Selling a Car in California

In California, there are some state-specific requirements regarding the selling of vehicles. We’ve collected here the information you need to know in order to be able to sell your vehicle in the state without any hassle.

1. Title Information

First, make certain you fully own your vehicle. In California, you can only sell a vehicle if you have complete ownership of it. In other words, any “lien” (loan) on the vehicle must be paid off before you can sell the vehicle. Any previous lienholder must also be contacted so they can countersign the title as a lien release.

Secondly, make sure you have the actual title. If you can’t find the title, you’ll need to request a replacement title from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. You need an official title because you and the new owner of your vehicle will both sign the title as proof of the transfer of ownership from you to them. Make sure both you and the new owner fill out the title transfer section of the title completely; after all, you don’t want to accidentally end up still owning the vehicle and being liable for anything the new driver does with it.

California specifically requires you to also fill out a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability online in order to help protect you from being responsible for what happens to the vehicle after you sell it.

2. Bill of Sale Requirements

California does not require a specific Bill of Sale when you are selling a vehicle, largely due to the fact that most of the information the state needs will either be found in the title transfer section of the title or be sent directly to the state through the Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability online system.

However, you will have required fees from selling the vehicle, which are detailed on the California Department of Motor Vehicles website’s fee page.

3. Inspections

California requires smog inspections every two years for vehicles that are over four years old. If the vehicle you are selling is over four years old, you will be required to give the buyer a valid smog certification. Smog certifications are valid for 90 days after the inspection. For more information on smog certifications in California, check out the California Department of Motor Vehicles smog FAQ.

4. License Plates

In California, license plates remain with the vehicle when it is sold. You will leave the plates on the vehicle unless you have specific vanity or disabled plates, which can be transferred to your new vehicle with a request to the California Department of Motor Vehicles. If you are going to attempt to keep the plates, make certain you tell the buyer you are going to do so.

5. Odometer Disclosure Requirements

In California, you must disclose the odometer reading on your vehicle if you are selling the vehicle and it is 10 years old or newer. An odometer reading must be entered on the back of the title and reported to the state as part of the Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability online form. The California DMV website’s odometer page includes more information.

6. Other Information

If you have questions or want more details on anything relating to vehicle selling, check out the California Department of Motor Vehicles website.