How To Gift A Car Properly In The United States

Gifting a car to a family member or a friend in the United States entails some legal and financial obligations. Here is the process of settling them.

There are many reasons why you might decide to gift a car to a family member or friend.

Perhaps you have a child who is graduating and needs a set of wheels. Or perhaps a close friend is struggling financially and needs a means of transportation.

Regardless, you must comprehend how to donate a car properly in the United States. Not only will this ensure that things go down smoothly, but doing so ensures you are protected as the giver of the gift.

This guide will cover everything you need to know about gifting a vehicle!

Let us first look at a few things to consider before starting the process of gifting a car. Then, we’ll explain each step in doing so.

Lastly, we will examine if it is possible to sell a car for $1 instead of gifting it and whether doing so is worth it or not.

Table of ContentsShow

Before Gifting A Car – Consider These First

Is The Car You’re Gifting Paid Off?

car key on top of California certificate of title

If another party holds a claim to the vehicle that you want to gift, you will have to remove them first. We’re talking about a bank loan, meaning you’ll have to pay it off free and clear if there’s money still owed.

With a lienholder showing on the title, you’ll have to get a letter from the bank saying the loan has been satisfied. You will then take this letter to the DMV and request a new title.

If there is no lienholder listed, then you’re free to continue the process of gifting a car.

Can The Giftee Afford Owning A Car?

There are a lot of unexpected costs of owning a vehicle. Some of these include insurance, gas, maintenance, and general wear and tear.

If the person you are planning to gift your car to can’t afford these, you might reconsider doing so.

Can You Afford To Pay The Car Gift Tax?

pickup trucks with attached American flags

One great thing about gifting a car is that the receiver doesn’t have to pay any sales tax on it. However, most states do charge a gift tax if the market value of the vehicle is $15,000 or more ($30,000 for a married couple).

Some states, such as Florida, don’t charge a gift tax. Meaning if you’re gifting a car in Florida, the only additional costs are the title and registration fees.

How much will the gift tax add?

Well, it typically sits somewhere between 18%-40%, so it’s a good idea to make sure you’re prepared to spend that much before gifting a car to a relative or friend. We suggest visiting the DMV website to research what your state charges.

Does The Giftee Have Insurance?

You can’t complete the process of gifting a vehicle if the giftee can’t provide proof of insurance. Thankfully, it’s as simple as having the receiver call an insurance provider and create a policy (or adding it to an existing one).

If the receiver is a child or family member, you can also add them to your policy, though you should be aware of the risks involved first.

You want the process to go as smoothly as possible, obviously. Thankfully, if you’ve reviewed the above items, you should be good to go. Let’s examine the steps to properly gift a car in the United States.

How To Gift A Car

Step #1 – Come To An Agreement With The Giftee

handing car key to new owner

Just because you’re giving a car to a family member or friend doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about the details beforehand. Some of these involve determining who will cover the DMV charges and gift tax (if relevant), their insurance status, and their ability to afford owning a vehicle.

For example, gifting a car in California requires that a $15 title transfer fee be paid, as well as any applicable tax. Will you be paying for this?

By working the details out in the beginning, you ensure the process goes down smoothly.

Step #2 – Write Up A Bill Of Sale

A bill of sale is a legally binding document showing that a transfer of goods occurred between two or more parties. As the person giving the gift, you absolutely want to fill one of these out to ensure you’re protected should an issue come up down the road.

A bill of sale should include the following:

  • Make and model of the car being gifted
  • Purchase price of the vehicle
  • VIN (vehicle identification number)
  • Current odometer reading
  • Signature and date of all parties involved

Some states require that you sign a bill of sale in the presence of a notary public. These include:

  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • West Virginia

Step #3 – Transfer The Title Into Their Name

DMV Department of Motor Vehicles California

Once you finish everything mentioned above, you can proceed to the DMV office to finalize the gifting procedure. Remember, certain states might require you to visit a different tax office for the final steps.

The recipient must present a legitimate license and evidence of insurance. You, who are giving the gift, should exhibit identification and transfer the ownership of the vehicle you are gifting (after completing the rear part).

Finally, one of you will pay the fees (which you should have already discussed per our advice), and you’ll sign the vehicle over.

Instead Of Gifting My Car – Can I Sell It For $1?

The idea behind selling a car for $1 is that you can avoid gift tax and only pay sales tax on the sales price.

However, when deciding between gifting a car vs. selling it for $1 in California (as an example), know that the amount owed in sales tax is based on the market value, not the sales price.

Since most states charge gift tax on cars with a market value of $15,000 or more, anything below this amount is usually better to gift.

Above $15,000, and it is best to do the calculations yourself concerning the best outcome for both parties.

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Joshua Barrett

Josh Barrett is a writer hailing from the great state of Alaska. While describing himself in the third person is not his forte, writing about any and all things automotive – is. After 13+ years hustling in the exciting world of car sales, he took off to travel the world with his dog Teemo.