Buying and Selling a Motorcycle in California

Buying and Selling a Motorcycle in California

How exciting! You’re about to buy or sell a motorcycle. But, before you begin the process, it’s important to know that each state has different guidelines and requirements for transferring motorcycle ownership. 

There’s popular belief that the state of California has some of the more intricate (some would say onerous) rules that need to be followed when buying/selling a motorcycle. As you’ll learn here, this may not be the case in most situations.

Continue reading below for an overview on how to complete this process in California. 

1. Bill of Sale 

When you buy/sell a motorcycle in California, you may need to complete a Bill of Sale. Check out these guidelines provided by the California DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) to see if you will be required to complete this document. 

If your transaction requires a Bill of Sale, the seller will be responsible for bringing that form to the point of sale. As the seller, you will write in the year, make, model, color, mileage and VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) of the motorcycle. You will also include the method of payment the buyer uses, final sales price and current mileage. 

And, if you are the buyer, you should double-check to make sure that all of the information listed on the Bill of Sale is correct before signing it. For instance, it is especially important to make sure that the VIN on the title matches the VIN on the motorcycle. 

Note: In many states, this document must be notarized. However, in California, it is not required. 

2. Title Transfer

A Certificate of Title is a legal document that establishes vehicle ownership. After the Bill of Sale is complete, the seller will receive payment for the motorcycle. Then, the seller will legally transfer ownership of the motorcycle to the buyer by signing over the Certificate of Title. 

According to the California DMV’s official website, the seller must submit a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability (NRL) application within five days of releasing ownership. You should also keep a copy for your records.

Keep in mind, a California Certificate of Title is required to transfer ownership. So, if you don’t have one, you must complete an Application for Duplicate or Transfer of Title (REG 227). 

Once this is complete, your job as the seller is done.

If you are the buyer, you will take the signed title to your local DMV to apply for transfer of ownership approval. According to the California DMV’s official website, a buyer has 10 days after purchasing a motorcycle to transfer ownership from the seller to themself.

If the transfer is approved by the DMV, you may proceed with the registration process. 

Note: When a motorcycle is sold by a dealer (as opposed to a private seller) the dealer is responsible for the title transfer paperwork. The buyer will simply receive the title from the California DMV in the mail.

3. Registration 

As a buyer, there are a few items/documents that you must bring with you to the DMV when registering your motorcycle. These items, as they are listed on the official California DMV  website, are: 

  • Your California Certificate of Title, or the name and address of the lienholder (if you have a loan). 
  • Proof of insurance, such as a vehicle liability insurance policy, a DMV-issued self-insurance certificate, or a surety bond of $35,000.00 from a company licensed to do business in California.
  • A valid California motorcycle license.
  • Payment for fees.

Note: Unlike other vehicles in California, motorcycles do not require a smog check before registration. 


There are several general vehicle registration fees. You may be required to pay all or some of the fees below.

  • Registration fee
  • California Highway Patrol (CHP) fee
  • Vehicle license fee
  • Transportation improvement fee
  • County/district fee

In regards to motorcycle-specific fees, there are the OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) and PNO (Planned Non-Operation) fees. 

Motorcycles that will be ridden off public roads and highways must be registered as OHV. And, motorcycles that will be stored and not operated during the next renewal year must be registered as PNO.

If you’d like to get an idea of what fees to expect before starting the registration process, check out this list provided by the California DMV below.

In Conclusion 

We hope this information made the selling/buying process more straightforward. If you need more assistance or have specific questions regarding selling a motorcycle in California, be sure to contact your local DMV.

So, what type of motorcycle are you selling or buying? Let us know below! 
And, for an in-depth walk-through of the entire selling/buying process, check out our guides on how to sell a motorcycle and how to buy a motorcycle!

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