Selling your car in San Diego can be a tad confusing since there are regulations that only apply to specific areas of the county. The good news is, it’s a straightforward process once you’ve identified your area’s particular requirements. PrivateAuto is here to guide you through these procedures and make sure all your bases are covered.

What Does San Diego Require You to Do?

  • Have a paper title or e-title
  • Disclose the odometer reading
  • Draw up a bill of sale
  • Pay the vehicle transfer fee
  • File a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability
  • Pay any remaining taxes or fees associated with the vehicle
  • Have a lien-release form (if applicable)
  • Have a current emissions inspection report (certain zip codes only)
  • Remove and/or transfer the license plate

How Can I Best Sell My Car in San Diego?

Dealerships
Selling your car to a dealership may seem like a good idea, but chances are you’ll leave the lot with hundreds—or even thousands—less than the car’s worth. Besides lowballing you, you’ll likely be harassed into buying a new car or encouraged to trade, rather than selling your car out-right. The trade-in value is substantially lower than the sales value of a vehicle, meaning more money in their pocket if they can talk you into trading rather than selling.

Car buying websites

Accredited car-buying sites are an efficient way to sell your car in major metropolitan areas like San Diego. The most well-known of these, Carvana, has “car vending machines” located all over the state for buyers to pick up their purchases. These sites are also convenient for sellers since many of these companies will send someone to their home to appraise and collect the vehicle.

Car buying sites do the hard work for you. Most of them only require users to fill out a questionnaire and leave the keys in the car when you’re ready for them to remove it. There are some downsides, though. You’ll have to look elsewhere if you’re wanting to sell an antique vehicle or one with faulty mileage counters. Carvana won’t accept cars made before 1992 or those with broken or aftermarket odometers

Be sure to read the website’s fine print and FAQ articles to acquaint yourself with the site’s policies before you commit to sale.

Online Peer-to-peer websites

Facebook marketplace and Craigslist are decent options for people who live in major metropolitan areas since these sites can broadcast your ad to a large audience. A lot of people have success in selling cars on these sites, but you’ll have to be more vigilant than you would with a car-buying site. Try to familiarize yourself with common online buying scams and if something seems fishy, don’t proceed with the sale.

Steps to Sell My Car in San Diego

Report the mileage

The Federal Truth in Mileage Act mandates that sellers provide proof of mileage disclosure to the buyer, either on the title or a stand-alone form. Sellers must write the exact mileage at the time of sale in the odometer section of the title. 0

According to the CA DMV website, “Reporting of the odometer mileage reading assists in the detection of odometer tampering (and) provides consumers with an accurate record of the mileage affecting the retail value of the vehicle.”

Though not mandatory for cars over a decade old, the DMV suggests you document it regardless of your car’s age. An odometer disclosure statement can serve as a protective measure should legal issues arise—we’ll discuss this in more detail in the “release of liability” section.

The DMV website states, “If the odometer has reached the highest number mechanically available and has started renumbering at 1,” put “exceeds mechanical limits” in the odometer section. If the odometer isn’t the original one for your car, write “not actual mileage.”

Older titles may not have a mileage section, if this is the case with your vehicle title, then you’ll need to fill out a Vehicle/ Vessel Transfer and Reassignment Form. Both you and the buyer will need to sign the form and return it to the DMV. You must turn in the original document, copies will not be accepted.

Have a current smog report on file (certain areas only)

Some zip codes in San Diego require biennial inspections to make sure personal vehicles meet their environmental safety standards. Emissions testing doesn’t take long but you’ll have to pay a small service fee. Use this tool to see if your area requires smog testing. You can have the test done at any STAR stations located throughout the state. Click here to find an inspection site near you.

You won’t need an inspection if you’re transferring the car to a spouse or member of your immediate family. The same goes for cars inspected 3 months before the date of the sale, as long as the DMV has a copy of the report on file.  The new owner must pay a smog transfer fee upon taking possession of the vehicle.

Cars that fail the emissions test will have to be fixed and retested before you can sell the vehicle. You can contact the Bureau of Automotive Repair's (BAR) Referee Program to contest a ruling that you feel is unfair. Those who need financial assistance getting their car up to standards can apply for BAR's Consumer Assistance Program.

The following vehicle types are exempt from smog inspections:

  • Electric cars
  • Diesel vehicles with a GVWR rating above 14,000 lbs.
  • Gas-powered cars less than 4 years old
  • Natural gas-powered vehicles with a GVWR rating above 14,000 lbs.
  • Motorcycles
  • Vehicles made before 1976
  • Vehicles with diesel engines made before 1998

Pay any vehicle liens

If you still owe on your car or if it’s considered collateral for an unpaid debt, you’ll need to pay off the remaining balance before you can gift or sell the car. Once you pay it off, the lienholder will relay the information to the DMV, who’ll either issue you a paper title or update your e-title to reflect these changes. Ask the lender for a lien release form, which you’ll need to file your vehicle transfer notice.

Have a paper title in-hand or e-title on file with the DMV

After you sign the bill of sale, you’ll need to sign and surrender the paper title or (sometimes called a “pink slip”) to the new owner. Those who can’t find the title will have to complete an application for a duplicate and pay the $20 application fee to the DMV to get a new one. Those who opted for an e-title will need to submit a “Transfer of Title With Paperless Title” form instead.

If your name isn’t on the title, you’ll need to have a bill of sale from the person who is on the title. Once you have the bill of sale in hand, you can request an updated title from the DMV and proceed with the sale.

Pay the vehicle transfer fee

California residents are required to pay a $15 vehicle transfer fee to the DMV when they sell a car. You may also be subject to additional charges for unpaid taxes or fees.

Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability

The CADMV website states sellers “are required by law to notify DMV within five calendar days from the date you sell or transfer title and deliver possession of a vehicle to another owner.” Failure to turn in this notice can result in late fees or other penalties.

Additionally, the seller may be incorrectly billed for parking tickets or tolls if the new owner’s information isn’t on file. Submitting this notice will sever your remaining ties to the vehicle and release you from responsibility for any future issues that arise.

You may be asked to submit another notice if the new owner doesn’t register the vehicle within 10 days of the purchase. This additional information will ensure the DMV and county tax databases are updated and prevent you from receiving further correspondence about the car.

Pay any taxes incurred from using or selling the car

If you sold the car for more than you paid for it, you may be required to pay either a long-term or short-term capital gain tax, depending on how long you owned the vehicle. Those who took a loss or received less than they paid due to depreciation won’t have to worry about this. This scenario is typical when selling an antique or collectible car that gains value over time.

Interested in selling your car? Try PrivateAuto.

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