CA DMV Questions & Answers

Find answers, information and resources to help you with all your California vehicle registration needs.

Question & Answer Forum
Can't find what you need? Ask a DMV Expert

All Topics > Registration Renewal > How Can I Find Out If There Are Back Fees Owed To The DMV?

How Can I Find Out If There Are Back Fees Owed To The DMV?

I'm planning on purchasing a used vehicle from a private party. I need to know if there are any back owed fees before I buy it. How can I find out if there is anything delinquent or owed to the DMV. I don't want to get stuck with hundreds of dollars in back fees.


Use our registration fee calculator to compute all DMV fees currently owed.

We recommend you use our online title transfer system to look up the fees currently due to the DMV for the vehicle you intend to buy. The system will report to you all annual registration fees due (if the vehicle does not have current registration or the tag is about to expire in 75 or less days ), California title transfer fee amount and Use-Tax.

Unreported title transfer fees you may owe.

A fee discrepancy may exist if the vehicle has had unpaid and/or unreported transfer of ownership(s); which you, the purchaser of the vehicle, may be liable for. Unreported transfer of ownership fees mean the vehicle exchanged ownership prior to your purchase but the DMV title transfer fees were never paid for those transactions. In other words, the vehicle was never legally transferred through the DMV and Department of Motor Vehicles is now wanting to collect the transfer fees from you, the new owner. This usually occurs when purchasing a vehicle from an unlicensed car dealer.

Unlicensed car dealers purchase vehicles from private parties and then attempt to sell them to the public claiming the vehicle is theirs. It's true, the vehicle is really theirs. More than likely they paid the previous owner to purchase the vehicle. However, they never legally transferred the vehicle to their name to avoid paying transfer fees and mainly, use-tax. It will be apparent that they are in fact an unlicensed dealer if their name does not exist on the vehicle's title. Once you attempt to register the vehicle in your name, the DMV will require you pay title transfer fees twice. Once for transferring the vehicle to your name, and once for transferring the vehicle from the original owner(s) name to the seller's. Beware, the DMV may require extensive paperwork showing proof of chain of ownership. They may even require a signature from the original owner releasing vehicle ownership to the seller. This may become a nightmare if the original owner can no longer be contacted.

It's quite possible that a transaction such as this be legitimate as well. Say for instance someone buys a car and never gets around to transferring the title to their name in the required 10 day time period (probably because the registration is current and they are not worried about getting pulled-over). Next thing you know 3 months have passed by and they are now unhappy with the vehicle and decide to sell it. You will be responsible for two title transfer fees. Do not confuse title transfer fees with use-tax or registration fees. These fees will only be paid once, regardless of how many exchanges have occurred prior to your purchase. The only fee the DMV is concerned with is the $15.00 title transfer fee (as of the time of this post).

You are not responsible for unpaid parking tickets and toll violations.

Though a lot of misconception exists regarding who owes unpaid parking tickets and toll violations, the fact is, the tickets belong to the person who the vehicle was registered to at the time the citations were issued. The DMV will compare the date of the citation(s) to the date of purchase and no longer associate the unpaid citations with the vehicle. The citations will now be strictly attached to prior registered owner's drivers license number. No getting off the hook for the responsible party when it comes to parking tickets and/or toll violations.

If you suspect the vehicle you plan on buying has unpaid tickets, ensure you get a well written bill of sale clearly indicating the date of purchase, down to the hour, and have the seller sign it. You never know how many citations a vehicle may have accumulated, especially if it was being advertised for sale while parked on a public street.


Checking DMV Records ...

Please wait.

The VIN is a 17 digit identification number assigned to automobiles.

The VIN can also be found on your registration card or renewal notice.
NeedTags is an Official Partner of the CA Department of Motor Vehicles
close X
 Online Registration Services
Free DMV Fee Lookup