How to register a used car in California?

For some reason, the DMV clerks around the world have similar mentality and behavior. I can tell you how horrible is visiting DMV in the Czech Republic and now also in the US. I finally decided to visit the local DMV in Torrance in order to register my Mercedes to my name. The Department of motor vehicles (DMV) is not far from my current place. Before I went there I texted my friend I was going there and he texted me back: Good Luck! The DMV is the worst nightmare for all Americans. 😀 When I arrived at the DMV parking and saw the line of maybe 20-30 people gathering in front of the DMV. I had to admit he was right. I wasn’t in good mood that day so I didn’t even stop there and went back home 🙂

At home, I checked the official website of DMV in Torrance and the good is that you can see the estimated waiting time at the office. The current estimated time was more than one hour without reservation (my case) so I searched for more DMV offices nearby. I found DMV in San Pedro just 15 minutes from me and the estimated time for customers without reservation was less than 20 minutes. I arrived at San Pedro DMV around 2:30 PM, then took all the car documents that I had and found the end of the line. There were two lines of people. so rather I asked some guy if this line is for people without reservation. Compare to Torrance, in San Pedro were less than 10 people waiting outside of the DMV. After 20 minutes of waiting, I got the first point where were two ladies that measured all coming customers’ temperatures and they were asking all the people if they have some COVID-19 symptoms. Then one of the ladies asked me what is the purpose of my today’s visit. I told her that I need to register the title in my name and then I showed her the title (ownership of the car) in the front page you can find data of the car + previous owner information such as name and address. On the other side of the title is a blank form dedicated to the new owner. I didn’t fill this in before because I was expecting them to help me with that at the DMV office. I told her it is my first time here and she just said fill this rear page with your name, address, and so on. I asked her if I can borrow a pen and she said no (she had maybe 5-10 pens on the table) then she gave me some paper with a number and told me to wait in the hall. There were at least 10 counters for clerks and their customers. I was a little bit desperate and asked one clerk if she would be so nice and lend me the pen. The answer was no. After five minutes of waiting, one of her colleagues gave me a pen! I quickly filled the form and suddenly my number appeared on the monitor. I went to the counter with my number. I gave the clerk title and she quickly checked the title. She said you didn’t fill in the California driver’s license number. I told her I don’t have a California driver’s license yet. She said okay – you don’t need it. (I knew before that I don’t need it for the car registration). I also forgot to fill in the purchased price of the car so I added the price. (this is important because according to the purchased price you will pay sales tax) She took my title and told me the DMV will send a new title on your name to your address in 30 days. Then printed a new registration card with my name and address (this white paper is something like a copy of the title that you must have in the car all the time) On the registration card was the registration fee together with sales tax. I paid in cash but you can pay also with a credit or debit card. It is hard to find out the exact total fee before register your car in your name. It depends on many factors (purchased price, your address – there can be some local extra fee and so on) In my case the total fee was approximately 10,5% from the purchased price of the car. So you can expect something between 10-11% from the purchased price.

She told me you are ready to leave. When I came back to the car I checked the registration again and noticed she did a mistake in my address! Just one letter was wrong. Shit! I was exhausted from this experience and wanted to leave but then I realized when if the address is wrong on the card registration it will be probably the wrong address in their system and on my new title and what if I won’t receive the title in the mail thanks to the wrong address? So I went back and told another clerk that I have a problem with the address. She took the title and said wait outside, I”ll be back with new car registration soon! In 5 minutes she was back with the proper address! Honestly, I am glad I’ve never been shy to ask or tell the truth if needed. I am currently waiting for my title that should come by mail in 30 days.

Summarry before visiting DMV for car registration:

  • Bring title and current registration card from previous owner (if you have both).
  • Pass the smog test (the previous owner should) no older than 90 days.
  • Bring also your own pen if you need to fill the form.
  • You need to provide your name + address in California.
  • You need to provide purchasee price.
  • You don’t need Caifornia or US Driver’s License for car registration.
  • You don’t need car insurance (but you do need it when you are driving the car!)
  • Expect a total fee between 10-11% from the purchased price (pay cash or with card)
  • Visit DMV website in order to check the estimated waiting time or make a reservation.

2 Replies to “How to register a used car in California?”

  1. Hi Michalel!

    I have always wanted to live in LA. Whole my life I like big challenges and honestly to become successful in LA is a big challenge! When it comes to mail forwarding I wanted to start a business that has the potential to grow and expand to other states. California is the most populated state in the USA, that’s why I think there are plenty of potential customers.

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