This page will provide you with an overview of what you need to do when buying a car in California.
We’ll provide you with information about what to expect, the general process, and the documents and paperwork you will typically need.
Quick facts for buying a used car in California:
- New owners have 10 days to transfer ownership.
- Standard license plates remain with the vehicle.
What do you need to buy a car in California?
Whenever you buy a car in California, you’ll need to make sure you get all the paperwork needed to title and register the vehicle in your name.
There are a few things you’ll usually always need when buying a used car in California. They include:
- The car’s title.
- A bill of sale.
- An odometer disclosure statement.
- Smog/safety inspection certificate.
- A VIN verification, if the car came from another state.
- Application for California Title and Registration.
- Current California car insurance policy.
- California registration and title fees.
- Sales taxes and local fees, if applicable.
Before you decide to purchase the car, it’s also a smart idea to decode the VIN and get a vehicle history report.
How to Buy a Used Car in California
The process for buying a used car in California depends on whether you are purchasing the vehicle from a private party or a car dealership.
In general, car dealerships make the process easy and handle most of the paperwork for you.
When buying from a private seller, you’ll want to make sure that you get all the necessary documents signed and filled out properly so that you’ll be able to transfer ownership of the car with no issues.
Buying a Car from a Private Seller in CA
Before buying a car from a private seller, you’ll want to make sure you’re making a good purchase. Find some tips on buying a car from a private seller here.
Here’s what you’ll need to receive from the seller when buying a car in California:
- The vehicle’s title (or pink slip) that has been properly filled out and signed by you and the seller.
- A signed Bill of Sale.
- A signed Odometer Disclosure Statement, if the vehicle is 20 years old or newer (starting with model year 2011 vehicles).
- Current emissions and safety inspections certificates, if applicable.
Both your and the seller’s information and signatures are typically needed on the following documents:
- Bill of Sale.
- Odometer Disclosure Statement.
In California, standard license plates will stay with the vehicle.
If you need to drive the vehicle before you are able to transfer ownership, be sure to apply for temporary tags with the California DMV first.
Next, you’ll want to purchase a car insurance policy for the vehicle. Compare quotes from a few different providers to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
When you buy a used car in California, you’ll need to transfer ownership into your name within 10 days.
Failing to do so may result in late fees or a back-dated registration.
After the transaction is complete, you should be prepared with the following items to submit to the California DMV in order to transfer ownership into your name:
- The vehicle title, odometer statement, and bill of sale.
- Proof of safety and emissions inspection, if applicable.
- Proof of car insurance.
- An application for California registration and title.
- Payment for the registration fees, title transfer fees, and sales taxes.
When you visit the California DMV, you should be prepared to provide appropriate proof of your identity and address.
Buying a Car from a Dealership in CA
California car dealerships are required to be registered with the DMV and follow state and federal regulations regarding inspections, disclosures, warranties, and processing.
Many dealers are authorized to process and submit the necessary paperwork to the California DMV in order to transfer ownership into your name.
In this case, you’ll just need to fill out the paperwork with the dealer, provide the necessary documentation, and pay the fees.
Your title, registration, and permanent license plates should arrive in the mail within a few weeks.
Be sure to get your new car covered with a car insurance policy.
If the car dealership you purchased the vehicle from doesn’t provide this service, you’ll need to make sure to receive all the necessary documents in order to title and register the vehicle as you would after buying a car from a private seller.
Note that if you buy a car from an out of state dealer, you’ll also need to take care of the registration and title process yourself in most cases.
For any questions or official information about your particular situation, please contact your California DMV: https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/