The Documents You Need to Sell a Car

By Dawn Marcotte , last updated December 7, 2011

Many car owners who are ready to sell their vehicle are unsure of the documents you need to sell a car. Some items, such as the title, are universal requirements in every state. Selling a vehicle will also require signatures from the buyer and seller as well. Additional written proof of the sale and an odometer mileage statement are often needed. Other items are specific to states. One example is a smog certificate that is required in California. Car owners should check with the state Department of Motor Vehicles to get a complete list of all items that will be required.

Federal Requirements

One item that is required by the federal government whenever a vehicle is sold is an odometer mileage certificate or statement on a vehicle less than 10 years old. Some states have a space on the title itself while other states require a special inspection to verify the mileage has not been tampered with. The mileage from the vehicle odometer is used, even if the engine mileage is different. The vehicle mileage must be certified as actual, not actual or in excess of mechanical limits. This is an effort to stop odometer tampering that can be used to disguise the amount of usage of a car and possible repairs that will need to be made.

Standard Requirements

All states will require a clear title to sell a vehicle. A title is clear if no money is owed on the vehicle. Duplicate titles can be obtained from the DMV in the state where the vehicle is registered. If money is still owed it must be paid off and a lien release will be needed to show the lien is paid in full. Vehicles that have been in an accident or otherwise had significant damage may have a special disclosure on the title so buyers are aware of any possible repairs or problems. It is illegal to hide this information from a prospective buyer.

Additional Requirements

Some states will have additional requirements for selling a vehicle. California requires a smog certificate. Florida requires a VIN inspection if the vehicle was not previously titled in Florida. Different states have different requirements for the license plates. Some states require them to stay with the vehicle while others allow drivers to transfer the plates to a new vehicle. California requires sellers to complete a vehicle transfer and reassignment form when selling a car. Consult with the state DMV for details on specific requirements for selling a vehicle in that state. Ensuring all paperwork is available and accurate before putting the car on the market will make the sale run more smoothly with any prospective buyer.

The documents needed for selling a car or other motor vehicle will vary from one state to the next. Owners should consult with the local branch of the motor vehicle department for their state. Vehicles that are sold from one state to another need to follow the applicable rules in the state where they will be registered. This will ensure the buyer has no difficulties registering the vehicle.

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