How to Buy a Car Without a Title

You’ve found a car you love, and it’s a great price. The only problem is that the seller doesn’t have the car title. Is that an issue you can solve, or should you walk away from the sale? There are a couple of situations where the seller may legitimately not have a title: it may have been purchased previously from somewhere that did not use vehicle titles, or the car title may have been misplaced, damaged, or stolen. But it’s also entirely possible that the vehicle itself is stolen.

A car title declares the vehicle’s legal owner. If you buy a car without a title, someone who possesses the title can claim ownership even though you’ve paid for the vehicle. In order to register the car in your state, you’ll need the title to prove that you are the legal owner of the car.

It’s possible to buy a car without a title, but it should be approached with caution. Here’s how to buy a car when the seller doesn’t have the title for you.

Method 1 of 5: Research the car thoroughly

Determine if the car is, in fact, what the seller says it is. A missing title can be a red flag for an impropriety like a stolen car, a salvage title, or a flood vehicle.

carfax history example
Image: Kelley Blue Book

Step 1: Get a vehicle history report online. Access a reputable VHR site like Carfax or AutoCheck to confirm the vehicle’s legal status.

A VHR tells you the car’s title status, gives an odometer report, and indicates previous accidents or insurance claims. Check on abnormalities such as inconsistent and unexplained mileage reports or items that contradict what the seller has told you.

  • Warning: If the seller hasn’t been truthful, it’s a good idea not to proceed with the purchase.

Step 2: Contact the state DMV office. Ask for information using the VIN number, request the vehicle’s history in the state, and confirm the title status with the clerk.

Some questions may not be able to be answered if they contain confidential or personal information.

Step 3: Check if the car is stolen. Run the car’s VIN through the National Insurance Crime Bureau to deterimine if the car has been reported as stolen and not recovered.

Only proceed with the car purchase without a title present if there are no red flags that can’t be resolved.

Method 2 of 5: Complete a bill of sale for the purchase

The bill of sale is a critical part of the sale process, especially when the car title is missing. Before paying for the car in full, write out a bill of sale for the transaction.

bill of sale
Image: Bill of Sale

Step 1: Write out the details of the sale. Indicate the car’s VIN number, the mileage, and the sale price of the car.

Identify any terms of the sale, such as “as is, where is”, “seller to supply title”, or items included or excluded from the sale.

Step 2: Indicate the seller’s and buyer’s complete information. You want both parties’ full addresses, legal names, and phone numbers indicated on the bill of sale.

Step 3: Pay the seller for the vehicle. Pay using a method that can be proven later on.

Use a check or bank draft to pay for the vehicle. Alternatively, you can make a sales agreement that places the funds in escrow until the terms of the sale are met. This is a great idea if the seller promises to get you the car’s title.

Method 3 of 5: Acquire a replacement title through the seller

If the seller has previously registered the car with the DMV in their name, they can request a replacement title to replace the lost one.

Step 1: Have the seller fill out a Duplicate Title Request from the DMV. Each state has their own form to fill out.

The form requires the seller’s complete name, address, the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), mileage, and proof of identity. Other requirements may be necessary such as lienholder information.

Step 2: Submit the Duplicate Title Request. It can take several days for a duplicate title to be issued and sent.

False or incomplete information can result in the duplicate title being denied or delayed.

Step 3: Proceed with the purchase. The new copy of the car title will be sent to the seller and you can proceed with the car purchase like normal.

Method 4 of 5: Track down the previous car title

If the seller has never registered the car nor had the title transferred into their name, it will be more difficult to get a car title. It may take some time-consuming legwork to obtain a title from a previous owner.

Step 1: Identify the last state in which the car was registered. On your Vehicle History Report, locate the last state that reported the car.

The car could be from out-of-state, making the transaction more complicated.

Step 2: Contact the DMV for the contact information for the last titled owner. Explain the reason for your call, and politely request information on contacting the previous owner.

Step 3: Call the last known title holder for the car. Make contact with the title holder, identifying your reason for calling.

Ask them to request a duplicate title so you can register the car in your name.

Method 5 of 5: Obtain a Surety Title Bond

In some states, it’s possible to get a Surety Bond to obtain your new title. The Surety Bond is a financial security measure and a declaration. It’s your guarantee that the car is truly yours and your monetary bond ensures that, if financial penalties result, the bond provider is covered.

Step 1: Check if there is a lien on the car. If there is a lien, don’t complete the purchase until it has been cleared by the seller and lifted.

You can check for a lien by contacting the DMV and providing the VIN number. If no lien is present, you can continue. If a lien is registered on the car that the seller won’t deal with, walk away.

Step 2: Locate a Surety Bond company in your state. Once you find a bond company, determine their specific requirements for a Lost Title Bond.

Most states are similar, requiring proof of purchase, proof of residency in your state, proof that the car is not junk or salvage, and an accurate valuation.

Step 3: Have a vehicle valuation performed. Based on the bond company’s requirements, have a vehicle valuation performed.

This is used to calculate the amount of bond required for your Lost Title Bond. The bond is typically between one and two times the value of the vehicle.

Step 4: Purchase the Lost Title Bond. You don’t pay the whole bond amount.

Rather, you pay a portion of the bond amount. It can be as little as a few percent of the bond amount.

Once you’ve obtained a duplicate or bonded title, you can register the vehicle as your own.

You’ll need to complete a state inspection to license your vehicle, and YourMechanic can help you with those repairs. Once you have a title, keep it in a safe place. If you have any questions about the process, Ask a Mechanic for some quick and helpful advice.


Next Step

Schedule Pre-purchase Car Inspection

The most popular service booked by readers of this article is Pre-purchase Car Inspection. YourMechanic’s technicians bring the dealership to you by performing this job at your home or office 7-days a week between 7AM-9PM. We currently cover over 2,000 cities and have 100k+ 5-star reviews... LEARN MORE

SEE PRICING & SCHEDULING

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

Recent Pre-purchase Car Inspection reviews

Excellent Rating

(5,189)

Rating Summary
4,847
184
37
38
83
4,847
184
37
38
83

Attila

19 years of experience
906 reviews
Attila
19 years of experience
Cadillac SRX V6-3.6L - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Edison, New Jersey
Attila was great! Very knowledgeable and actually detected a fault during a pre-purchase inspection that would have cost me later.
Lexus ES350 - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Fords, New Jersey
He is very good—offered all the significant details we needed from the inspection. Helped us figure out what needed to be fixed.

Shawn

12 years of experience
285 reviews
Shawn
12 years of experience
Chevrolet Impala V6-3.6L - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Lansdale, Pennsylvania
Shawn was prompt, professional, and delivered the promised service as expected. This was a used vehicle pre-purchase inspection. Shawn also had to drive to multiple locations to perform the inspection, as the address listed that I provided him with was not accurate, but he still made it to the correct location within his time window and completed the inspection.
Toyota Sequoia - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Akron, Pennsylvania
Shawn was very prompt in communicating with me and was good at helping me decide whether to purchase a used car. He help me avoid a car with a repaired rusted frame that could be a danger to my family's safety since we were planning on using the car to tow a travel trailer!

Luis

18 years of experience
320 reviews
Luis
18 years of experience
Honda HR-V L4-1.8L - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Warren, New Jersey
Luis was great. He showed up on time, acted professionally, and gave me confidence with a pre-purchase car inspection.
Acura RDX - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - South Hackensack, New Jersey
Luis did a thorough pre-purchase inspection for me, and found several major issues that made me pass on buying the car. Had I purchased the car, I almost certainly would have ended up paying thousands in repairs down the road. Thanks Luis!

Robert

20 years of experience
1089 reviews
Robert
20 years of experience
Hyundai Elantra L4-2.0L - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Englewood, Colorado
He did a pre-purchase inspection for me. He was knowledgeable and fast, and knew what he was looking for. I really appreciate all the pictures and documentation he took of the state of the car before purchase. He noted potential issues with the car that I wouldn't have been able to notice. Would recommend.
GMC Savana 1500 - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Golden, Colorado
I trust Robert. He gave me a list and we will take care of it the week of June 29. I will know then that my vehicle is ready for the winter and is safe to drive. I look forward to getting things ready for another winter of careful driving.

Need Help With Your Car?

Our certified mobile mechanics make house calls in over 2,000 U.S. cities. Fast, free online quotes for your car repair.

GET A QUOTE

Related articles

How to Replace a Lost or Stolen Car Title in Iowa
Owning Owning your own vehicle is an exciting and proud moment. In the United States as proof of this ownership you are given something that is called a Certificate of Title, or a car title. It is in fact a...
How to Buy a Car Online
There There is no limit to the range of items you can buy online - everything is available for purchase on your computer, from archery equipment to zoology textbooks. Vehicles are not exempt from this list of treasures you can...
What type of vehicle is right for you?
Sedans, coupes, convertibles, minivans, crossovers, hatchbacks, station wagons, SUVs, and pickups. Let us help you decide which to choose.

Related questions

How do I break in the car?
If your car is new, you will need to break it in. Here are some guidelines to follow: 1. For the first 500 miles, avoid towing a trailer. 2. For the first 1,200 miles, avoid overly quick starts, or hard...
Toyota Rav 4 vs. Ford Explorer Sport
I'd go for a RAV by far. Those things can last forever. If you are like me and you keep your car for a really long time, you'll be happy with the longevity of the RAV4. If you are one...
How much will body damage repairs cost to a 2013 Mazda 3 - right front door, right fender
For assessment and estimates on repairing bodywork, this task is best handled by a collision repair estimator at a reputable paint and body shop. They are trained to evaluate visible and not-so-visible damage, and the costs to repair. Contact a...

How can we help?

Our service team is available 7 days a week, Monday - Friday from 6 AM to 5 PM PST, Saturday - Sunday 7 AM - 4 PM PST.

1 (855) 347-2779 · hi@yourmechanic.com