How to Transfer Ownership When You Sell Your Car

You decided to post an ad and then found a buyer for your car. Now it’s time to say goodbye to your vehicle. How do you transfer ownership to a new owner? A few last-minute reminders on what to keep track of — and what not to skip — when ownership of your vehicle is about to be handed off are below.

Related: Prepare to Sell

  • Don’t jump the gun; make sure the sale is secure. If you accepted payment via a cashier’s check, follow the steps in the Securing Safe Payment section to ensure the payment is valid before you sign over the title. If you used an escrow service, wait until it tells you that payment has been received before transferring ownership.
  • If you’re dealing with an out-of-town buyer, arrange for that person to pick up the vehicle, or consider employing a professional vehicle delivery service. Delivery services transport vehicles on large hauling trucks. Prices vary depending on the length of the transport and the vehicle’s weight, but the cost usually starts at about $500. Work out the cost and payment issues with the buyer first.
  • In most states, license plates stay with the seller, not the car, though California is a notable exception; check travel-services provider AAA’s Digest of Motor Laws for your state’s specific restrictions.
  • If the plates remain with the original owner, remove them so you don’t retain a legal tie to the car. If the plates stay with the vehicle and will transfer to the new owner, you need to fill out the proper paperwork at the Department of Motor Vehicles so the plates can then be transferred to the new owner.
  • Call your insurance company and have the vehicle removed from your policy.
  • If the buyer chooses to pay by money order, follow the same safe-payment guidelines for accepting checks. Verify the name and amount with the issuing bank, and request a money order from a local bank whenever possible.
  • As long as you were forthright with information about your car in the selling process, you shouldn’t be liable for anything once the sale is complete. In most states, the law assumes that private-party sales carry “as is” status. Still, it doesn’t hurt to get that understanding in writing. Have both parties sign off before the vehicle transfer is complete.’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.