Are you thinking of selling your car? Or, maybe you’d like to pass it on to someone else as a gift. In either case, for someone new to retain ownership of the vehicle, the title must be legally transferred into their name.

The process of transferring a car title varies from one state to the next. However, some steps are generally the same. And, while it would be nice if you could just hand the new owner the title and call it a day, that’s not the case. You’ll need to carefully follow these steps, as well as any additional rules put in place by your state, in order for the transfer to be legal and successful.

Is the Title Transferable?

icon image of a car title held in front of a vehicle

Before you start looking into how to transfer your car title, you first must determine whether or not it is transferable.

To begin with, take a look at your car title. Whose name is on it? If it’s yours and yours alone, then the title can be transferred promptly with action on your part and the buyer’s.

However, there may also be the name of a lender or a bank on the title, in which case your title can usually still be transferred, but with a bit more effort on your part. The same is true if you own the car with someone else, such as a spouse. In this case, bear in mind that both parties will have to agree to transfer the title. The only exception would be if the title reads that you “or” someone else is the owner. With the “or” wording, in most cases, only one owner needs to agree to transfer the title.

Simple Transfers

In simple situations where you own the vehicle outright and wish to transfer ownership to someone else, all you must do is complete a title certificate. Once you have filled out and signed the certificate, the buyer or recipient can take the  title to a local DMV office and officially transfer ownership. The steps the buyer or recipient will have to follow will vary from state to state, but it’s usually an easy and straightforward process.

Transfers Involving Lenders

When there’s still a lien on your vehicle, such as when you’re still making payments to a bank or other lender, you will need to contact the lender directly to learn about your options for transferring the title.

In some cases, you may be required to satisfy the loan or a certain portion of the loan before you can legally transfer the title. In other instances, you may be able to have the new owner take responsibility for the lien.

Transfers Involving Dealerships

In some instances, you may wish to transfer your title to a car dealership instead of to an individual.

When this happens, be aware that, depending on where you live, the dealer may not change the name on the title until after selling it. However, to avoid confusion, responsibility, and other problems, notify your local DMV that you are selling the vehicle to a dealership.

In some states, you may need to fill out and submit a Vehicle Transfer Notification form in order to validate the transfer and alleviate your responsibility as the owner of the vehicle.

Out of State Transfers

When you’re transferring your vehicle title to someone who lives in the same state as you, the process is fairly easy. Both buyer and seller simply have to follow the state’s rules and regulations.

However, in cases where the buyer is located out of state, there are usually a few more hoops to jump through, such as providing and verifying your vehicle identification number (VIN). This is all done to prevent car theft and fraud, so while the process can be a bit tiring, remember that it’s there to protect you. When in doubt, always consult directly with your DMV office since laws vary from state to state.

With online transfers or other transfers in which you don’t actually deal with the buyer or recipient face to face, you may need to contact the DMV in the buyer or recipient’s state of residence or go through a trusted third-party site that handles online vehicle title transfers.

Lost Titles

Car titles are important documents that should always be kept safe and accessible . However, there are still situations in which people may lose access to their vehicle titles, sometimes through no fault of their own.

Whatever happened in your case, if you can’t find or access your title, contact your local DMV before proceeding with a sale or gifting a car. You’ll need to request a duplicate title, which often comes with a fee attached. You may also be able to get a duplicate title or, at the very least, some proof of ownership by contacting the dealership or seller who sold you the car in the first place.


With almost any vehicle title transfer, there are going to be some costs involved. However, these fees, which are usually nominal, vary from state to state and from situation to situation.

In some states, for example, you could pay as little as $8 or as much as $25 to legally transfer the title. However, if you are transferring the title to a family member, be sure to check up on your state’s laws. In some instances, you may be eligible for a reduced fee or even exempt from fees when this is the case.

Do Things the Right Way and Protect Yourself

As you can see, a lot goes into transferring a car title from one person to the next. And, even after the title is transferred, the buyer will still need to properly register the car in their name.

However, as the seller or giver, once you have handled things on your end, you don’t have anything else to do with the process, providing that you have obeyed all rules and regulations for your state and situation. If you have not, then you could be held liable for tickets or other incidents related to the use of the vehicle. Thus, to keep yourself protected, be sure to carefully follow the steps outlined here.