Paperwork Needed to Sell a Vehicle

There are multiple rules and regulations when selling a vehicle in the state of California. The California Department of Motor Vehicles is responsible for keeping the records for all vehicles across the state, so you’ll find any forms and information there. You can obtain forms through the California DMV website or by going to a DMV in person and requesting them.

Before you even think about paperwork, you’ll need to get an estimate of what your car is worth so that you can price it well for both yourself and any potential buyers. You don’t need any documentation to put your car on the market. After you find a buyer, however, you’ll need to prepare several documents:


  • You’ll need to release the ownership of the vehicle. This is done by signing the designated line on the vehicle’s title certificate. If there are lien holders, they also need to sign the title.
  • If it’s applicable, you’ll need to present a valid smog certificate. If you renewed your registration within the last ninety days and submitted a smog certificate, you do not need to submit another one. You will, however, need to sign a document stating that your smog certificate is up-to-date. If the vehicle is less than four years old, you don’t need to provide any smog certificate.
  • If the car is less than ten years old, you’ll need to document the current odometer reading. You can record it on the title certificate or on a Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment form.


After you’ve sold your car and given the buyer all of the required legal documents, you need to inform the DMV that your car has been sold. The Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability form is available through the DMV website and can be submitted online. You must complete this paperwork within five days of the sale. After that, you no longer need to provide any documentation. The buyer is responsible for the rest of the vehicle’s transfer of ownership.


California’s laws regarding vehicle inspections are strict. This is why a smog certification is required. It’s important to note that smog certifications only last for ninety days following the date of their issue. You’ll be exempt from the certification law if the vehicle is less than four years old. Vehicles with a 1975 or older model are also exempt from the certification requirement.


If your vehicle’s title certificate has been damaged, lost, or stolen, there’s no need to fill out an application for a duplicate. Instead you can use the Application for Duplicate: fill out the related sections and give it to the buyer. The buyer will then be required to fill the section regarding new registered vehicle owners. You can use this paperwork to verify that you’re the original owner of the car, and the buyer is the new owner of the car.


A registration card isn’t technically required to sell a vehicle, because the buyer can apply for their own registration card. However, it’s highly recommended to have your own registration card before you put the car on the market. If you need a duplicate of the card, you’ll need to fill out the Application for Replacement Plates, Stickers, Documents form and submit it to the DMV.


Most buyers will want a vehicle history report for your vehicle. If you order a report, you’ll have it conveniently available when they make the request. You’ll also have all the necessary information to answer potential buyer questions.


The following paperwork is legally essential to the sale of your vehicle:


  • An up-to-date smog certificate (unless exempt)
  • A title certificate or the application for a duplicate
  • A record of the odometer reading
  • A completed release of liability following the sale (available to be submitted online)


The following paperwork is highly recommended to obtain before selling your vehicle:


  • An up-to-date registration card
  • A vehicle history report


All of these documents or applications for these documents can be easily found on the California DMV website, so you don’t need to make any unnecessary trips.