Using a Bill of Sale


Using a Bill of Sale to Buy a Classic Car

Thousands of cars change hands every day, and most of these transactions occur with no problems. Sometimes things don’t go as planned though. If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of needing to contact the police about a car transaction gone bad, one of the first things they’ll ask is whether or not you have a Bill of Sale.

A bill of sale is a document that helps to confirm the transfer of ownership of property. By detailing the agreement made between seller and buyer, the bill of sale acts as evidence of a contract and is legally binding.  Information often present on a bill of sale includes:

– Year, make and model of the vehicle, as well as other descriptive information
– The vehicle identification number (VIN)
– Odometer reading (mileage)
– Buyer contact and address information
– Seller contact and address information
– Date of the sale
– Agreed upon purchase price
– Signatures of both buyer and seller

This is only some of the information that can be included on a bill of sale. If the transaction includes any conditions, they should also be included. How many days the buyer has to complete an inspection, deposit details, where and how the title will be sent and any assurances made by the seller are all examples of additional information a bill of sale may include. It’s very important that a bill of sale include as many details about the transaction as possible.

Reading How to Buy a Car Online, you may have noted that there are few methods for a buyer to protect themselves in a long-distance transaction. This is why obtaining a bill of sale is so important. It’s one of the few legal means that will allow local police to get involved if your long-distance transaction goes foul. You can use the bill of sale as proof of the agreements you and the seller made to each other.  With a bill of sale, the buyer has an agreement in writing that they will receive the vehicle for a specified price. No money should ever be transferred before the buyer has an agreed upon bill of sale.

Often the seller will provide a bill of sale, especially if they’re a licensed dealer. It won’t hurt to show up prepared though and have a generic bill of sale ready in case the seller doesn’t have one.

A bill of sale protects the seller too. It may include lines that define the sale as “as is,” or “where is,” which states the vehicle is being sold in its present condition and that it is the buyer’s responsibility to arrange for the car to be picked up.

With a transaction that’s taking place entirely online, you can substitute a series of e-mails for a bill of sale. The e-mail will need to contain the same information as a printed bill of sale, and both seller and buyer will need to agree to the terms outlined within. It’s very important that all responses to the original e-mail be saved.

An example of an e-mail chain serving as a bill of sale is as follows: the seller sends the buyer an e-mail with the details of the sale, as well as his asking price. The buyer responds to that e-mail with his agreement to those terms, provided the seller allows time for a final inspection of the vehicle. He states that if the inspection report confirms the seller’s claims about the car, he’ll wire the money within three days of receiving the report. The seller responds to this by agreeing, but ads that the inspection will need to be completed within seven days of the current date.  The buyer responds a final time with his agreement to the seller’s final terms.

Though it’s highly recommended that you use a bill of sale in any vehicle transaction, most states don’t require them.  Some do. Below is a list of states that require a bill of sale be a part of buying and selling a car. In most cases, the forms you’ll need to use are available for free from your local Department of Motor Vehicles.

  • Alabama The bill of sale must be a separate documented that is used in transferring the title of the vehicle. Forms may be available on a county-by-county basis and may need to be notarized.
  • Arkansas Click here for the required form.
  • Colorado The buyer must carry in the vehicle a bill of sale that identifies the vehicle by year, make, VIN, shows the time and date of the sale and is signed by both the buyer and the seller. Form DR2173 Motor Vehicle Bill of Sale can be purchased through Standard Register at 303-860-8000)
  • Connecticut For purposes of selling your vehicle privately, the seller of a motor vehicle may useForm H-31 Bill of Sale, or draft his/her own bill of sale as long as it contains the following information:
    • Vehicles Information such as make, year, model, vehicle identification number and an odometer reading.
    • Buyer information such as name and address of buyer and buyer’s signature.
    • Seller information such as name and address of seller and seller’s signature.
    • Selling price and date sold.
  • Hawaii As part of transferring ownership of an out-of-state or another Hawaii County titled vehicle, a Certificate of Title must be submitted. If the Certificate of Title is not released by the recorded owner(s), a notarized bill of sale from the seller to you must accompany the Certificate of Title. The recommended bill of sale can be downloaded here, with further instructions here.
  • Idaho It is responsibility of the seller to fill out Form ITD-3738, naming the new owner of the vehicle. Most Idaho blue titles include an area on the title for listing the sale price of the vehicle when sold. If this information is filled out, you will not need to submit a new bill of sale. If it is not, then Form ITD-3738 must be submitted within 30 days of purchasing the vehicle to avoid late fees.
  • Maine A signed bill of sale must be presented when registering a vehicle with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and is used to calculate the excise tax at your local office. A dealer will provide one, but a private sale will require that one be drafted.
  • Nebraska The bill of sale can be downloaded here, with further instructions located here.
  • New York The new owner must give the original bill of sale to the DMV with other acceptable proofs of ownership required. A bill of sale is not an acceptable proof of ownership without other proofs. Further details can be found here.
  • Ohio When purchasing a vehicle from a dealer, you will need a bill of sale for tax calculations. If it is a casual sale, a bill of sale is not needed, but the sale price must be listed on the back of the title. You can read about additional requirements here.
  • Rhode Island The seller must give the new owner a bill of sale. The bill of sale should include all the basic information about the car, such as year, make, model, VIN number, color; it must also include the purchase price. The seller needs to sign the bill of sale and furnish their address, as the new owner will have to supply that information on the registration application when they register the car.
  • South Dakota Information required for registering a vehicle can be found on the bill of sale, and must be included in the sale of a motor vehicle. An electronic version can be found here.
  • Vermont The seller needs to provide the buyer with a bill of sale in addition to other documents. The form can be downloaded here.
  • Washington The buyer must present the Certificate of Ownership (Title) and this bill of sale to their local vehicle licensing office within 15 days of acquiring the vehicle, or be charged a late fee between $50 and $125.
  • West Virginia Download the form here.
  • Wyoming The necessity for a bill of sale varies by county.

Check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles for additional information regarding using a bill of Sale in your area. Know the laws of your county, state and country before proceeding with any legally binding contract, especially one with money on the line.


You can download a generic bill of sale like the one available here, or have an attorney draft one that will be specific to your transaction. Most states will have bill of sales available for download from the forms section of their Department of Motor Vehicles website, even if the state doesn’t require that you use them.

A bill of sale, in combination with an inspection report from a verified professional inspector, provides the best protection a buyer can hope for in purchasing a car online. The peace-of-mind a bill of sale creates is well worth the extra steps needed to obtain one.

CLICK HERE to read more of How to Buy a Classic Car Online!



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