Iowa has a staggered registration system. All vehicle license plates expire the last day of the month in which the vehicle owner was born. If there is more than one owner of the vehicle, they may choose which owner's birth month will be used. If the vehicle is owned by a corporation or company, the county treasurer will assign the month in which the registration expires. Once the birth month to be used is established, it will be used to renew the vehicle's license each year as long as ownership of the vehicle or any vehicle that replaces it does not change. Trucks and truck tractors over 5 tons gross weight are registered on a calendar basis.
After delivering the vehicle to the dealer, remove the license plates and keep them. Dealers are very helpful with the necessary paper work. Give the dealer:
- The title (with the top section on the back completed).
- Name of the county where the vehicle was last registered and the date the license plates expire.
- A completed odometer statement (for motor vehicles nine model years old or newer).
- A completed damage disclosure statement (for motor vehicles seven model years old or newer).
If purchasing a replacement vehicle from the dealer, give the dealer the registration receipt. If not purchasing a replacement vehicle from the dealer, keep the registration receipt.
If another vehicle is purchased within 30 days, the plates can be put on that vehicle, provided the fees are paid on the replacement vehicle. If a replacement vehicle is not purchased, turn the plates in to the county treasurer.
A vehicle seller may complete and file form #411107 “Notice of Sale of Vehicle and Delivery of Title” with the county treasurer of the county where the vehicle is registered certifying the sale or transfer of ownership of the vehicle and the assignment and delivery of the title to the buyer. Upon receipt of the form, the county treasurer will file it with the copy of the registration receipt for the vehicle on file in the treasurer’s office and on that day the treasurer shall note receipt of the form in the vehicle registration and titling system. Upon filing the form, it is presumed that the seller has assigned and delivered the certificate of title for the vehicle. For a leased vehicle, the leasing company or lessee may file the same form to certify that a lease has expired, or been terminated, and the date that the leased vehicle was surrendered to the lessor.
A person who has made a bona fide sale or transfer of the person’s right, title, or interest in a motor vehicle and has delivered possession of the motor vehicle to the purchaser or transferee is not liable for any damage thereafter resulting from negligent operation of the motor vehicle by another. The purchaser to whom possession was delivered is deemed the owner.
If a replacement vehicle is not purchased, the unused registration fees may be refunded if:
- the remaining unused registration fee is $10 or more;
- the registration plates are turned in for the vehicle sold or junked or moved out-of-state and 2.a. for vehicles that have moved out-of-state, the applicant must return the Iowa license plates, along with evidence of the vehicle's registration, in another jurisdiction;
- a claim for refund is filed within six months of the date the vehicle was sold or junked, or moved out of state.
The Claim for Refund form must be submitted to the county treasurer’s office in any county.
When a vehicle is replaced within six months, a credit may be due for the unused registration fee on the old vehicle. To obtain a credit for unused registration fees:
- Sell, trade or junk the vehicle.
- Apply for title on the replacement vehicle within six months after selling the old vehicle.
- Transfer the plates from the vehicle sold to the replacement vehicle.
Credit cannot be transferred or assigned to another person unless the vehicle is being sold or given to a spouse, parent or child.
If the credit amount is less than $10, no credit will be granted. Also, check the registration receipt received from the county treasurer for further information.
If the unused registration fee of the vehicle sold, traded or junked is more than the fee of the vehicle purchased and the excess credit is $10 or more, a refund may be applied for.
If a vehicle is transferred to a spouse, parent or child, the fee credit and plates may also be transferred. The person to whom the car is transferred must apply for the title within 30 days of the transfer. In addition, it should be indicated on the registration receipt if the fees and plates are to be transferred.
For a spouse, parent or child to use your credit, the vehicle must be sold or given to them and the instructions outlined must be followed.
A vehicle's odometer has recorded the number of miles driven. A statement indicating the number of miles must be given to the buyer, and it must be correct.
There is an odometer statement on the back of the Iowa Certificate of Title in the assignment area. The odometer statement must be completed. If there is no odometer statement on the back of the Iowa title, one can be obtained from the county treasurer or the dealer who is buying the vehicle.
If the odometer does not show the correct mileage, check the correct boxes on the form that state the reason the mileage is not actual.
For vehicle transfers that occur from December 31, 2020, through December 31, 2030, any vehicle of model year 2011 or newer shall require odometer disclosure. For a vehicle transfer that occurs on or after January 1, 2031, a model year formula for odometer statements shall be the current year minus twenty.
A damage disclosure statement is required for all motor vehicles except:
- Motor trucks and truck tractors with a gross vehicle weight rating of 16,000 pounds or more.
- Vehicles more than seven model years old.
- Motorized bicycles.
- Special mobile equipment.
- New motor vehicles with a true mileage of 1,000 miles or less, unless the vehicle has sustained damage for which the cost of repair exceeds 70 percent of the fair market value of the vehicle.
Damage must be disclosed if it exceeds 70 percent of the fair market value of the motor vehicle before it became damaged. The amount of damage shall be based on estimates of the RETAIL cost of repairing the vehicle, including labor, parts and other materials if the vehicle has not been repaired; or on the ACTUAL RETAIL cost to repair, including labor, parts and other materials if the vehicle has been repaired. All repair charges, including sales tax, must be included.
Example: A vehicle had a retail value of $22,000 at the time it was damaged, and the cost to repair it was $16,000. The cost to repair is more than 70 percent of the retail value of the vehicle at the time it was damaged. Therefore, the "Yes" box in Section 1, Question 2, must be checked.
"Fair market value" refers to the average retail value found in the "National Automobile Dealer's Association (NADA) Official Used Car Guide." NADA guides may be available through a library, insurance agent, auto dealer or at the NADA's website.
Transfers by operation of law include the following.
- Devise or bequest
- Dissolution decree
- Order in bankruptcy
- Foreclosure or execution sale
- Abandoned vehicle sale
- Artisan's lien sale
- Landlord's lien
- Storage lien
Sellers: You are required to provide a separate damage disclosure statement to the buyer at or before the time of sale of the vehicle.
Dealers, wholesalers and recyclers: You are required to maintain copies of damage disclosure statements for five years. If you received a separate damage disclosure statement from a prior owner and you did not obtain a new title in your name, you are required to give this separate damage disclosure statement to your buyer.
The procedure will vary depending on where the buyer is from, but one step always remains the same and that is to remove the license plates and keep them.
Selling to an Iowa resident
Give the buyer the:
- Completed odometer statement.
- Certificate of title.
- Name of county where the vehicle was last registered and the date the license plates expire.
- Bill of sale
- Damage disclosure statement.
Fill out the assignment, odometer and damage disclosure portions on the back of the title. In some situations, such as when the title is one issued prior to Jan. 1, 2005, a separate damage disclosure statement is required. If possible, go with the buyer to the county treasurer's office to complete the title transfer.
If you are unable to go with the buyer to transfer the title, obtain a receipt from the buyer stating the person has bought the vehicle and accepted delivery of the vehicle and title.
If the buyer does not have plates to transfer to the vehicle and the vehicle is currently registered, the buyer can use it for 30 days without plates, as long as a copy of one of the following is carried in the vehicle.
- Bill of sale, which describes the vehicle, and is signed and dated by the seller and the buyer.
- Title assigned to the buyer, or photocopy of both sides of the title.
However, it is suggested that the buyer go to their county treasurers office immediately and get plates to avoid the possibility of being stopped by a peace officer checking for ownership documents.
If the vehicle is not currently registered, the vehicle cannot legally be operated on the highways until the registration fees are paid.
The buyer may purchase a 30-day temporary permit from the county treasurer for a $25 fee.
Selling to a non-Iowa resident
Give the buyer the:
- Completed odometer statement and damage disclosure statement.
- Certificate of title with the assignment portion properly completed.
If the non-Iowa buyer does not have valid plates for the vehicle and it is currently registered, the county treasurer will issue a 30-day transit plate for $3.
If the vehicle is being sold for junk and will never be driven again, give the buyer the title (top section on the back completed). Obtain a receipt stating the buyer has accepted delivery of the vehicle and title, or take the title and registration receipt to the county treasurer and get a junking certificate. Give (assign) the junking certificate to the buyer.
A junking certificate issued by the county treasurer shall authorize the holder to possess, transport or transfer by endorsement the ownership of the junked vehicle. The person or persons who obtain the first junking certificate are the only persons allowed to request the title of the vehicle to be reinstated. To reinstate a title, an application must be filed and the appropriate fees paid within 14 days of the date the first junking certificate was issued. No further titling of the vehicle is allowed except if the vehicle is 25 years old or older, in which case the person may apply for a certificate of title under the bonding procedure as provided for in Iowa Code section 321.24.
Depending on which version of title certificate your county is using, you may use the updated title as the bill of sale under the TRANSFER/SALE DATE section. If the title certificate does not include this section, a bill of sale is still required.