What Happens if You Don’t Transfer Your Vehicle Title?

Wouldn’t it be great if you could simply purchase a vehicle and start driving it? Sadly, that’s not how things work. Buying a new or used car is only the first step in equipping yourself with new transportation. Before legally commuting in it, you need to transfer the vehicle title into your name and ensure it’s fully registered and insured.

Transferring the title is a key component to getting a different vehicle in California. It’s a mandatory transaction. Until the title has been transferred, the state does not consider you the vehicle’s owner. As far as they are concerned, the vehicle is still owned by the person/dealership you purchased it from.

Transferring a vehicle in California involves taking the title to your local DMV and formally showing that you purchased the car. Doing this transfers the vehicle into your name and frees the person you bought the car from any future liability issues connected to the vehicle. It also means that a date of transfer is connected to the car, which allows the state to know where to send tickets and fines that may result from things like running red lights or illegal parking. If the incidents happened after the title transfer, you’d receive the ticket, and if they occurred before the transfer, they’d go to the vehicle’s previous owner.

If you acquired the car through a private sale with the seller, the DMV requires that you bring the following things to the title transfer:

  • The current title, which the seller has signed
  • An odometer mileage statement if this information isn’t on the title
  • Proof of smog certification
  • In some instances, a bill of sale is required
  • Proof of insurance

Transferring a car title in California isn’t free. In addition to paying sales tax on the vehicle, you will also have a $15 transfer fee. However, if you acquired the car because the previous owner passed, the title transfer fee decreases to $10.

You don’t want to wait too long before you transfer the vehicle’s title. You have ten days to complete the title transfer if you purchased the vehicle in-state. If the car was acquired out of state, you have 20 days to complete the process.

Once you have completed the title transfer and attached your new license plate to the vehicle, you can drive it.