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How to fill out a title when selling a car

Your car’s title establishes legal ownership over the vehicle, making it one of the most important documents associated with your vehicle. When you’re buying or selling a car in a private sale, the title information must be filled in correctly to transfer ownership from the seller to the buyer. Mistakes could cause lengthy delays with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which could possibly impact the sale. Let’s learn more about how to fill out a title when selling a car so you can hopefully avoid that happening to you.

How to sign over a car title

When you’re selling your car, you’ll need to release your ownership of the vehicle by signing over the title. In a private sale (instead of a sale to a dealership or retailer), the buyer will then take it to a local DMV to register the vehicle under their name. If the buyer is from another state, they may have to first obtain a temporary registration from the seller’s state before ultimately registering the vehicle with their home state’s DMV. Here are a few other steps to consider when signing over a car title:

Check on and resolve any liens

Most car owners have to take out a loan to purchase their car. If those loans are not paid off, these cars are subject to a lien — a legal claim to the vehicle held by the lender in case the owner doesn’t make their payments.

To help facilitate a smooth sale for cars with liens, it can be helpful to contact your lender as soon as you can to see how to proceed. In most cases, the loan will need to be paid off (possibly with cash generated from the private sale) before the title is clear to hand off to the new owner.

Write a bill of sale

Along with the title, you’ll also need to create a bill of sale, with the seller and buyer each receiving a copy for their records. The DMV may also wish to see this depending on your state’s regulations. A bill of sale typically includes the amount paid, date of transaction and signatures of both parties.

Sign the right names in the right places

This may seem like kind of an obvious tip, but it’s important to make sure you sign the right name. If you had a name change for any reason (for instance, because of a marriage) since the title was issued, you’ll need to sign with the original name used on the title.

Additionally, titles often feature multiple blank lines for signatures. Placing your signature on the wrong line could stall the process at the DMV. Depending on your state, you may be required to file a correction form or possibly even a new title altogether.

Things to look out for

There are a few other details of the process that you may want to look out for as well:

Check on state-specific DMV regulations

DMV regulations and requirements for title transfers can vary significantly from state to state. Some states require a bill of sale to be presented, while others require an inspection of the car. It can be helpful to check on specific local requirements with your state’s DMV prior to proceeding with a sale.

Using the right color of ink

This may seem a little antiquated in the digital age, but the choice of ink you use can also be important. Black or blue ink is preferred, as these hold up better over time. Blue ink has the added advantage of making it easier to identify originals vs. photocopies.

While we’re on the subject of ink, if you happen to make a mistake somewhere, it’s imperative that you don’t use correction fluid or tape to cover it. This could result in your title becoming void. Contact the DMV instead to find out how to proceed.

How to sign a title with two owners

Sometimes a car has more than one owner listed on the title. In these cases, signing over a car title may or may not require each owner’s signature, depending on how the two names are separated on the document. If the owners are listed with an “and” (for example, Jack and Jill), both signatures may be needed. If the owners are listed with an “or” (Jack or Jill), then either owner’s signature may suffice. However, states may have their own rules on the signatures of multiple car owners. It may be helpful to check with your local DMV on this detail.

Steps for buyers

Although signing over a car title is largely carried out by the seller, there are some things prospective buyers can do on their end to help facilitate a smooth sale.

Verify the vehicle identification number (VIN)

The car’s VIN (often located on the driver’s side windshield) must match the one listed on the title. If it doesn’t, you may have trouble trying to register the car in your name.

Double-check the odometer reading

Federal law requires car sellers to write the cumulative mileage registered on the odometer on the title when transferring ownership. If the odometer reading is inaccurate, the seller must indicate this discrepancy, either on the title or on a disclosure form. An odometer that doesn’t match the true mileage of the car could indicate the vehicle has been tampered with and may be a red flag.

Note on title transfers when buying from a retailer

One of the major advantages of buying from a dealership or online retailer, rather than a private seller, is that they often will help fill out the paperwork on your behalf. This may include title transfers and DMV registration.

In summary

A car sale becomes official when the title is transferred over to the new owner. For that reason, it’s generally helpful to know how to fill out a title when selling a car so that you can sidestep potential delays. As you see, it’s not actually a difficult process — it just requires a little extra attention.

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