Sell a Car in California: DMV Paperwork and Laws You Need to Know About

June 25, 2012

To sell a car in California, you need more than the pink slip and the registration; test and title transfer documents must be provided as well.

License Plate for California Car

If you wish to sell a car in California there are strict laws and systems to abide by. Every state has laws regarding the purchase and selling of motor cars. Be clear that you understand the responsibilities of a resident of California. If you are unclear on what to do, you should contact the California DMV.

Documents and Paperwork

You will need to bring a California Certificate of Title or Application for Duplicate Title (REG 227). Use tax and/or various other fees apply, so be prepared and also remember any additional documentation. You need to surrender any plates from the vehicle. The signature of seller and lien holder, if any, along with the signature of buyer and the transfer fee is required. You must provide the buyer with evidence of a smog certificate where applicable.


California DMV car registration has state laws governing sales and/or transfers of ownership of a motor vehicle. This dictates that each vehicle must have a Certificate of Title. When you dispose of a car, through either sale or transfer, you must sign the Certificate of Title and give it to the new owner. Information on California DMV car sales and lemon laws are there to protect buyers from potentially disastrous purchases. All vehicles leased or owned by any resident of California must be registered with the CADMV.

Insurance and Plates

The owner must also obtain at least the legal minimum amount of liability insurance coverage and the vehicle must always display the designated license plates.

Tags and Fees

Cars are subjected to periodical renewal fees. For every time phase that the registration is valid, the owner will get a decal (known as tags) that must be put in the top right corner of the back number plate. Failing to place it as directed could result in you being fined.


Smog inspections are required unless your vehicle is:

  • A hybrid
  • A gasoline powered 1975 year model or older
  • Diesel powered, manufactured prior to 1998 or with a Gross Vehicle Weight rating (GVWR) of more than 14,000 lbs
  • Electric
  • Natural gas powered with a GVWR rating of more than 14,000 lbs
  • A motorcycle
  • A trailer


When filling in the transfer form of the Title, take care to complete it accurately and remember to always note the odometer reading. Disclosing the vehicle's odometer mileage reading is required by federal regulations for all transfers. There are three exceptions to this law:

  • The vehicle is 10 years old or more.
  • It is a commercial vehicle with a declared gross or combined gross vehicle weight of more than 16,000 pounds.
  • It is a new vehicle being transferred prior to its first retail sale by a dealer.

If the vehicle is less than 10 years old you are required to complete the Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment Form (REG 262). If the title does not have a designated space for this information, a REG 262 reporting the odometer mileage must be signed by both the seller and buyer. You may not copy the REG 262. You must submit an original.

Related Questions and Answers

What is the California Lemon Law for Used Cars?

The California Lemon Law for used cars enforces vehicles that were returned to the manufacturer due to vehicle defect(s) that could not be resolved at the dealership. Once the vehicle has been returned, the manufacturer must title the vehicle in their name, request the title be marked with "Lemon Law Buyback", and place a decal (that reads "Lemon Law Buyback") onto the vehicle's frame of the most frequently used entry point, typically the left door frame. Before the vehicle is resold, the buyer must be notified the vehicle was a Lemon Law Buyback, the nature of the defect(s), and any defect repairs made/attempted.

Are California Smog Laws More Strict because of the Pollution?

California smog laws came about because of the state's pollution problems. California was the first and only state to have an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), and had one before there was a federal EPA. California is the only state in the United States that is allowed to have its own EPA. The California EPA and the United States EPA work together in deciding and forming the pollution regulations that are used throughout the country. California smog laws are strict, and the rest of the United States is quickly approaching the standards they enforce.

Are there any California Car Registration Laws Regarding Selling Your Car Out of State?

There are no California car registration laws regarding out of state sales. All changes of vehicle ownership must go through the same process. The buyer and seller must sign the Certificate of Title (REG 227), complete the REG 4008 (Declaration of Gross Vehicle Weight/Combined Gross Weight), and must disclose the current odometer reading. Additionally, the state requires that the vehicle have a valid smog certificate. Therefore, a smog test is required unless the sale takes place within 90 days of the previous smog test.

What is the Cost of Car Registration in California?

The cost of car registration in California is determined on a case-by-case basis. The determination is made by the California DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) when the registration application is submitted. There are several different types of fees that can be included, such as the transfer fee, Use Tax fee (based on the new registered owner's city and county of record), the registration renewal fee, title fee(s) (if applicable), and the License Plate fee (if applicable). Vehicles having a higher value will cost more to register due to the increase in Transfer and/or Use Tax.

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