Accountability is important when selling your car. A bill of sale is helpful in this regard as it serves as proof the car was sold, and for the buyer, it secures the fact that they paid for it. While this is not required by law in California, it helps to keep both sides of the transaction at peace. You can find an official proof of purchase form on the California DMV’s website.
You must provide the VIN of the vehicle you’re selling. It’s a long assortment of letters and numbers which can be found in a number of different places:
If you must look at the car to find the VIN and can't find it on your insurance card, registration or title (because you have none of these things), you’ve got a bigger problem.
It’s important to get this right, so don’t go with your gut even if you happen to be a bona fide car expert and know every make and model ever. Check the registration and title, as those will be comprehensive with how it describes your particular vehicle. It also helps to learn how to read a VIN as that will tell you more than just the year it was made.
Those white shiny things on the front and back of the car with the red letters actually do matter. License plates are there to prove that the car is registered to whatever state is printed on it. When you need it, you can find the license plate number in a few places:
California doesn’t include a space for the odometer reading when proving your car as sold with a proof of sale, but if you’d like to include it on a makeshift version it’s your prerogative. Whatever your odometer says, that's the number you should put down. Be accurate with this, because committing odometer fraud is a thing.
Be sure to include your name and the buyer’s name, and the date. The date is important as it helps in the event of the DMV not receiving notice that the car has gone to a new owner.
This is tricky, and sometimes buyers and sellers block out any ethical background they may have had before they put the selling price as some ridiculously low number. The reason? Because this number is what determines your registration fee from the time you buy it (depending if it needs new tags soon), and for all subsequent years that you register the vehicle.
Also, if you decide to be clever and say you got the vehicle for free (a gift), then the DMV will still require you to list the price that you think the vehicle is worth.
Finally, after all the other information is filled out, print and sign your name and don’t forget the date. If you print two copies, one for you and another for the new owner, sign, and date both.
If you don’t have the time to print one out, you can always make one yourself with only a pen and a piece of paper. You will need to briefly describe the vehicle with its color, make and model, VIN, the name of buyer and seller, final price and the location of the sale. Don't forget those important signatures.
While it's not required by California state law, a bill of sale can help protect you from legal implications. Without a proof of purchase, until the new owner transfers the title into their name, or until you notify the DMV of the sale, there's no real proof that they bought the car from you.
If you're in a situation where you can't make it to the DMV or somehow inform them that you've sold your vehicle, it would be important to have it as a contingency.
So is it useful from a legal standpoint? Yes, but is it useful for anything else? Not really, unless the state requires it. Some states like Arizona will allow a proof of purchase to take place of the title if there isn’t one present. That is not possible in California. Every state is different, so be sure to check your state’s laws for the specifics of if whether or not one is required.
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