How To Conduct a Lien Sale for a Vehicle Stored at a Self Service Storage Facility or Valued Over 4,000

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General Information

If a person has repaired, furnished supplies/materials for, or towed or stored a vehicle and has not been paid for the services rendered, that person has a lien against the vehicle. The lien may be satisfied by getting a court judgment or by selling the vehicle through a lien sale process as outlined in the California Civil Code. To conduct a lien sale, the person/lienholder must have possession of the vehicle.

NOTE: A salvage pool cannot conduct a lien sale to obtain title to a vehicle.

The lien arises (becomes effective) at the time the registered owner is presented with a written statement of charges for completed work or services. However, if possession is the result of a public agency or private property impound, the lien arises when the vehicle is transported (towed).

The legal owner must be notified before the service may be performed if the amount of any repairs or service exceeds $750 or the storage charges exceed $400 ($500 for vehicles valued over $4,000).

Before conducting a lien sale, the lienholder must determine the value of the vehicle. If the vehicle’s value is $4,000 or less, the registered and legal owners of record will be notified by the party conducting the lien (See “How To: Conduct a Lien Sale for a Vehicle Valued $4,000 or Less.”) If the vehicle’s value is greater than $4,000, DMV notifies all interested parties. You can call (916) 657-7617 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. if you have questions regarding lien sales.

NOTE: For lien accrual information, refer to Civil Code §§3068 and 3068.1.

Requesting Authorization To Conduct a Lien Sale for a Vehicle Valued Over $4,000

You must apply to the DMV for authorization to conduct a lien sale, according to the provisions of Civil Code §3071. A fee must accompany your application. This fee may be recovered by the lienholder as follows:

  • From the buyer at the time of the lien sale
    or
  • From the debtor if the vehicle is redeemed.

Your application for authorization must contain the vehicle identification number. If you cannot locate the number, you may request an inspection of the vehicle by a peace officer, licensed vehicle verifier, or an authorized DMV employee.

Storage Lien Limitation

The period of time for a storage lien may not exceed 60 days, unless an application for authorization to conduct the lien sale is filed within 30 days after the lien arises, and then it may be for a period not to exceed 120 days (pursuant to California Vehicle Code §22851). Other liens for towing or contracted services (such as mechanical repairs) apply, regardless of the period allowed. Any vehicle stored at a self-storage facility for which a lien has incurred shall be sold under the provisions of Civil Code §3071.

Notification of Your Request

When DMV receives a request to conduct a lien sale for a vehicle valued over $4,000, the department shall notify the:

  • Registered and legal owners and any interested parties by certified mail
    or
  • Out-of-state vehicle registry, if the vehicle bears registration from another state.

Authority To Conduct the Lien Sale

You must wait for authorization from DMV before proceeding with the lien sale process. Allow 30–40 days to receive authorization.

Can Someone Oppose the Lien Sale?

Any person having an interest in the vehicle may declare opposition to the sale. DMV will notify you if a declaration of opposition is filed and the sale canceled. You may then secure your lien:

  • Through judicial proceeding. Service may be effected by certified mail or in person by a marshal, sheriff, or certified process server (process servers are registered by the county clerk of the respective counties). This must be done within 30 days from the date on the denial letter.
    or
  • By obtaining a release of interest signed by the person(s) who declared opposition.
    or
  • By filing a Notice of Unsuccessful Service with DMV when service cannot be effected on the person opposing the sale. Evidence of unsuccessful service is required.

When DMV receives one of the listed items, DMV will send authorization to continue with the sale and notify the person who opposed the sale of the authorization.

Conducting a Lien Sale

Step 1. Twenty days before the sale date you must provide by certified mail (return receipt requested) a Notice of Pending Lien Sale (REG 280) to each of the following:

  • Legal owner, if any
  • Registered owner
  • Any interested parties
  • DMV, Lien Sale Unit, P.O. Box 932317, Sacramento, CA 94232-3170.

Step 2. At least five days, but not more than 20 days before the sale (not counting the sale date), you must give notice of the sale by advertising the sale for one day in a newspaper of general circulation in the county in which the vehicle is located.

If there is no newspaper published in the county, notice shall be given by posting the Notice of Sale:

  • In three of the most public places in the town where the vehicle is located, and
  • At the place where the vehicle is to be sold for 10 consecutive days prior to and including the day of the sale.

All notices shall specify the make, year model, vehicle identification number, license number, and state of registration, if available. For motorcycles, the engine number must also be specified. The specific date, exact time, and place of sale must also be included.

Step 3. The vehicle must be available for inspection at a location easily accessible to the public for at least one hour before the sale and must be at the place of sale at the time and date specified on the notice of sale. Sealed bids shall not be accepted. If the auction price exceeds the amount of the lien, the excess amount must be sent to the Lien Sale Unit within 15 days after the sale date.

Step 4. After the sale, a redemption period of 10 days (not counting the date of sale) must be allowed before the purchaser can take possession of the vehicle and apply for transfer of ownership.

Step 5. You are required to keep the vehicle for a 10-day redemption period. After this redemption period, give the buyer:

  • A Certification of Lien Sale (REG 168) completed and signed by you.
  • A copy of the authorization letter from DMV to conduct the sale (REG 338).
  • Postal receipts for the notices you sent.

Step 6. The license plates must be removed and destroyed at the time of the sale, and you must submit to DMV within five days of the sale a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability.

What if No One Places a Qualifying Bid on the Vehicle?

Complete the Certification of Lien Sale (REG 168) showing you as the buyer (new owner), as well as the seller. Should you sell the vehicle following the lien sale where you were the buyer, you will be required to give the buyer a bill of sale in addition to the documents listed for registering the vehicle. See note below regarding payment of fees.

Registering the Vehicle

The following items are required to register a vehicle sold or retained at lien sale.

  • Application for Title or Registration (REG 343) completed and signed by the new owner.
  • Certification of Lien Sale (REG 168) completed and signed by the lienholder or agent.
  • A copy of the letter from DMV authorizing the lien sale, with the postal receipts attached.
  • Verification of Vehicle (REG 343), if there is no California registration record.
  • Smog certification, if applicable.
  • Applicable registration and/or transfer fees and use tax.
  • Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment Form – Odometer Disclosure Statement (REG 262) is required for vehicles less than 10 years old.
  • Other documents as needed, such as bill(s) of sale.

NOTE: Many times a vehicle that is involved in a lien sale is not currently registered. If the vehicle registration expired while in your possession, the new owner has 20 days from the lien sale purchase date to pay registration fees without penalties, or to file a certification of planned non-operation. The buyer may be subject to registration fees and penalties in other instances. The lienholder should advise the buyer in writing of any fees that may be required to register the vehicle.

Most vehicles require a smog inspection at the time of transfer. If applicable, provide a smog certification to the buyer.

To access service anytime:

  • Call 1-800-777-0133 for appointments; office services, hours, and locations; DMV forms, handbooks, and brochures; answers to frequently asked questions; and general driver license and vehicle registration information.