a private sale, the transfer will happen first between buyer and seller, and then at the department of motor vehicles (DMV).

How Do You Transfer a Car Title?

The steps to complete a car title transfer vary by state (be sure to check the rules in your state), but this is generally how to transfer a car title.

Check Your State’s DMV requirements

Log onto your state’s DMV website and review the requirements for title transfers. You may be asked to provide the following: 
  • Identification, such as photo ID
  • Signed title and registration documents
  • Signed and notarized vehicle title 
  • Lien release
  • Title and registration fees
  • Buyer’s proof of insurance
By federal law, you’ll also need to give the buyer an odometer disclosure, stating the mileage of the vehicle. 

Contact Your Lender

If you still owe money on the car, reach out to your lender to find out what you need to do before making a transfer. Usually, you’ll have to pay off your loan before the transfer. Your lender can provide you with the payoff amount. If you’re trading in your vehicle, your dealer should be able to help with the transaction. In the event that you’re having trouble paying off the loan, you may be able to transfer your car loan along with transferring the title. Alternatively, you may want to look into the cost to refinance a car to find out if that’s a better option for you. In that case, the title will be transferred from your old lender to the new lender.If you are interested in auto refinancing, you can shop around with different lenders to compare rates and terms.

Complete the Transaction

Once you have your title in hand and you’ve received payment for the vehicle, you’ll sign over the title to the car’s new owner. This involves signing the title document and any other necessary documents required by the state. 

Remove the License Plates

In most states, license plates don’t remain with a vehicle after it’s sold. Remove them before a new owner takes possession of the car. 

Alert the DMV

Next, go to your state’s DMV and get a notice of sale, a notice of transfer, or an affidavit of transfer. This step may be required by law in your state. Even if it isn’t, the document helps protect you should something happen to the vehicle in the future. It acts as proof that the vehicle is no longer in your possession.

Make Sure the Buyer Takes the Title into Their Name

Once you sign the title of your vehicle over to its new owner, you might still be responsible for it until the other person takes the title in their name. The practice of a buyer signing a car title and never transferring it to their own name is known as “title jumping”, and it’s illegal. To be safe, you may want to accompany the buyer to the state or local title office to make sure this step is carried out. 

What Happens If You Don’t Transfer Your Car Title?

If you sell your car without transferring the title, then you haven’t completed the actions necessary to transfer ownership. This process needs to be done. If you’re buying a car, your state may require you to transfer the title into your own name within a certain amount of time. Miss that window, and you could face penalties.

The Takeaway

If you buy, trade in, or gift your car to someone else, a title transfer is crucial for transferring ownership of the vehicle. Find out your state's requirements to transfer a car title, and gather the necessary documents in advance. If you’re interested in refinancing your auto loan, your title will need to be transferred to the new lender. Lantern’s refinancing tools help you compare rates from multiple lenders to help make the process more convenient. Once you choose a loan, the lender will take care of the title transfer.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does It mean to transfer a car title?
What do I need to transfer a title?
Is the transfer of title important?
Photo credit: iStock/SDI Productions

About the Author

Austin Kilham

Austin Kilham

Austin Kilham is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles. He focuses on personal finance, retirement, business, and health care with an eye toward helping others understand complex topics.
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