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How to buy a car without a title

in Car buying tips
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 Everyone wants a car that offers reliability, safety, and at a great price. Let’s say you find a car that fits all these requirements from a private seller but they don’t have all the proper documentation. How do you buy a car with no title from a private seller? 

The easy way to buy a car with no title: Ask the seller to get a new title

The first step (which you’ve probably already tried, and that’s why you’re here) is to get a replacement title. This is kind of a no-brainer, but if you’ve been talking to the seller they might be able to order a replacement title if they are the owner. 

If you buy a car without getting a valid title, you don’t own that car. The title is your proof of ownership for the car - without that proof, you lack legal ownership until you acquire a title. 


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If the seller is unable to provide a replacement title: 

1. Ask the seller some questions

There are a few questions that you need to ask the seller. Not only will this help you learn more about the car, but this info will also help you acquire a title later. 

“Who owns the car?”

“Where and when was the car purchased?”

“Why are you selling the car?”

These essential questions that can help you acquire a title. If the seller provides indirect or conflicting answers about these questions, or doesn’t know at all, you may want to reconsider. Aside from the possibility that the vehicle has been stolen, you simply don’t want to buy a car from someone who knows nothing about it. 

Graphic of a person asking questions about paperwork

2. Run a VIN check 

Running a VIN check is a helpful way to confirm (or even contest) what the seller has told you up to this point. With a VIN you can run a vehicle history report which should give you information on the title status, damage history, and even mileage reports. 

The VIN will also get you started with the DMV, which you’ll need to be in contact with anyway, and hopefully can get some additional information about the history of the vehicle. This can vary depending on each state’s confidentiality and privacy laws, but should be able to confirm the title status to limit potential red flags. Once the DMV locates the VIN for you they can also check any existing or outstanding loans on the vehicle, which could cause some issues proceeding with the purchase.

The third important thing to check with the VIN is checking the status to see if it’s listed as stolen or not recovered. Obviously if the vehicle has been reported, do not continue with the purchase. A great resource to check is the National Insurance Crime Bureau


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3. Get a bill of sale

If you’ve made it this far things are looking good! Everything was likely in order with the vehicle check and the seller has been able to answer most of your questions. The next step is to get a bill of sale that will transfer ownership from them to you. If the seller has ever registered the vehicle with the DMV they can likely get a replacement in your name with a detailed bill of sale.

The bill of sale consists of: your name and the seller’s name, make and model of the vehicle, mileage, VIN, and date and price of the purchase. Since there’s no title to exchange, it’s probably a good idea to include things like addresses and phone numbers in case the DMV needs additional information without the existing title.

While you can pay the seller with traditional methods like a check, money order or even put funding in escrow until a new title is transferred, it’s not recommended to use cash. Using cash can’t be proven to the state and in a worst case scenario you have no recourse from the seller.


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4. Transfer the title to your name

This is obviously easier said than done, but there are several ways you can do this. If the seller hasn’t been able to locate the title to this point but it is in their name, they can request a duplicate title by providing some detailed information to the DMV.

If they don’t have the title, and never had it in their name, this will require you to do some research on the vehicle report you looked at previously. Once you find the active title holder and the state of registry you can contact them and ask them to make a duplicate.

The simplest way to get a new title in your name if the seller doesn’t have access to it is also available as a last resort. You can purchase a certificate of title bond (also referred to as a lost title bond and other things depending on the state) that is offered to prevent forgery or prevent sale of a stolen car. This can often be up to 1.5 times of the value of the car, and if the vehicle is found to be stolen, the rightful owner can receive full compensation.

While it certainly isn’t an easy route, you do have some options and can definitely purchase a vehicle without an existing title from the seller. It will make for a smoother transaction if you’ve been in contact with the DMV and have a willing seller to make a few calls and reciprocate your efforts.

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