by Armando Martinez

If you're planning to buy a car from a private owner in California, you'll need to register the vehicle in your name within 10 days of purchase. This can be done by visiting your local DMV office and providing the necessary documentation. Here's a step-by-step guide on How to Register For Sale By Owner Cars in California.

Step 1: Obtain the Required Documentation

Before you can register your car, you'll need to obtain the following documents from the seller:

  • The vehicle title: The seller must provide you with the original title for the vehicle. Make sure that the title is signed by the seller and that it lists you as the buyer. If the seller does not have their original title, they’ll need to apply for a duplicate through the California Department of Motor Vehicles or through the state DMV agency in which their vehicle is titled
  • A bill of sale: While a bill of sale is not required in California, it's a good idea to have one in case there are any questions about the sale later on. The bill of sale should include the vehicle's make, model, year, and VIN, as well as the sale price and the date of the sale.
  • A smog check certificate: If the vehicle is more than four years old, or was titled out of state, you'll need to provide a smog check certificate when you register the vehicle. Make sure that the certificate is current and that it was obtained within the last 90 days.
  • A VIN Verification: If the vehicle was titled out of state, you’ll need to have the vehicle inspected before you can complete your registration. This can be done by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Step 2: Complete the Transfer of Ownership

Once you have the necessary documents, you'll need to complete the transfer of ownership. To do this, you'll need to:

  • Fill out the back of the title: On the back of the title, you'll need to fill out the section that says "Transfer of Title by Seller." Make sure that all of the information is filled out correctly and that both you and the seller sign and date the title.
  • Complete a bill of sale (optional): If you haven't already done so, you can use the bill of sale to record the details of the sale.

Step 3: Visit the DMV Office

Once the transfer of ownership is complete, you'll need to visit your local DMV office to register the vehicle in your name. Here's what you'll need to bring with you:

  • The vehicle title: Make sure that the title is signed by both you and the seller.
  • A completed Application for Title or Registration (Form REG 343): You can download this form from the California DMV website or pick one up at your local DMV office.
  • Proof of insurance: You'll need to provide proof of insurance that meets California's minimum requirements.
  • Payment for fees and taxes: You'll need to pay the registration fee, which is based on the value of the vehicle, as well as any applicable sales tax.

Step 4: Receive Your New Title and Registration

After you've completed the registration process, you'll have the ability to purchase temporary tags. You can use these to operate your vehicle until you receive your new title and registration from the DMV office. Make sure that you keep these documents in a safe place, as you'll need them to prove ownership of the vehicle.


Registering a car purchased from a private owner in California may seem like a complicated process, but it can be relatively straightforward if you follow these steps. Just make sure that you obtain the necessary documentation from the seller, complete the transfer of ownership, and visit your local DMV office to register the vehicle in your name. With a little bit of effort, you'll be able to enjoy your new car on the open road! If you have any questions please visit the California Department of Motor Vehicles website.

This article was written by Armando Martinez. Armando Martinez is among the nation’s experts on automotive titling, registration, DMV services and document operations. With nearly two decades of experience across a broad range of financial services functions and some of the largest names in auto, from Wells Fargo to Uber, Armando combines vision and ingenuity with a wealth of information so auto shoppers and sellers can learn from his experience.

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