Buying a Car in California

Buying a car in California can be exciting, but it can be frustrating as well. That’s because there are few states with more requirements or rules regarding vehicle transactions. But don’t worry — by learning the ins and outs of the process and checking out some helpful online resources that cover it, you will have no problem successfully buying an automobile in the Golden State.

1. Title Information

In California, how you acquire the title for a vehicle depends on whether you buy from a dealer or from a private owner. Dealers will file the appropriate title paperwork for you, regardless of whether it is for a new or used car. If you buy a car from a private seller, however, you become responsible for making certain you and the seller correctly transfer the title and for reporting change of ownership within 10 days of purchase. California has had four different variations of ownership titles, so the look of titles may vary depending on the age of the cars. You can check out some title examples.

2. Insurance Information

California offers car buyers a few choices on insurance. They can have liability insurance, pay a $35,000 deposit to the state Department of Motor Vehicles or get a $35,000 bank bond. You must fulfill one option before you can legally purchase the vehicle. If you choose car insurance, call whatever insurance company you wish to use. It will gather the correct information and provide you with an electronic insurance notice for you to give to the dealer so you can take possession of a vehicle.

3. Emission Information

California has the toughest emission standards in the country, and many cars sold in other states don’t make the cut. If you buy a car from a dealer anywhere outside California, make certain it is what is called a 50-state emission standard car. Only that type of vehicle is guaranteed to be acceptable in every state. For used cars, you should only buy a car that has already been registered in California. Otherwise, you might find yourself with a car you cannot legally drive in the state.

The DMV Web page on out-of-state cars can help you determine specific emissions requirements.

4. Lemon Law Information

California’s Lemon Law protects new car buyers from getting stuck with a vehicle that has major, unfixable problems. Under this law, if a new car has problems that cannot be fixed after three attempts or is a serious danger to drive, the owner may either get a replacement or a refund on that vehicle. There are specific requirements for the car to fall under the law, however, which is why the State of California has produced an online brochure to help consumers.

5. Special Information

Effective as of July 1, 2006, the California Car Buyer’s Bill of Rights is a series of requirements for dealers anytime they make a retail sale of a new or used car. Among these requirements are the following:

  • They must give you an itemized list of any extras for the car (such as warranties), noting how much your monthly car payment would be with and without those extras.
  • If the dealer uses your credit score in any way, they must give you a report on how it was used.
  • They can only charge a given amount for financing, as interest rates are capped.
  • With used cars, they must give you an option of buying a two-day cancellation contract so you can return the car if it fails to be what you expected.

You can check out the complete Bill of Rights online for full details.

If you have questions as a prospective car buyer in California, the best online resource is the California Department of Motor Vehicles. You’ll find dozens of brochures and links on the agency’s website that cover buying new and used cars in the state.