When a vehicle changes hands, transferring the Certificate of Title alerts the authorities to the fact that the vehicle has been sold, and the old owner is no longer legally responsible for it. The procedure involved in transferring an auto title varies, depending on where the vehicle is sold, but the basic mechanics are usually more or less the same. For people buying a vehicle from the dealer, the dealer will take care of the transfer of title, and the same holds true for people selling autos to dealers. However, in private transactions, buyer and seller will need to transfer the title.
To transfer an auto title, it is usually necessary to have the legal Certificate of Title. If the title has been lost or mislaid, the Department of Motor Vehicles can issue a new one, after the owner has provided clear proof of ownership. Often, the Certificate of Title includes a form which is used to transfer the title to a new owner, and the form includes lines for information about the buyer and seller, along with the selling price and odometer reading. In other cases, it will be necessary to obtain a form from the Department of Motor Vehicles to transfer an auto title.
In addition to the Certificate of Title filled out with the appropriate information, it will usually be necessary to have a bill of sale, odometer reading, identification for all people involved in the transaction, and vehicle identification number for the vehicle being transferred. In some regions, a smog certificate and proof of insurance are also required to transfer a title, and it may be necessary to notarize the document to confirm that the vehicle is being surrendered by the legal owner. If there is a lien on the vehicle from a lender, the lender will need to release the lien before the vehicle can be legally transferred.
While transfer can often be handled through the mail, some buyers and sellers find it helpful to go into the office at the Department of Motor Vehicles together to transfer an auto title. This is a good idea for a number of reasons. In the first place, it ensures that any problems with the transfer are identified and addressed immediately. In the second place, it allows the seller of the vehicle to confirm that the title has been transferred, so that he or she will not be held liable for the actions of the new owner, although it's a good idea to request confirmation that the title transferred successfully around 30 days later.
It is important to handle all aspects of the title transfer properly to avoid legal liabilities and other problems. Most regions have publications which provide people with the information they need to have in hand to transfer an auto title, including legal requirements and recommendations.