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Title Transfer Guide

Whenever you buy a car or receive a vehicle as a gift or inheritance, you’ll need to complete a title transfer. 

The most common times you’ll need to complete a vehicle title transfer include:

  • Buying or selling a used car in a private sale. 
  • Paying off your car loan and removing the lien. 
  • Inheriting a vehicle or gifting a car to a family member. 

The basic requirement include:

  • Receiving the signed and filled out title from the seller. 
  • Signing the title yourself. 
  • Complete and Title and Registration application. 
  • Providing proof of insurance. 
  • Paying the necessary title fees and taxes. 

If there is a lien on the vehicle, there are some additional requirements you’ll need to satisfy. 

In most cases, you’ll need to be sure to visit your local DMV office to complete the transfer within a certain timeframe to avoid having to pay any late fees.

Remember, whenever buying a used vehicle it’s a good idea to order a vehicle history report, get a Bill of Sale, and shop around for a new car insurance policy.

For an overview of the process and some answers to common title transfer questions, select your state. 

What is a car title?

A car title, or pink slip, is used by the DMV to determine the owner of a vehicle. 

The title will contain information such as:

  • The owner’s name and address.
  • The vehicle make, model, year, and VIN.

If you own the vehicle outright, the title should be in your name. 

If you have financed the vehicle, the title will be in the lienholder’s name and you’ll need to transfer it once you pay off the loan. 

Whenever you want to sell or gift your vehicle to someone else, you’ll need to use the form on the title to transfer it to the new owner. 

Where to Sign a Title

It’s important that the previous owner and the new owner fill out and sign the title in the correct spots. 

In some cases, the DMV may reject titles that have been filled out incorrectly. If this happens, the previous owner may need to request a duplicate title and start the process from scratch.

Do not attempt to correct errors by crossing them out or using white out on the title. Instead, visit your local tag and title office.

When you are doing a title transfer:

  • The seller (or previous owner), or sellers, must complete the transfer of ownership section of the title. 
  • The buyer (or new owner) must complete the new owner section (title assignment) of the title and submit this along with the title and registration application.

Typically, the seller’s name that’s listed on the title must be their current legal name and match any supporting documentation, like a bill of sale. If a name change has occurred, they’ll need to apply for a corrected or updated title before the sale.

Sellers can release their liability by notifying the DMV of the sale. This can be done by:

  • Submitting a notice of transfer and release of liability form. 
  • Submitting the notice of sale attached to the original title, if applicable. 
  • Contacting the DMV or going along with the buyer to complete the transaction.

Vehicle Title Status (Branded Titles)

One important piece of information contained in the vehicle title is the status, or brand.

A branded title is used to denote significant circumstances about a vehicle’s history. 

Common title brands used in many states include:

  • Salvaged.
  • Taxi vehicle.
  • Police vehicle.
  • Non-USA.
  • Warranty Return/Lemon Law.
  • Rebuilt.

You can typically find the title’s brand in the upper corner of the title document in an area labeled “vehicle history.”

You can find the status of a vehicle’s title by checking with the DMV or getting a vehicle history report. 

Electronic Titles: How They Work

One of the newest ways to ensure security around car titles is by eliminating paper forms of them altogether.

Electronic titles are used now more than ever across several states. 

They keep all important information regarding a car’s ownership securely saved electronically. 

What is an electronic title?

In the traditional system, car titles are paper documents that have to be mailed back and forth between buyers, sellers, and the Department of Motor Vehicles.

This can be a slow process, and it is vulnerable to fraud or mistakes. 

An electronic title is an innovative solution that allows car owners to prove ownership of their vehicle quickly and securely using electronic records. 

With an electronic title, the car’s information is stored in a secure electronic database

This can dramatically cut down on paperwork and also help prevent fraud. (One great way to save time at the DMV.)

In most cases in states that use electronic titles, when you purchase a new car the dealership can take care of getting you your electronic title.

Liens can also be placed on or removed from a car electronically, as they are on a paper title. 

In most places where electronic titles are implemented, the system is known as an electronic lien and title program (ELT). 

Which states have an electronic lien and title program?

Several states utilize an electronic lien and title program. They include:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado 
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • New York
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

How to Transfer an Electronic Title

The process of transferring an electronic title may vary by state. 

However, in most areas, you may not be able to transfer an electronic title at all. 

The ELT system is often still limited for use by the DMV or an authorized third party such as dealerships. 

In this case, you will have to transfer the eTitle to a paper title before you can officially transfer over ownership in a private sale—this is where eTitles may not necessarily be more convenient.

If you are planning to sell your car, make sure that you look into your state’s policies surrounding the transfer of eTitles. 

If in the likely case, you’ll need a paper title, be sure to apply for it as soon as possible. Once you get the paper title, you can complete the transfer on the title.

Some states like Arizona do allow electronic title transfer. 

If you are selling your car, you can expect that you and the buyer will need to fill out online forms on the state’s DMV (or equivalent) website.

How to Get a Paper Copy of Your eTitle

If you are planning to sell your car, it’s likely you’re going to need a paper copy of your eTitle. The process to get a paper copy of the title will vary by state but in general you can expect to:

  • Make sure all liens are satisfied and reported as so to the DMV (contact your lender to make sure they have removed their lien).
  • Fill out and submit a title/duplicate title application from the DMV.
  • Pay a fee.

It can take some time to get your paper title. Be sure to apply for it early when thinking about selling your car.

Keep in mind that if you are selling your car to a dealership, they’ll likely be able to access the ELT system and can complete the transfer for you. 

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