Transferring Car Titles And Vehicle Ownership (Made Simple)

What Does A Car Title Look Like

A Car title is essentially the document that proves you own a vehicle and looks a lot like any typical government document related to ownership, such as the deed to a house or even a business license. 

Not only is the title to your car the evidence that you are its legal and rightful owner, but it is also the same document you need to transfer ownership to another individual or even an entity when buying or selling a car.

Car Title

For a reference and sample of each of the 50 states’ car titles and what they look like, head over to this link (Car Title Example Images)

Tip: When you buy a car, the title will obviously not be in your name until you go to the DMV.  During this period, the Bill Of Sale is your proof of ownership.  This is important should you buy a car with a jumped title.

The Definition Of A Clean Title

the definition of a clean title

A clean title on a car means that the car, and its title, have never been branded salvage. In other words, the vehicle was never declared a total loss.  

Car Buyers often confuse a Clean title with a Clear Title, which actually carries a different meaning altogether.  A Clear title is a title with no liens or levies from any banks or creditors, a title/vehicle that has one clearly defined and undisputed owner.  

In layman’s terms, a car with a clear title has only one person claiming ownership, so when or if that person sells you the vehicle, they have the legal right to do so.

How Much Does It Cost To Transfer A Title?

Every state has its own fee structure, but here in Florida, the cost to transfer a title is $75.25 for vehicles and mobile homes and only $5.75 to transfer titles for a boat. 

That’s probably the only time anything with a boat is cheaper! 

For your state’s fees, simply head over to or Google “Your State” DMV, and there, you can find the relevant section for any and all fees.  It’s probably going to be easy to find as it’s the topic most people are concerned with.

How Much Is The Penalty For Late Title Transfer?

Each state will have its own deadlines and fees, but here in Florida, if you do not complete your transfer within 30 days, there will be a $20.00 late fee at the time of transfer.  

Can You Transfer The Title Of A Car Online

As of 2023, the answer is no; there aren’t any states that currently allow for the transfer of a car’s title online. 

Will this be coming in the near future?  Not likely, at least for individuals.  The reason is obvious, really- Fraud. 

Fraud has always been a big problem in the private seller market and likely always will be, so the idea of titles transferring online without someone physically verifying any of the information just doesn’t seem like a very good idea.

How Do I Transfer My Title At The DMV

Again I can’t speak for every state, as many states can have more or fewer forms or processes, but in this Florida, you must fill out an HSMV Form 82040 (PDF Form) and take this form to your local tax collectors office for processing. 

In Florida, car buyers and sellers should be aware that there are now satellite offices (County Tax Collector-Sponsored Service Centers) operated by private companies that can handle these types of transfers but be aware: 

Anything complicated or with extenuating circumstances, like fouled-up forms or missing documents, must be handled at the Tax Collectors Office where they have the proper authority to make changes and decisions.

What Do I Need To Transfer A Title

What Do I Need To Transfer A Title

This question actually varies more than most, but generally, the most basic documents you will need are:

From here, some states, such as California, require smog or emissions forms and even proof of insurance. 

The proof of insurance isn’t usually necessary for simply transferring a title, but in some states, it actually is, and you should check before heading into the DMV, or you will be turned away! 

Some state websites can be confusing, however, because a vast majority of title transfers also involve registration work, which ALWAYS requires proof of insurance, so they may be listed as something to bring but are not actually a requirement.   

If you can’t narrow down your state’s requirements, just leave me a comment below, and I will check it out for you.

Transferring a Car Title with a Lien

If you’re planning to sell a car that still has a lien on it, you should understand first that selling a car with a lien is illegal if you have not first fully disclosed (preferably in writing) the existence of said lien to the buyer.

Secondly, if you do sell a car with a lien on it, you will not be able to actually transfer the title until the lienholder has released the lien with the state.

The lien holder accepting payment and giving you a receipt is not a release!

You must ensure that the lien holder contacts the state, either directly or electronically, and releases the lien for any title to be transferrable.

Do You Need A Notary To Sign Over A Title?

There are states that require a notary to sign over a title,  Arizona being a perfect example. 

However, here in Florida, you are only required to have a buyer and seller sign a title for the legal transfer of ownership. 

There are 42 states that I could find listed as “Non-Notary States” for vehicle title transfers; here is that list from Louisiana.Gov.

Can You Add Someone To The Title Of A Car?

Yes, if, for whatever reason, someone decides they wish to give equal ownership of a vehicle to another person, they can legally add them to the title, BUT BE CAREFUL. 

Joining the names with “Or” means that either person could sell the car in the future, but using “And” means that both parties would have to be present to sign off on a sale.  A perfect example of when you might want to use this difference is if you are helping a son or daughter buy their first car at a young age. 

As a sort of investor parent, you wouldn’t want your child to be able to run off and sell that car without your approval.

Transferring a Car Title with Joint Ownership

Joint ownership of a vehicle can add an extra layer of complexity when it comes to transferring the title. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you navigate this process:

Step 1: Check the Title

The first thing you need to do is look at how the names are listed on the car’s title. You’ll typically see one of two formats:

  • John AND Jane Doe: This means both parties are required to sign the title to release ownership.
  • John OR Jane Doe: This means either person can sign the title to release ownership.

Step 2: Prepare to Sign

If both parties are required to sign, make sure both are present and ready to do so. If only one person needs to sign, decide who it will be.

Step 3: Visit Your State’s DMV Website

Different states have different requirements for title transfers. Visit your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website to find out:

  • What documents are required
  • Where to sign the title
  • How to handle multiple owners

Step 4: Sign the Title

Once you’ve gathered the necessary information, it’s time to sign the title. Be careful to sign on the correct line and provide the correct information. If you make a mistake, it could slow down the process.

Step 5: Handle Mistakes

If you do make a mistake, such as signing on the wrong line or trying to erase something from the title, you’ll need to take additional steps. You might need to file a second form stating you made a mistake, or you might have to apply for a new title from the DMV before the sale can be concluded.

How To Transfer Title To A Family Member

So, are you looking to give a vehicle to a family member, maybe as a gift?  If so, you are probably wondering if there is a different process for transferring ownership or even if the tax implications change and you can avoid paying sales tax on the transfer. 

Well, the good news is that most of the time, you can pay little to no sales tax on a vehicle given as a gift; the bad news is that the process does get a little confusing depending on which state you are in, with some requiring more paperwork and some a very small amount. 

The best advice I can give you is to head over to, where they will have a link to your state’s DMV page that specifically addresses title transfers. 

That link, along with more information on gifting a vehicle, is here ( Gifted Cars).

How To Transfer A Title Of A Deceased Person?

Handling the affairs of someone who has passed away can be very complex and frustrating, especially when you are doing so for a family member.  Nevertheless, these are things that must be done, and if you are reading this, that responsibility has likely fallen on your shoulders.  

Likewise, I now have the responsibility to help you as best I can, so let’s get to it.

First of all, if you have a title that was jointly owned, such as John “or” Jane Doe, you have nothing more to do because the other owner has full rights to that vehicle. 

I haven’t been able to find any information on if the title were written as John “and” Jane Doe, which could complicate things because “and” means the state would require both signatures.  

If I had to make an educated guess, I would say that all you would need would be the death certificate to give the other owner complete ownership of the vehicle.  However, I would certainly consult with a probate attorney on anything outside of the original scenario.  

Most cases are likely to require the use and consultation of a probate attorney.  For more information from a legal source, please visit this post from a law firm located here in Florida.  [Transfer of Motor Vehicles after Owner’s Death: How to Avoid Probate in Florida]

Typical Required Documents and Fees

As with many title processes, laws vary from state to state to check with your state’s specific DMV website.  However, you can expect a few similarities, such as with some of the documents required to transfer the title of someone deceased:

  • Affidavit to transfer title without probate (Stating the estate is not indebted)
  • Affidavit that the surviving family members have agreed on how the assets will be divided (Only if no will exists)
  • Certificate of the title
  • Odometer disclosure statement
  • Death Certificate
  • Transfer Fees 

Important:  If the deceased had any debts, probate cannot be avoided.  Also, ensure that these transfers are done as soon as possible, that is the law here in Florida, and it may be similar in your state.

Can You Drive The Car Of A Deceased Person?

The answer to that is a definitive no, not until the probate court issues the transfer order and the new driver is properly registered and insured.

How To Get A Title For A Car With No Title

There are two reasons people typically need to get a title where none exists:

  • You lost your vehicle’s title
  • You purchased a car with no title

What To Do If You Lost Your Car’s Title

If you lost your title, all you need to do is apply for a duplicate title. 

You should be aware that once you do this, your previous title is no good.  So if you find it, shred it immediately.  The reason I emphasize this is that people have applied for a duplicate only to find their original later. 

Then, somehow, they lost the duplicate and sold the car using the original title, which meant the buyer got a title that was no good when they went to the DMV.  When this happens, you are going to have one very upset person on your hands who will assume they were defrauded. 

So, again, if you find the original title after applying for a duplicate, destroy the original immediately.  If it is collectible, then frame it!  Just don’t get it mixed up with the current legal title.

Buying A Car Without A Title

Let’s say you buy a car, and for whatever reason, you didn’t get the title at the time you made your purchase.  After some time goes by, it becomes apparent that you simply aren’t getting or finding a title; you’re stuck, right?  Not exactly.  If the reason you didn’t get a title was that the vehicle you purchased was legally declared:

  • Abandoned
  • Junked
  • Stolen

Then no, there isn’t much you can do to get a title in your name.  However, if your purchase falls outside of these circumstances, then there is something you can get, it’s called a “Bonded” title, and to get it, you will need a Surety Bond. 

What is a Surety Bond

Well, a surety bond is a legal instrument that makes you financially responsible for the vehicle, something you need as you can’t legally prove you own the car.  If you are reading this and need to know where to pick up such a bond, you can use this link here (Surety Bond Provider), which is a company I found on, so it should be pretty reputable. 

Don’t worry; these bonds are not very expensive.

Be Advised:  If someone comes forward with a rightful claim to the vehicle, the surety company will pay this person a fair amount for the vehicle, an amount that you will then have to pay back to the surety company.  So, no, they won’t take the car from you, but you could end up paying for it twice.

How To Remove Names From A Car Title After A Divorce

Removing someone’s name from a car’s title after a divorce is really quite easy.  The person being removed fills out the areas of the title marked “Seller,” and the person remaining on the title as the owner will fill out the areas marked “Buyer.” 

Then you take this down to the DMV and follow the same process as you would for any standard vehicle sale we referenced above. 

In case you are wondering, yes, some states will require you to pay a sales tax; however, other states will waive the tax with the appropriate divorce documents from the courts.

Now, let’s say your spouse isn’t cooperating.  Well, you likely have a court order or settlement agreement at this point, so you will have to take this with you to the DMV or have the courts place your spouse in contempt, where they will order them to get back on board with the process. 

Again, each state is different in its specific process.


Car titles are certainly not cut and dry, but I do hope I was able to answer one, some, or hopefully all of your questions.  However, if I didn’t, I would love for you to leave it in the comment section below. 

This will not only help me better assist you, but it may very well be something that helps car buyers and sellers for years to come! 

Thank you again for choosing to be a more informed car buyer, and I look forward to seeing you in other posts and potentially working with you via our Autohitch Car Buying Program!

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Steve is a former licensed car dealer located in the State of Florida.  He has many years of experience buying, selling, and working on cars mechanically and started Autohitch to help buyers and Sellers navigate the complex lands of Car Buying.