How to Sign Over a Car Title

Jessica Choksey | Jun 10, 2020

The title of a car is a legal document that shows ownership of a vehicle. It is issued by a state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). To buy or sell a car, the name on the title must be changed or transferred from the previous owner to the new owner.

how to sign over a car title

Signing Over a Car Title

When transferring a title in a private sale, the seller will release ownership of the vehicle by signing the title. The buyer then takes the signed title to the DMV and registers the vehicle under their name. Typically, the DMV will issue a temporary registration to the buyer and a new title will be mailed within a few weeks. The buyer will also be charged a processing fee, which is generally a component of the overall vehicle registration costs. Typically, a vehicle’s buyer has 30 days from the date of purchase to complete a vehicle transfer, but this timeframe can vary from state to state.

Titles often have multiple blank lines and it is important that the seller signs in the correct place when releasing ownership of the vehicle. If the seller signs on the wrong line or attempts a handwritten correction, it may cause delays or complications depending on the rules of that state’s DMV. In some cases, a correction form will need to be submitted, while in other cases a new title may have to be acquired before transacting the sale. If a seller has any confusion as to where to sign, they should contact the DMV.

Once the state issues a new title, ownership has officially changed hands. But it is important to note that some states may require additional documentation as part of the process, such as a Transfer of Ownership form (which may be found on the backside of the title) or a bill of sale. A bill of sale is a simple document provided by the seller which states how much the buyer paid for the vehicle. Plenty of examples and templates for bills of sale can be found online. Some states also require an odometer disclosure. It’s a good idea to visit your state’s DMV website to find out exactly what paperwork and information are required to transfer the title.

How to Sign Over a Car Title with a Loan

Transferring ownership is straightforward when only one name is on the title, but in many cases, a seller may have an outstanding loan on their vehicle, which means the lienholder or lending institution will be listed on the title as having ownership interest. This loan or liability will need to be cleared before the seller can release the title to the new buyer. 

In this case, the seller should contact their lender for instructions on how to handle the transaction. The process will differ from one lienholder to the next. Ultimately, the buyer will need proof that the loan has been settled before accepting the signed titled from the seller. Prior to purchase, the buyer should also verify the status of the title using their DMV’s online title check feature or a third-party vehicle history report.

How to Sign Over a Car Title Listing Two Owners

Often, a vehicle is co-owned by two people. In that case, the title of the vehicle will jointly list both names with either an “and” or an “or” connecting them. An “and” means both individuals will have to sign the title to release ownership, while “or” means only one of the two parties are required to sign the title.

How to get a Car Title from a Dealership

Transferring a title is less complicated when you’re buying a new car because the dealership’s finance office processes the paperwork. They work directly with the DMV to have a title issued to the new owner. The buyer will generally receive their title in the mail within a few weeks of purchase.

Other Factors Affecting Car Title Transfers

Aside from buying or selling a car, there may be other actions and transactions that impact a vehicle’s title. These include transferring a vehicle to another member of the family, paying off a loan, donating a vehicle, inheriting a vehicle, or making a legal name change. Since each state is different, the DMV can advise on procedures and policies for the various circumstances.

Also, when transferring a title, make sure that you double-check the vehicle identification number (VIN) to ensure the title shows the same VIN you see on the vehicle. The VIN plate is typically visible from outside the vehicle in the lower left corner of the windshield. 

If the title transfer process requires the seller to make an odometer reading statement, make sure what’s written on the title matches the car’s odometer reading. It doesn’t need to match exactly, but it should be close. And the car’s odometer reading should never be less than what it shown on the title. 

Lastly, as a seller or a buyer, it is always a good idea to use a pen with black or blue ink when transferring a title, which makes it harder to change any information once it is recorded.

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