How To Transfer a Car Title
By: Michelle Dakota Beck 02/10/2023

If you're selling a car, you need to know how to transfer the title correctly and legally. This post will explain how to sell your car online or in person and complete the title transfer, giving you and the buyer peace of mind.

What Is a Car Title, and Why Does Transferring It Matter?

A car's title is an ownership document, similar to a house or property deed. Whoever the car is titled to is the legal owner of that vehicle. Some states list only the name of the person who purchased the car, while others list any lienholder as an owner.

Washington State, for example, has a registered owner — the person who owns the vehicle — and a legal owner — the lienholder if the car is financed.

Some states only use the lienholder designation, while others hold the vehicle's title until the lien repayment is complete. However, the person who bought the car remains listed as its owner.

Since the title indicates ownership, transferring it accurately and removing the lienholder once a lien is satisfied avoids any potential legal trouble with the transaction.

How To Complete a Title Transfer

Completing a title transfer doesn't have to be complicated, but you must follow the standard process when you sell your car online or in person. Transferring the title to the buyer is an integral part of the sale.

Depending on your situation, you might have to take additional steps to transfer your title. For example, selling a car to a dealership differs from selling to a private buyer. You'll have further considerations if you have a loan on the vehicle you're selling. Here are some specifics that may relate to your situation.

Straightforward Title Transfer Situations

Straightforward transfer situations are the easiest to handle. These are the transactions in which you sell your car to a dealership or a private party without any hassle or extra requirements. For example, if you have a clean title (meaning there's no lien on the vehicle), you can take your car to a dealership and ask if they'll buy it from you. You can also get car offers online and sell your car quickly.

What are the steps if you want to sell to a dealership, online buyer, or private party, and your title is clean?

  • Sign the title.
  • Fill out any needed seller information.
  • Notate the number of miles on the car.
  • Record the purchase price.

Once you do those things, the buyer can take the title and put it into their name. Some buyers also like to have a bill of sale, but most states don't require that document. In many cases, a properly signed title is enough.

Title Transfers That Involve a Loan

A title transfer is more complicated if you still owe money on your car. The process you must follow is also often state-specific.

To transfer a title when a loan is involved, you'll need to pay off the loan. The good news is that you can do so from the proceeds of the sale. However, it's not a good idea to sell the car, get the money, and then make the buyer wait for the clean title. Instead, you want to talk to your lienholder and get a payoff amount. You should also ask about their procedures because every bank and lender may follow different steps.

If you have a loan from a local bank, you'll likely need to bring the buyer into the bank to sign the paperwork. Online lenders may also work with local banks to handle the transaction.

When you sell a car online to a company that helps you find buyers, the company generally works with you to complete the transaction. Whatever route you take, remember that you want to follow your lender's procedures to sell the car and be upfront with the buyer about going through that process.

Bringing the Right Documents

Correct documents make the sale of your vehicle much easier and faster. If you have the title in hand, that's a good start. But you may also need a bill of sale, depending on the state.

In addition, bring your identification and registration. These documents help prove who you are and that you legally own the car you're selling.

Private Sellers Should Use Caution

What happens if you're selling a car in a private-party transaction? Make sure to protect yourself. The cash offered could be counterfeit, and the cashier's check the buyer says they'll bring could be fake. To reduce your risks, meet the buyer at your bank to deposit the funds and then join them at the title office to transfer the title and record the sale.

Key Takeaways for Transfering a Car Title

The most important things to remember when transferring a car title are:

  • Understand the steps if you have a loan.
  • Complete and sign the title correctly.
  • Be wary of private-party transactions and always protect yourself.
  • Know that selling to a company or dealership can be safer, faster, and easier.

Are you ready to sell your car online and get a great price? You can get car offers today! Then, it's up to you whether to look for a different vehicle or spend your profits on something else.

Get offers and move forward with selling your vehicle. It's that simple.