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How to purchase, sell and register your vehicle with the DMV

When you purchase a vehicle from a licensed dealer or purchase and trade your old vehicle with a licensed dealer, the dealer supposed to do all of the necessary DMV paperwork. Make sure that the dealer is licensed by the DMV and they are completing all of the necessary DMV paperwork for the transaction.

buying a car from a dealer

When you purchase a vehicle from a private seller, at the minimum, you need to inspect the vehicle to ensure that the vehicle is safe to drive, obtain the smog certificate from the seller (if required by the DMV), and make sure that the seller has the certificate of title with his/her name on it.

You then need to visit the DMV office or an authorized DMV service center to submit the paperwork and transfer the ownership of a vehicle.  If you are going to visit a DMV office, you may want to set an appointment in advance to reduce your waiting time. You can set an appointment using California DMV Appointment System on its website, or by calling 1–800–777–0133.

Authorized DMV service centers are companies or organizations that are authorized by the DMV to do some of its paperwork and submit it to the DMV.  For example, if you are a member of AAA, you can walk into your local AAA branch, and they will help you with the DMV vehicle transfer and registration paperwork.

The following paperwork is needed when you visit a DMV office for transferring a vehicle's title:

  • DMV certificate of title (pink slip) that is signed by the seller for passing the vehicle ownership to the buyer.  If the vehicle has a loan on it, line two of the title needs to be signed by the loan company that financed the vehicle. The title also has a space to be filled in with the odometer reading for the vehicle.
  • If the title is lost, an Application for Duplicate or Paperless Title (REG 227) needs to be filled out, signed and submitted to DMV.
  • If the seller's name does not appear on the title as the owner, but he/she claims that the vehicle was purchased from the previous owner, then the seller needs to show you a bill of sale that shows the previous owner transferred the vehicle ownership to the new owner.
  • If the seller does not have the title or his/her name is not on the title, you may want to make the transaction at the DMV's office with a DMV representative to be sure no problems result from the transaction.
  • A smog certificate is required for the transfer of the ownership of a vehicle unless:
    • the transfer occurs between a spouse, domestic partner, sibling, child, parent, grandparent, or grandchild.
    • a biennial smog certification was submitted to DMV within 90 days prior to the vehicle transfer date (a vehicle inspection report may be required for proof of certification).
    • the vehicle is four years old or newer.