California Car Titles


November 8, 2023



min read

California car titles

Car titles, also known as the "pink slip," represent the legal ownership of the vehicle. In California, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is responsible for registering vehicles and issuing titles. If you're a resident in the Golden State and have questions about your car title, this article will provide you with a comprehensive guide on how car titles work in California, how to obtain one, how to replace one, and general requirements.

What is a Car Title, and How Does It Work in California?

A car title is a legal document that establishes a person's ownership of a motor vehicle. It contains information related to your vehicle, such as the vehicle identification number (VIN), make and model, year, owner's name and address, and the official signature of the DMV authorized official.

In California, the DMV is responsible for issuing and maintaining records of car titles. When you purchase a vehicle, the seller must transfer the title to your name within ten days, and you, as the new owner, must apply for a new title within 30 days to avoid any late fees.

How to Obtain a Car Title in California

1. Buying a New Vehicle: If you purchase a new vehicle, the dealer will typically handle all paperwork, including submitting an application for a new title on your behalf. In such cases, you don't have to apply in person at the DMV, but you should receive your new title within 60 days of the purchase date.

2. Buying a Used Vehicle: For used vehicles, the process of obtaining a title is slightly different. The seller must provide you with the signed and completed title certificate, an odometer disclosure, and a smog certificate, if applicable. Once you have these documents, submit them to the nearest DMV office along with the Application for Title or Registration (Form REG 343), proof of your identity, and any required fees.

3. Inheriting or Receiving a Vehicle as Gift: If you inherit or receive a vehicle as a gift, you'll need to follow the same process as buying a used vehicle. However, you'll have to complete the Statement of Facts (Form REG 256) and may not need a smog certificate for vehicles aged less than four model years old.

How to Replace a Lost, Stolen, or Damaged Car Title in California

If you lose, damage, or have your car title stolen, you must apply for a duplicate title with the California DMV. Here's how to replace your car title:

1. Complete the Application for Duplicate Title (Form REG 227).

2. Provide proof of your identity, such as a driver's license or valid state ID.

3. Pay the required $15 replacement fee.

4. Submit the completed application and fee in person to a DMV field office or mail the documents and fee to:

    Department of Motor Vehicles

    Vehicle Registration Operations

    P. O. Box 942869

    Sacramento, CA 94269-0001

General Requirements for a Car Title in California

1. Smog Certification: California has strict emission control policies. When obtaining or transferring a title, you must provide a valid smog certification for vehicles that are at least four years old, excluding diesel-powered vehicles weighing more than 14,000 pounds.

2. Vehicle Inspection: When obtaining or transferring a title, you may need to complete a VIN inspection on your vehicle to verify its identification number. This inspection is performed by the DMV or the California Highway Patrol (CHP).

3. Proof of Insurance: You must have valid proof of insurance before registering any vehicle in the State of California. The insurance must meet California's minimum liability requirements, and the registered owner must maintain continuous coverage 

4. Odometer Disclosure Statement: California requires that the seller of a used vehicle provides the buyer with an odometer reading at the time of sale, as specified on the title certificate. This helps ensure accurate mileage tracking and prevents odometer fraud.

5. Sales Tax: When purchasing a new or used vehicle, you may be required to pay sales tax, which varies by county. The sales tax should be paid when you apply for your car title and registration.

6. Lienholder Information: If there is an outstanding lien (loan) on your vehicle, you must provide the lienholder's name and address when applying for a car title.

7. License Plates: When you obtain a new car title, you will also need to obtain license plates for your vehicle. California offers various types of personalized and specialty plates, with an additional fee and ordering process.

Additional Information for Car Titles in California

1. Transfer-on-Death (TOD) Beneficiary: California allows vehicle owners to designate a TOD beneficiary. By doing so, the vehicle can bypass probate and be transferred directly to the beneficiary without going through California’s probate process. To designate a beneficiary, complete the Beneficiary Designation (Form REG 101) and submit it with your title application.

2. Out-of-State Vehicles: If you're moving to California and bringing an out-of-state vehicle, you'll need to apply for a California title and registration within 20 days of becoming a resident. Along with the required documents mentioned earlier, you may need to obtain a smog certification and undergo a vehicle inspection by the DMV.

3. Removing a Lien: If your vehicle has been paid off and the lienholder has released the lien, you should notify the DMV to have the lien removed from your car title. Submit the Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability (Form REG 138) and the lien release form to the DMV with the applicable fees.

4. Vehicle History Report: California law requires sellers to provide a National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) vehicle history report for potential buyers. This report contains critical information like accident history, prior damage, title history, and more, helping buyers make an informed decision.

Did you know?

Did you know you can use your car title to potentially get approved for a credit card? If you own your car, and have a clear title, the Yendo credit card allows you to tap into the value of your owned car to get credit, up to $10k.

Features & benefits of the Yendo Credit Card

  • Credit limit - access up to $10k in credit
  • App - the Yendo app let's you manage your account, wherever you are
  • Virtual card - access a portion of your credit limit prior to getting your physical card in the mail with the Yendo virtual card. You can continue to use your virtual card even after your physical card arrives as well
  • Cash advances - ability to do cash advances on your card
  • Credit building - with responsible usage, you can not only have access to ongoing credit, but also build your credit for potential future financial options


Understanding the process and requirements for obtaining and maintaining a car title in California is crucial for vehicle owners. From purchasing a new or used vehicle, inheriting or receiving a car as a gift, or replacing a lost or damaged title, it's essential to follow the California DMV's guidelines and ensure all necessary documents are submitted correctly. Staying informed about car titles can help you avoid potential fines, delays, and other legal issues.

Additional information