What documents do I need to sell my car?

CarGurus provides a checklist of the paperwork and documents needed to sell a vehicle.


Car keys on top of DMV and certificate of title documents from the State of California.

Rix Pix Photography // Shutterstock

No matter how you choose to sell your car, you're going to need some documents. In fact, collating the correct paperwork is such an important part of the process of selling your car that it's recommended to be the very first thing you do.

Items such as the car's title, maintenance record and a bill of sale are all among the paperwork you'll need to sell your car. This guide from CarGurus runs through what all these items are. Also note that different states have different requirements for necessary paperwork when selling a vehicle. For this reason, it's important to check with your local DMV for specifics.


A car title is a legal document that provides proof of vehicle ownership, and is required in order to transfer ownership. It contains information including the vehicle make and model, its identification number (VIN), and year of manufacture, plus the owner's name and address and any liens associated with the vehicle.

If you are selling a vehicle with a lien, the title will likely reside with the finance company or bank. You'll need to pay off the loan before you can take possession of the title. The exception to this is if you live in one of the nine "title-in-hand states," where the registered owner of the vehicle holds the title, even if they haven't fully paid off the vehicle. These states are Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New York, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. In the other 41 states, if you still owe money on the vehicle, the lienholder (or lender) will have the title. For more information, see this guide to selling a car you haven't paid off yet.

Also note that different states have different requirements for a title transfer. For example, some states require title notarization, so if you sign it prematurely, you will have to request and wait for a replacement title you can sign in the presence of a notary. Be sure to consult your local DMV for this information. 

Odometer Reading

The odometer reading provides evidence of how many miles a vehicle has traveled since it was built. In most states, disclosure of the odometer reading is a required part of signing the title. Depending on the state, the odometer reading could be part of the title itself, a separate document, or both.

Maintenance Records

Would you want to buy a car if you couldn't see clear evidence that it had been properly maintained? The same goes for the potential buyer of the car you're selling, so pull together all those maintenance records into a neat file, and use it as proof that the car has been properly cared for. Not only will it help your car to sell faster, but it'll also mean it's worth more compared with an identical car with no maintenance records.

Emissions Documentation

In some states vehicles are required to pass strict emissions tests prior to being sold–for example, in California, you'll need to give the buyer a valid smog certification when selling your car privately. Contact your local DMV for advice on whether this applies to your sale, and if so ensure your vehicle is tested–and that you have certification–before trying to sell your car.

Vehicle History Report

Using a car's VIN, a vehicle history report provides a valuable insight into that vehicle's past, including whether it's had any accidents or insurance claims, how many owners it's had, and the vehicle's title history. Obtaining a history report for the vehicle you're selling will help to reassure prospective buyers that it doesn't have a hidden past. It's also relatively inexpensive to do via companies such as CarFax, AutoCheck and the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS). For more information, read this guide to vehicle history reports.

Warranty Documents

A vehicle with a valid warranty is going to be more attractive to prospective buyers, because it provides some reassurance that any major issues that arise will most likely be dealt with as part of the cover. As a seller it's important to check that the warranty is transferable to the new owner, and have the paperwork to hand over that details what the warranty does and doesn't cover.

As-Is Document

An As-Is document should be signed by both seller and buyer as recognition that the vehicle is being sold as-is. As a seller it provides reassurance that the buyer can't seek compensation for anything that might go wrong once they've taken ownership of the vehicle. As a buyer, it is important to ensure you're satisfied with the vehicle's condition at the time of purchase, and that any defects or concerns are reflected in the price.

Bill of Sale

A bill of sale is a comprehensive document that covers all agreed terms. Most state DMV websites will provide a bill of sale template, but if yours doesn't, you may be able to get by with a from-scratch template. Key information for a bill of sale includes the date of sale, a description of the vehicle (including its make/model/year and mileage), the sale price for the vehicle, and the full names and addresses of both the buyer and seller.

What If You Can't Find the Title?

If you own the car outright, you likely have the title in your possession. You would either have received it when you took possession of the car, or it would have been mailed to you when you finished paying off the car. If you own your car but can't find the title, don't worry—you can get a replacement title from your state's DMV. Just make this one of your first steps, as it can sometimes take up to a month. For more information, read this guide to selling a car without a title.

This story was produced by CarGurus and reviewed and distributed by Stacker Media.