What You Need to Know When Buying a Vehicle

Important Facts to Help You When You Buy or Lease a New or Used Vehicle

Be a Smart Shopper

Before buying a vehicle, it is important to know your rights and responsibilities. There are various agencies that can provide you with information regarding the vehicle purchase process; however, there are things you can do to protect yourself before signing a contract.

  • Be aware that there is no “cooling off” period on vehicles purchased from a dealer unless you obtain a contract cancellation option, which is available when buying specified used cars from a licensed California dealer.
  • Know and understand your rights as a consumer. See the Car Buyer’s Bill of Rights (FFVR 35) Fast Facts brochure.
  • Know the value of the vehicle you wish to buy. Check the value with a vehicle pricing guide, newspaper ads, Internet, or by comparison shopping.
  • All California dealers must have a National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) report to show you. For a private sale, you may obtain a NMVTIS report at www.vehiclehistory.gov for a nominal fee.
    Watch the Check NMVTIS Before You Buy! video for more information.
  • Read and understand your purchase contract. Don’t sign anything you don’t understand.
  • Read and understand the manufacturer’s warranty and any additional warranties (service contracts) offered by a dealer.
  • Compare interest rates.
  • Understand the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) fees that are being charged to you.
    For registration fees, see the Registration Related Fees (FFVR 34) Fast Facts  brochure. Because fees are subject to change, for the most current information visit our website at www.dmv.ca.gov.
  • Understand that on vehicle documents an “or” between co-owners’ names indicates one owner can sell the vehicle without the other’s signature. When a slash (“/”) indicating “and,” appears between the owners’ names, the signature of each owner is required.
  • Understand the restrictions when buying an out-of-state vehicle. See the Before Buying a Vehicle From Out of State – Can You Register It In California? (FFVR 29) Fast Facts  brochure.
  • Check www.safercar.gov to find out if your vehicle has a safety recall notice that has not been repaired.

Transferring Title

DMV can assist you with the requirements necessary to transfer the title of a vehicle. Visit the DMV website at www.dmv.ca.gov.

You may also contact your local DMV Investigations office for any of the following issues:

  • Counterfeit, fraudulent, or forged DMV documents.
  • Dealer overcharging for DMV fees.
  • Misrepresentations by a dealer (such as a document preparation fee).

To make a complaint, complete and mail DMV’s Investigations Record of Complaint Form (INV 172A). The form is available:

  • On the DMV website at www.dmv.ca.gov under Forms.
  • By calling 1-800-777-0133 to have it mailed to you.
  • At your local field office.

The form provides the addresses of DMV Investigations district offices for mailing.


New vehicles sold in California generally come with a manufacturer’s extended warranty, which states that the manufacturer of the vehicle will cover the cost of specific repairs under the terms of the warranty. A dealer may also offer you an additional written service contract for a fee, which is an agreement between you and the dealer and states the dealer will repair or pay the costs for the repair of certain mechanical problems. If you are unsure of the terms, coverage, duration, or exclusions of a service contract, don’t sign it. Shop around. Prices and coverages differ. You may want to consult your insurance agent or credit union for quotes. If you still have questions regarding service agreements, contact the California Department of Insurance Consumer hotline by calling 1-800-927-HELP (4357). Disputes regarding refunds for cancelled service contracts must be made at www.insurance.ca.gov or in writing to:

California Department of Insurance
300 South Spring St., South Tower
Los Angeles, CA 90013

Automotive Repairs

The California Department of Consumer Affairs, (DCA) Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR), is responsible for regulating automotive repair facilities. BAR provides brochures information on how to maintain your newly purchased vehicle and where to resolve disputes for repairs made by a licensed repair shop. There are 13 BAR field and region offices in the state of California. If you are unable to locate an office near you, you may contact:

California Department of Consumer Affairs
Bureau of Automotive Repair
10949 North Mather Blvd.
Rancho Cordova, CA 95670
Telephone: 1-800-952-5210
or visit www.dca.ca.gov

Odometer Disclosure

For questions regarding odometer disclosure requirements, misrepresentations, or suspected odometer tampering, contact:

Department of Motor Vehicles
Investigative Support Unit
P.O. Box 932391, MS L234
Sacramento, CA 94232-3890
Telephone: (916) 657-7244
or visit www.dmv.ca.gov

The Lemon Law

California requires the manufacturer of a new motor vehicle to provide a manufacturer’s written warranty that covers the cost to repair the vehicle during the warranty period. If you are dissatisfied with the repairs or have questions regarding your repair invoice, see the Lemon Law Buyback Vehicles (FFVR 17) Fast Facts  brochure, or contact:

Department of Motor Vehicles
New Motor Vehicle Board
1507 21st Street, Suite 330
Sacramento, CA 95814
Telephone: (916) 445-1888
visit www.nmvb.ca.gov
Department of Consumer Affairs
Or visit www.dca.ca.gov
Keyword: newmotorvehicleboard

And see DCA’s Lemon-aid for Consumers brochure.

Smog Certifications

BAR regulates the smog check program and provides brochures on smog check inspections, repair stations, and inspection dispute information available at www.smogcheck.ca.gov or by calling 1-800-952-5210.

Sales and Use Taxes

Questions regarding collection or payment of sales or use taxes on the purchase or lease of a vehicle should be directed to the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) at:

Department of Tax and Fee Administration
Consumer Use Tax Section MIC: 37
P.O. Box 942879
450 N Street
Sacramento, CA 94279-0037
Telephone: 1-800-400-7115
or visit: www.cdtfa.ca.gov

Safety or Recall Issues

For information regarding safety issues or complaints, or to obtain recall information for your vehicle, contact:
National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration

1200 New Jersey Ave., SE
West Bldg.
Washington, DC 20590
Auto Safety Hotline 1-800-424-9393
Center for Auto Safety
1825 Connecticut Ave., NW, Ste. 330
Washington, DC 20009-5708
Telephone: (202) 328-7700
or visit www.autosafety.org

Civil Disputes

Whenever possible, you should attempt to resolve the problem with the other party or firm. If you are unable to obtain a resolution, and the agencies listed here are unable to assist you, you may consider contacting a private attorney or the small claims division of the county court in your community. Refer to the County Government section of your local telephone directory for the county court in your area. You may also contact a legal aid group for assistance. Legal aid groups can provide free legal advice or represent people who cannot afford private counsel. Legal aid groups are listed in the white pages of your local telephone directory or visit www.courts.ca.gov.

Other Alternative

Many consumers feel it is worthwhile to contact their local Better Business Bureau to register complaints regarding area businesses. Refer to the business section of your local telephone directory for the address and/or telephone number of the Better Business Bureau in your area. Also, many local television and radio stations offer free consumer assistance by contacting a special telephone number or address or visit www.bbb.org.