How To Sign Over a Car Title

Person in brown suit sticking head through car window
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Before you buy or sell a car, it’s important to understand how to transfer the title. In most cases, the first steps should happen at the point of sale. Each state’s laws are a little bit different, but all require you to have the title endorsed by the seller and given to the buyer. From there, the buyer will need to visit their local motor vehicle authority to finish the transfer.

Learn more about how to sign over a car title, what you’ll need, and what to watch out for.

Key Takeaways

  • Signing over a car title involves the seller endorsing the title and giving it to the buyer, as well as additional rules that vary by state.
  • Once the buyer receives the endorsed title, they need to take it to the motor vehicle authority in their state to process the transfer.
  • Buyers will have to pay a transfer fee and any applicable sales taxes on the purchase.

What You Need To Transfer Your Car’s Title

What you need to transfer your car’s title will vary a bit from one state to the next. However, there are a few common threads. Buyers will need:

  • The original title assigned to them
  • Approved government-issued identification documents
  • Money to pay for title transfer fees and sales tax (if applicable)
  • Any other documents required by your state (e.g. bill of sale, odometer disclosure, proof of insurance, etc.)

What To Look Out For

To avoid delays in the titling process, it’s important to look over the title carefully. Ensure that the person selling you the car is, in fact, the person whose name is on the title or someone who has verified power of attorney for that person. Ensure that all owners who are required to sign the title have signed it. Check to make sure the sellers didn’t miss any fields or signatures.

When buying a car, check if the seller is from another state. If they are, there may be varying requirements for titling out-of-state vehicles in your state that you need to be aware of.

If the seller happens to have a lien on the vehicle, the process can get a little more complicated. The names and addresses of any liens or security interests will be listed on the front of the title.

Generally, if there is a lien on the car, proceed with caution. Without a title, you can’t register and title the vehicle in your name, and the lien holder could have a legal claim to your vehicle if the previous owner does not pay off the loan. You also risk unknowns on the title like a “rebuilt salvage” status, which will significantly drop the value of the car. Being so, it’s best to have all liens resolved before you purchase a vehicle so you can walk away with the free and clear title in hand.

How To Transfer Your Title

There are a few main steps involved in transferring a car’s title. Below is a breakdown of them.

Seller Fills Out the Seller Portion of the Title

The first step of transferring a car title is for the seller to fill out the fields on their title that are designated for them. Often, this requires the current mileage, date sold, selling price, and signatures to release interest in the vehicle and promise that the information is true. Once the buyer pays for the car, the seller gives them the title with the completed seller’s field.

In some states, the seller must also remove the car plates and give them to a motor vehicle agency or full service agency before transferring the title. The only time a seller would not have to do this is if the plates were being transferred to another vehicle, but not a new owner.

Be sure to check the seller’s responsibilities in your state. For example, in Texas, sellers must fill out and sign the Application for Texas Title and/or Registration and give it to the buyer. In California, sellers must complete a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability (NRL) and send it to the department of motor vehicles (DMV) within five days of the sale.

Buyer Fills Out the Buyer Portion of the Title

Next, the buyer will complete their part of the title. This may include information such as their name, address, purchase price, any applicable tax exemptions, and signatures.

Again, some states will require buyers to complete additional paperwork, so you’ll want to check. In Florida, for example, buyers need to complete an Application for Certificate of Title with/without Registration form.

Buyer Takes the Title to the Motor Vehicle Authority

The buyer will then bring the title to the office of the motor vehicle agency in their state to file the transfer. The state department will process it with the information provided on the title.

Typically, states give you a certain amount of time to submit the title with the office of the motor vehicle authority. In Florida and many other states, buyers have 30 days to complete this step. Be sure not to miss the deadline, or you’ll likely be charged a penalty.

Buyer Pays Title Transfer Fee and Sales Tax

Last, you will pay the title transfer fee and any applicable sales taxes on the purchase price.

Once the transaction is complete, the state department will often give the buyer a temporary title and send the permanent one in the mail. Then, the buyer will be the official owner. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How would the transfer of titles work if two people trade vehicles?

If two people trade vehicles, you technically have two separate title transfers to process. For example, say Person A is selling Car A and Person B is selling Car B.  Person A would fill out the seller’s portion of the title for Car A and give it to Person B. Then, Person B would fill out the buyer’s section of the title for Car A and submit it to the motor vehicle authority.

Person B would also fill out the seller’s portion of the title for Car B and give it to Person A. Then, Person A would fill out the buyer’s portion of the title for Car B and submit it to the authorities.

How do you transfer the title when the owner is deceased?

If the owner of a vehicle has passed away, the process to transfer the title will depend on various factors, including your state laws, if the title has survivorship, and if the deceased owner’s estate is going through probate.

In most states, you will need to provide the following:

  • An application for the title and registration
  • The original title
  • Proof of death for all deceased owners
  • An odometer disclosure
  • Original lien releases
  • Title fee

If all the owners are deceased, the DMV will require estate documents for the owner who most recently passed. The documents required depend on the probate status, which can be no probate, private, or probate is closed. In any case, be sure to check with your state for its specific requirements on transferring the title of a car when the owner has passed away.

How much does a title transfer cost?

The cost to transfer a title varies by state. For example, in California, the title transfer fee is $15 while it’s $75.25 in Florida. Check with your state’s authority on motor vehicles to find out what fee will apply to you.