For Pennsylvania residents, the title transfer process isn’t as easy as just bringing in the title and submitting an application. Used cars are required to have air quality testing before they can be titled, plus there are several additional form requirements you may have to fill out, depending on your situation.

The good news is, PrivateAuto is here to give you the heads up on everything you’ll need to complete your title transfer.

What Does Pennsylvania Require Car Owners to Have?

The title transfer process is a bit more complicated in Pennsylvania than most other states, especially for people with extenuating circumstances.

While the extra paperwork is undoubtedly irritating, these documents are worth filling out since these may even be able to waive the fees associated with your transfer.

When titling and registering your new car, PENNDOT requires you to provide:

  • An original and valid Certificate of Title.
  • A valid PA drivers license, military ID, or state-issued ID card*
  • Proof of ownership
  • Application for Transfer of Title
  • Title transfer fee ($53)**
  • Registration fees ($38.00 for a car and $20 for a motorcycle)
  • Payment for sales taxes
  • Vehicle Identification Number (for out-of-state transfers)
  • Form MV-13ST for gifted cars **
  • Proof of insurance (if you intend on registering the vehicle)

*If purchasing the vehicle for business purposes, “a person acting on behalf of the business must be an authorized individual or provide proper proof of authorization to act on behalf of the business,” according to the PennDOT webpage. You can read more about authorizing business-related vehicle transfers here.

**PennDOT waives title transfer fees for spouses transferring a car from their deceased partners, they’ll need to submit Form MV-39 (Notification of Assignment/Correction of Vehicle Title Upon Death of Owner). The “Sales Tax Requirements” section discusses this situation in further detail.

Supporting documents to prove ownership:

  • Manufacturer Certificate/Statement of Origin (MCO or MSO)
  • Pennsylvania Certificate of Title
  • Out of State Certificate of Title
  • Certificate of Salvage
  • Court Order

Sales Tax Requirements

One thing that makes private car sales in Pennsylvania a little different is that PA requires buyers to pay sales tax on the market value of the car, rather than the price paid. Try to remember this when buying from a relative or friend, who's asking price is much lower than the market value.

If you receive your car as a gift, you won't have to pay sales tax. You will, however, need to file Form MV-13ST (Affidavit of Gift) when you title and register the car. Both the gifter and recipient must sign the affidavit.

Jointly titled cars being passed from a deceased spouse to a living spouse, are exempt from the sales tax and title fee requirements. Form MV-39 (Notification of Assignment/Correction of Vehicle Title Upon Death of Owner) must be submitted to PENNDOT along with the original death certificate.

If you don’t have the death certificate, you’ll need a physician or funeral home director to fill this out for you.

Clean Vehicle Program

In 2012 the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection enacted the Clean Vehicle Program as a joint effort with PennDOT and the EPA to reduce air pollutants caused by vehicles in the state.

According to the PennDOT website, “If you are titling and registering a 2008 or newer vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 8,500 pounds or less, and it has less than 7,500 miles on the odometer, your vehicle must be certified by the California Air Resources Board (CARB).”

It probably seems strange to have your car certified by a Cali-based authority, when you’re registering your vehicle in Pennsylvania, but CARB is the gold-standard for emissions testing in the US.

PennDOT won’t accept any title applications without a clean air certification document, so be sure your vehicle is tested and approved before attempting to title your vehicle.

Used vehicles with under 7,500 miles are exempt from the emissions requirements, but you’ll still have to show your car’s Certificate of Origin (MCO) or Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin (MSO).

Additionally, you’ll be asked to submit a “Compliance or Exemption for the Pennsylvania Clean Vehicles Program” (Form MV-9) with your title application.

This document asserts that you’ve checked under the hood for a clean emissions certification statement such as these:

  • “50 state emissions equipped vehicle may be sold and registered as a new vehicle in any state of the US”
  • “Certified for sale in all states of the USA”
  • “This vehicle certified according to federal EPA and California ARB emission requirements for sale in any state within the US”
  • “Certified for sale in California”
  • “Certified for sale in all 50 states”
  • “This vehicle is certified to meet emission requirements in all 50 states”

Not all vehicles in the 2008 and up model range need an emissions certification. The following vehicles are exempt from the Clean Air Program:

  • Emergency vehicles
  • Vehicles used solely off-road
  • Government vehicles
  • Vehicles that are “granted a National security or testing exemption”
  • Inherited or court-appointed vehicles
  • Vehicles registered out-of-state
  • Vehicles with an odometer reading over 7,500
  • Vehicles procured from another state as a replacement for a car that was stolen or rendered unrepairable while out-of-state.

Regulations for Selling Used Vehicles in PA

  1. The seller must sign and surrender any proof of ownership and provide a sales receipt to the buyer, this includes the title, bill of sale, and any additional information required by PennDOT.
  2. Certain states require that vehicle sales documents be notarized and signed in front of a notary. Do some research to see if you need to take this extra step before transferring an out-of-state car.
  3. The Federal Truth in Millage Act necessitates that sellers report the mileage on the title when handing over the vehicle. If you’re unable to provide an accurate reading due to a faulty odometer or a counter that's “rolled over" then you’ll need to write “unreadable” or “exceeds mechanical limits” in the mileage section. Approximating the mileage is illegal so make sure you check the reading is still accurate at the time of disclosure.
  4. The seller must take off the vehicle tag and either return it by mail or in-person at their local PennDOT office. Sellers who have an alternative vehicle without a tag may pay to have the tag number and plate transferred.  

If you choose to mail your old tag, you’ll need to address the package to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Return Tag Unit, P.O. Box 68597, Harrisburg, PA 17106-8597

Steps to Transfer a Car Title in PA

  1. Obtain a valid signed title and bill of sale from the seller
  2. Have the seller remove the license plate
  3. Add the vehicle to your insurance policy
  4. Receive your Clean Vehicle Certification (if applicable)
  5. Fill out an Application for Title Transfer
  6. Register the car in your name
  7. Pay title transfer and registration fees
  8. Pay any applicable sales taxes on the vehicle

You can perform most of these steps online, with a few exceptions. You’ll need to make an in person visit to the DOT office if any of the following applies to your vehicle:

  • Greater than 55,000 lbs
  • Uninsured
  • Being registered to a dealership
  • A fleet vehicle
  • Taxi
  • Limousine
  • Bus
  • Farm Vehicles without emissions testing certification
  • Apportioned vehicles**

**Approportioned vehicles are defined as automobiles “intended for travel in two or more of the member jurisdictions; designed, used, or maintained for the transportation of persons for hire or property; and (have) a declared gross weight over 26,000 pounds, or (have) three or more axles regardless of weight.”

Additionally, the following circumstances will also warrant an in-person visit:

Troubleshooting the Title Transfer Process

If you haven’t gotten your paper title within 90 days of completing your title transfer application, then you need to contact your local DOT office. Make sure you save all receipts and documentation when you submit your application. You’ll need this information for verification, and to prevent you from being penalized or having to repay the title fees.

Those transferring a car from a state that doesn’t have title requirements for their vehicle type will need to contact PennDOT to figure out the necessary steps to take. This situation is common with antique cars and state-owned vehicles.

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