How To Sign Over a Car Title

Most people think that the most important thing when buying a car (mainly a used car) is to get a great deal and purchase a dependable machine. Although this is true, it is just half of the process. The other half of the process is ensuring that the car has its paperwork in order.

This means that the vehicle has the right VIN number and a clear title. In some cases, this is the more important part of the transaction. Because no matter how good the car is, if it has problematic documents, an unreadable VIN, a salvage title, or a bad title, you may not be able to register and drive it legally. That is why it’s important to always double-check the paperwork of a vehicle before the purchase. Here is everything you need to know about how to sign over a car title and how to avoid being scammed by missing or fraudulent documentation.

How Does a Car Title Work?

The car title (Certificate of Title) is a government-issued document that designates the vehicle's legal owner. Think of it as your car's personal ID. It consists of all essential information like owner's name, address, makes, model, VIN number, color, vehicle type, and so on. The owner could be a person, company, or government agency, and the title is issued for all vehicles regardless of their use. Without a proper title, it is illegal to operate the vehicle on public roads. 

However, in some cases, the name that appears on the title is different than the name of the person who operates the car. This happens when the vehicle is rented or leased, or when the company financing the vehicle still holds the title of ownership until the terms of the finance agreement have been fulfilled.

If you recently bought a used car, chances are that the vehicle is still titled on the previous owner. All of this is perfectly legal, but you will need to transfer the title into your name as soon as you take possession of the vehicle.

How to Sign Over a Car Title

While formats may vary slightly depending on what year the title was generated, here is the general process for signing over a car title.

  • Look at the front of the title form. The current owner or owners will need to write in the date of transfer and sign their names on the lines under the short declaration stating they are releasing interest in the vehicle.
  • Under these “release of interest” lines, there is a box. In this box, write in the current odometer reading in the appropriate cells. From there, write in the date and sign your name on the lines under the listed odometer reading.
  • From here, the buyer should turn over the car title and look near the top of the document. The buyer must print information in the series of boxes that occupy the top and ask for information such as full name of the new owner, the full name of the second owner (if applicable), mailing address, city, state, zip code, and physical address where the car will be stored (if applicable).
  • Once that information has been filled out, the buyer will need to sign their name on the line that’s labeled “Signature of new registered owner.” Directly next to this line, they will enter their driver’s license number, followed by the date of purchase. 

Why It Is Important to Transfer a Car Title Properly

Transferring the car title as soon as you make the purchase is one of the most important things to do when you buy a car. Waiting or failing to do so can lead to all kinds of problems, so here’s why it’s important to transfer the title properly.

  • You want your name on the title – If you paid for your car, you want your name on the title, it’s as simple as that. Your vehicle is your asset, and you want it legally recognized as such. 
  • You may have to pay a fine – If you don't transfer the ownership of a vehicle within the first 30 days, there is a fee of $25, and $25 each month after that in which you fail to legally transfer ownership. 
  • If you wait, the previous owner may become unavailable – People often wait to transfer the title, and this can be a big mistake. Unexpected things can happen, and if the previous owner didn’t give you a bill of sale and perhaps gets deployed overseas, incarcerated, or even just disappears, then you are going to have a real problem and you may be unable to transfer the title. 
  • You may be held accountable for the previous owner's legal troubles – If you don't transfer the title, you don't yet legally own your vehicle. If the previous owner owed money or had some legal troubles, you could possibly face repercussions, like potentially getting your car repossessed. In order to avoid lengthy and often unpleasant discussions, just make sure to transfer the title immediately after purchasing a vehicle. 
  • You may end up having to pay for someone else's tickets – We covered the importance of title transfer from the buyer's perspective, but even if you are a seller, you want to get this done for your own security. Imagine if the next owner runs through a red light, gets involved in a hit-and-run accident, and gets caught on a traffic camera. If you have failed to transfer the title, this incident will initially be traced back to YOU. Having to explain to the police that you sold your car months ago may not be enough of an explanation in some cases. And nobody needs that kind of stress.

Tips to Consider When Transferring a Car's Title

  • Double and triple check the VIN number – This can not be overstated enough, and is one of the most common oversights in title transfers. The VIN number consists of 17 digits, and if you make even one mistake in transposing this number, it can cause a lot of problems later on. Avoid the headache and take your time to make sure you’ve entered it correctly. 
  • Write as clearly as possible – Since you are the one filling out the form, you may not pay attention to the legibility as you should. Try to avoid this by writing as clearly as possible to ensure the information can be read by DMV officials without any problems.
  • Use blue or black ink – Always use blue or black ink throughout the entire form. A title is only technically valid when filled out in blue or black ink. Also, do not switch colors or change writing style from cursive to print throughout the form. This can cause problems when processing the title change.