Buying a Car Without a Title
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A car title is the legal document that shows who owns a specific vehicle. Whether you are buying or selling a vehicle, a title must be present to make the transaction legal in most cases. It can be very risky to buy a car without a title. If you were to buy a titleless vehicle, the title holder could later show up and demand the car back. The best way to go about buying a car without a title is to get a new title before purchasing. Here’s how to do that and some ways you could buy a car without a title in the safest manner possible.
Do your due diligence
There are valid reasons that the seller might not have the title, including the possibility that they just lost the pink slip. One sheet of paper can be hard to keep track of, but there could be not-so legal reasons as well. Here’s how to do your research and due diligence before you buy a car without a title.
1. Look at the car and talk to the seller.
The seller probably won’t advertise that the car doesn’t have a title, so you may only find out when you go to see the vehicle. If this happens, there are a few red flags to watch out for when you meet or speak with the seller.
If the VINs are scratched out or don’t match.
A vehicle identification number (VIN) is like a car’s Social Security number. It can be found in a few places on the vehicle including the manufacturer’s sticker on the side of the driver’s door or under the windshield on the driver’s side. If the VIN numbers are illegible or don’t match, the car is probably stolen. Walk away and report it to the police when it’s safe to do so.
If the seller pressures you to buy the vehicle right now for cash.
If the seller is terribly impatient for you to just buy the car without a title for cash so there’s no paper trail, it’s best to look for another vehicle.
If the seller is uncomfortable or unwilling to answer questions.
If the person is trying to sell the car illegally, they may not be able to answer questions about the car’s maintenance record or how it was usually driven. If they act suspicious when you ask about the vehicle’s history or why they are selling it, walk away.
2. Look up the vehicle’s history.
If you don’t notice any of the red flags above and still want to purchase a car without a title, you should start looking into the vehicle’s history. This is always a good idea when you are purchasing any used car from a private party, but it is particularly important to do when you are dealing with a vehicle without a title. Here’s how to get the information you need.
- VIN check. The National Insurance Crime Bureau allows you to search and see whether a car has been reported as stolen, for free.
- Vehicle history report. Also known as a VHR, the vehicle history report could tell you a lot about a car, including whether it was in an accident, how many people have owned it and more. The most popular VHR provider is Carfax. A Carfax report for a single vehicle costs $39.99.
- National Motor Vehicle Title Information System. The NMVTIS is part of the U.S. Department of Justice and its purpose is to help protect consumers from fraud. Different VHR providers include data from NMVTIS, and reports cost between $2.95 to $12.99. This is a good option when you suspect that the car has been owned in multiple states.
- State records. If you know the car has only been owned in one state, you can find out how to do a state record request in your state through the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.
3. Call the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Contact the DMV of the state where the seller says that they titled the vehicle and where your VIN check and NMVTIS report say that the vehicle was owned. Say you’re looking to buy a car with a lost title and you want to confirm that the seller has the legal right to the vehicle and that there is no lien on the car. You’ll need to provide the VIN and the seller’s full legal name.
If that checks out, ask about the process for getting a duplicate title. The seller will probably have to fill out a request form and send it in before you can buy the car or as part of the transaction.
How to get a title
Talk with the seller and ask if they ever had the title. If the answer is yes, it should be easy to get a new one. You and/or the seller may be able to request a duplicate title by submitting a single form to the DMV in the state where the vehicle was titled. Some states, such as Tennessee, require that the form be submitted to the county where it was titled.
If the seller never had the title, more legwork may be required. You’ll need to obtain the previous seller’s personal information or from the DMV and contact them, and ask politely if they would put in the title request. You should offer to pay any fees yourself. Many states charge a nominal fee, from $5 to $15, to replace a vehicle title. Be aware that this may be a dead end as the DMV might not be able to share personal information due to privacy laws, or the previous seller could refuse to fill out the paperwork.
How to get a car without a title
If the title is coming and you want to lock down the vehicle transaction, you could draw up a bill of sale with a contingency that requires the title. The money could be put in escrow and released to the seller once the title is in your hand.
If no title is coming and you’re absolutely sure you want to buy the car, your ability to legally buy and own the car depends on your state. For example, New York allows residents to obtain a nontransferable registration and Texas allows residents to obtain a bonded title. Both require that you have evidence of ownership, such as a bill of sale.
A surety bond. The “bond” part of “bonded title” refers to a surety bond, which protects you in case the person with the title shows up demanding their car. These kinds of bonds allow you to own the vehicle when a title is lost, stolen or missing.
A bill of sale. This is a legal document in which the seller and the buyer are identified by name and address, the property is specifically identified (make, model, year, VIN), the date is given and the transaction amount is stated. The format and required specifics (odometer reading, notary public signature) vary depending on the state. You can learn more about how to draw up a bill of sale yourself.
State forms to buy a car without a title