How to Sell a Car in California: Understanding the Laws and Paperwork Involved

March 7, 2012

If you are going to sell a car in California, there are some laws specific to California you should know about. In addition to the normal pitfalls of selling a car, make sure you complete the legal duties of a seller unique to California. These include the California pink slip and the California release of liability.

Step One: Smog Certificate

A good first step is to determine whether or not you need a smog certificate. When selling a car in California, you must change the title over to a new owner. When you do this through the DMV, you will be required to provide proof of smog certification in the state of California. You will not be required to have smog certification if your car is a hybrid, made before 1975, diesel powered, electric, powered by natural gas and has a GVW in excess of 14,000 pounds, electric, being transferred within a family, or a motorcycle, trailer or vessel. If your vehicle is none of these things, you will need to obtain smog certification. You can do this at most local garages. The garages that provide this service will post it prominently. It is important to note it is the responsibility of the seller to have the vehicle smog certified.

Step Two: Release of Liability

The part of the process with the highest potential for making life harder for you is the release of liability. Filing this paperwork tells the state you are no longer responsible for traffic and parking tickets, registration fees and penalties, or civil litigation resulting from use of your car. In short, if you don't file this release, you may still be on the hook for somebody else's parking tickets or worse. You can download the form from the DMV website here, which you can then mail back to the DMV. You will need to have the vehicle's license plate number, the last five digits of the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), and the new owner's name and address.

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Step Three: Legal Release

The legal release of ownership and transfer of the vehicle requires the signature of the seller. Be aware the seller is responsible for completing the release of liability within 5 days of the date of the legal transfer.

Step Four: Certificate of Title

In California, there is no difference between the legal owner and the lienholder. The final step in changing ownership is submitting the certificate of title to the DMV. The certificate of title is also known as the pink slip. The DMV offers several ways to submit this information. Consult this page for more information, and to find the right way for your situation. The correct option will have to do with the state of your title, and the conditions of the sale.

Selling your car in California only requires a few extra steps, which have been outlined here. The most exhaustive resource for all car selling in California is the California DMV. Paying attention to the details in this article will save you from being responsible for a stranger's parking tickets, as well as making the sale of your car legally sound.

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