How To Sell A Car In California

Dustin Hawley | Mar 04, 2021

As many vehicle owners know, selling a car at a dealership is a straightforward process. You can sell it for cash or use it as a trade-in towards another vehicle. But in either case, the dealership is the party that manages all the paperwork. You basically just sign on the dotted line.

how to sell a car in California

Selling a car independently is a bit more complicated. You need to handle all the paperwork and comply with all the relevant state regulations on your own. But if you can manage the process, you can often maximize your value regardless of who decides to buy your vehicle.

Every state has different requirements, so accordingly, the process will be slightly different for each. Here’s an overview of how to sell a car in California.

Have Your Title In Order

Before you do anything else, you’ll need to make sure your title is in good standing. 

If you don’t have a lien and all the title information is accurate, you’ll be just fine. However, there are specific scenarios where you may need to do some extra paperwork.

For instance, if you need to replace a lost or damaged title, you’ll need to submit California DMV form REG 227. This is an Application for Duplicate Title or Paperless Title. Both the seller and the buyer must complete the form, and once submitted, DMV will issue the buyer a new title.

If there are any errors with your existing title, you’ll need to have those rectified as well. The mistake may be something simple, like a name misspelling. But as mundane as it may seem, it may also indicate other information that may be incorrect. In that case, you’ll have to submit form REG 101, a Statement of Error or Erasure.

Finally, if your car is under a lien or the lienholder’s name is still on the title, you’ll need to have a signed and notarized release. Also, the lienholder will need to sign any transfer document, such as a form REG 227.

Order Your REG 262 Form

In most states, you need to fill out a bill of sale or other similar forms to legally transfer ownership of the vehicle. In California, this is the Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment Form, form REG 262. This form functions as a bill of sale and as a power of attorney and odometer disclosure, providing nearly all the information the buyer needs to register the car in their name.

Because form REG 262 has embedded security features, there is no printable version available online. You have to call the DMV at (800)-777-0133, and they will mail you the form. To avoid this delay, make sure to order the form at least a week before listing your vehicle.

Get Your Smog Check

In California, most cars cannot be sold without a STAR smog certification. These certifications require an emissions test from a qualified STAR testing station.

Vehicle owners should be aware that these certifications are only valid for ninety days. If you don’t transact a sale within that time, you’ll need to have the car re-tested. In light of this, it might make sense to have a smog check performed closer to the expected sale date. However, keep in mind that if you fail your smog check, you’ll need to complete the necessary repairs before the sale.

Certain vehicles are exempt from smog certification requirements in the state of California. These include diesel, electric, natural gas cars, hybrids, and any cars produced within the past four years. Cars manufactured before 1975 are also exempt from this process.

Have Your Car Inspected

Many buyers will want to have a safety inspection performed before making their purchase. It’s standard practice for the buyer to pay for this inspection and to have it completed by their chosen mechanic or auto body shop. Regardless of whether a buyer requests it or not, it may be in your best interest to have the inspection done for yourself if you don’t have documentation on previous maintenance and repairs.

One thing you’ll also want to provide is a Carfax vehicle history report. These reports include records of major events, including any sales or accidents. The best part is that it’s cheap and easy to obtain. A clean history report can demonstrate to prospective buyers that your car is worth their while.

List The Car For Sale

With all the above-listed paperwork in order, you’re finally ready to list your car for sale. 

There are plenty of popular marketplaces to sell your vehicle and promote it to interested buyers. When you place your listing, include the make, model, and year, and don’t forget to display pictures of the car. Be straightforward about any damages, so if your vehicle has a massive dent in the rear bumper, make sure that it is clearly visible and stated in your ad.

Finally, remember to include contact information. An email address will suffice, but a phone number is even better. Potential buyers may have questions regarding the car. If they can’t get a hold of you, they won’t be able to get their questions answered, potentially reducing the number of offers you receive.

Fill Out the Paperwork

Once you and a buyer have agreed on a sale price, the final step is to complete the transaction.

To do this, both parties need to fill out the title and form REG 262 together. Once the seller has accepted payment, make sure to take your license plates off the vehicle.

From here, both parties will need to report the sale to the DMV. The seller has five days to do this, whereas the buyer has ten. Fortunately for each, this report can quickly be completed online. Alternatively, it can also be done in person at the DMV if you’re turning in your plates.

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