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In California, when purchasing a car from a private party, does the old owner immediately remove the license plate?

In California, the plate stays with the vehicle not the owner with the exception of personalized or ‘vanity’ plates. That is why it is critical that the ‘release of liability’ form attached to the bottom of the title be filled out completely and mailed to DMV promptly.

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Also be sure to mail it to both DMV offices, not just one of them. DMV will send you a notice of approval or disapproval, and you are responsible to complete the form in the allotted time period. If you fail to complete the form correctly, DMV has the right to deny the transfer and seize your vehicle. After DMV confirms it is your vehicle, it will send you a written notice with its reasons for refusing to issue a California title to the new owner. DMV provides the form with a few things to consider: This form can be filled out on the spot. Don't wait to be called to do this. Use your most efficient form of record keeping. Keep track of what is in there, when, and what it is for, so that you can always refer to it if needed — for example, if the title goes to someone.