Looking to purchase a used car but the owner doesn’t have the title? Buying a car with no title might seem risky, but it’s completely legal with the right steps. Still, the process comes with added headaches like tracking down paperwork, extra DMV fees, and potential title scams.
So can you really buy and register a car with no title in 2023? Absolutely, if you follow the right process. But it helps to understand what you’re getting into first.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about buying a used car with no title including:
- What it means when a car has no title and why it happens
- The documentation you need for transferring ownership without a title
- How to legally get a new title for a car with no existing title
- Extra costs, fees and taxes to expect
- Tips for safely buying a used car with no title
- And much more to protect yourself and legally drive away!
Let’s start by looking at the role of a title and common reasons a car might not have one.
Table of Contents
What Does It Mean if a Car Has No Title?
A car title is a legal document that proves ownership and identity of a vehicle. It includes key details like the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), year/make/model, names of owners, lienholders, and an odometer disclosure statement.
State motor vehicle departments issue a title after registering a new vehicle or transferring registration of a used car to a new owner. The owner then receives the physical title document by mail or electronically.
So what does it mean if a used car you want to buy has no title?
There’s a few possible scenarios:
- Previous owner lost the title – Probably the most common reason. The prior owner misplaced the physical title or failed to transfer it to their name when they bought the car.
- Never received a title – Less common, but sometimes a title doesn’t get issued correctly after a new car purchase or ownership transfer.
- Title was damaged – For older cars, physical titles can get damaged, destroyed or fade over time.
- Previoius owner failed to transfer title – When you sell a car, you must sign over the title to the new owner. But sometimes sellers neglect to do this right away.
- Car came from another state – Cars moved between states can end up in title limbo if not registered properly in the new state.
- Salvage title brands – If a car had a salvage title due to major damage, insurance companies sometimes wrongfully issue clean titles later.
The takeaway? There are many reasons a car being sold might not have a proper title document. While some are innocent mistakes, it’s also a scenario used by scammers selling stolen, damaged or totaled cars without proper titles.
Buyer beware! Make sure to do your due diligence upfront to avoid being the victim of a title-washing scam or buying an illegally resold salvage car.
Now that you know why a car might have no title, next we’ll explore the documentation and process needed to actually purchase and register a car without an existing title.
Documentation You Need to Buy and Register a Car With No Title
While it’s legal to buy and own a car without a title, you will need to provide alternate documents to prove ownership when registering it in your name.
Here are the main documents you should collect when purchasing a used car with no title for a smooth transfer process:
Bill of Sale
The most important document is a bill of sale signed by both buyer and seller. This records key details proving you purchased the car including:
- Date of sale
- Purchase price
- Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
- Seller’s name and signature
- Buyer’s name and signature
- Mileage at time of sale
Some states provide bill of sale forms to standardize this. But a simple hand-written bill of sale can suffice in most cases.
Previous Registration and Title Documents
While the car may lack the current title, gather up any old registration paperwork, expired registrations or other title documents the seller still possesses.
This additional paper trail helps support ownership history if questions arise later. Anything with the VIN, previous owners’ names, and past registration history for that specific car is helpful.
Driver’s License and Photo ID
Both buyer and seller should provide a copy of their driver’s license or other government-issued photo ID.
This allows the DMV to verify identities involved in the ownership transfer. Make sure the names match on the bill of sale.
Inspection and Safety Certificates
In many states, cars must pass a safety and/or emissions inspection when renewing registration or transferring ownership.
Have these inspection certificates ready when applying for a new title on a car with no title. Some states waive inspections for newer cars under 5-10 years old.
Tip: Schedule the inspection first before paying for the car if possible. This way you can verify the car passes safety standards before purchase.
With these core documents assembled, you can prove ownership history to the DMV and legally register a car without an existing title.
Specific requirements vary by state, so check your local DMV website for guidelines. Some may ask for supplemental documents like old repair invoices or insurance cards with the VIN.
Next let’s walk through the actual process of obtaining a new title from the DMV for a car purchased without one.
How to Get a Title for a Car With No Existing Title?
Wondering what steps are involved in getting a title for a car without one in your name currently? Here’s the typical process:
1. Gather Documentation Proving Ownership
Pull together the bill of sale, old registrations, IDs, and inspection docs described in the prior section. You’ll need to show them to the DMV to start a title transfer application.
2. Submit a Title Application to the DMV
Visit your local DMV office and fill out the state’s specific forms to apply for a new title on a car purchased without an existing title. Form names vary but may include:
- Application for Duplicate Title
- Application for Lost Title
- Application for New Title
- Transfer of Title by Owner
Submit your ownership documentation, pay title fees, and provide required identification when filing for your new title.
3. Pass the VIN Inspection if Required
Some states require a vehicle inspection of the VIN, mileage, and other details to verify identity on cars with no title. This usually costs $50-$100 and is performed at a licensed inspection station.
They’ll confirm the VIN physically on the car matches all your ownership paperwork and provide an inspection certificate.
4. Receive Your New Title by Mail
Once your application is approved, the DMV will mail your new title certificate to the registered owner’s address within 4-6 weeks.
Some states issue temporary registration documents valid until the official title arrives. These temporary docs allow you to legally drive the car while waiting.
And that’s the standard process for obtaining a title in your name without an existing title document to transfer. Pretty straightforward, though expect some extra time and fees compared to a normal title transfer between owners.
Speaking of which, let’s look at those additional costs and taxes to be aware of.
Additional Fees and Taxes for Cars With No Title
Unfortunately, buying a used car without a title usually means paying more in fees, taxes and paperwork hassles compared to a normal titled car. Here are the main costs to expect:
States charge a title fee to issue new and duplicate titles. This can range from $20 on the low end up to $150 or more. The fee to get a new title for a car without one tends to be at the higher end.
Title transfer fees are usually lower around $10-$30. Try negotiating this with the seller if possible, as getting the initial new title will fall to you.
Sales Tax on Purchase Price
Even without a title, you’ll still pay all normal sales tax on a used car purchase. This varies by state but typically ranges from 2% – 7% of the vehicle purchase price.
Some states have lower sales tax rates for private party used car sales, so check locally.
Registration and Plate Fees
The cost to register and be issued license plates for your newly titled car varies greatly by state. This can be anywhere from $25 to $300+ annually for registration fees and plates.
These costs apply whether you have the title yet or not. Make sure to budget the registration cost into your total car buying expenses.
Late Transfer Penalties
If the previous owner failed to promptly transfer the title to your name, you may be charged fines for late title transfers in some states. This ranges from $25 to over $100.
Try to apply for your new title right away to avoid these penalties. In some cases, the previous seller may be responsible if it was their oversight.
Between the extra title fees, sales tax, registration, and any late penalties, buying and titling an untitled car can add hundreds in extra DMV costs alone.
Factor these into your offer price when negotiating on an untitled car. It helps offset the additional time and effort involved for the buyer.
Now let’s move on to some pro tips for safely buying any used car without an existing title.
Tips for Safely Buying a Car With No Title
Buying a used car with no title comes with inherent risks like odometer fraud or even purchasing a stolen vehicle. Here are some smart tips to avoid being scammed:
Verify the VIN First
Before even going to see the car, check its VIN number against vehicle history databases to spot red flags:
- NMVTIS – The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System offers free VIN checks through an official government website. This can identify salvage titles, major damage, and mileage discrepancies.
- Carfax or Autocheck – Paid services like Carfax and Autocheck provide more detailed title and ownership history through an online VIN lookup. Worth the $40 fee for peace of mind on an untitled car.
If anything suspicious comes up, walk away and continue your search elsewhere. Don’t take risks on a sketchy VIN history.
Have a Mechanic Inspect Before Purchase
Any used car deserves a full inspection from an independent mechanic you trust. But this step is critical when the car lacks a title or verifiable history.
A mechanic can check for signs of water damage, odometer rollback, poorly done repairs, frame damage or other issues not evident at first glance. Their trained eye may spot troublesome clues the average buyer would miss.
Meet at DMV to Transfer New Title Together
Some states allow sellers to sign over titles directly at the DMV when conducting the sale. This cuts down on risks versus mailing in the signed title later.
If possible, complete the sale and title transfer paperwork at the DMV office together immediately after transaction. This puts the car firmly in your name before taking possession.
Don’t Pay Full Amount Until Title is Signed Over
With a normal titled car, you would test drive first then pay the seller and receive the signed-over title document on the spot.
But with an untitled car, consider holding back a portion of the payment amount until the new title is issued showing you as the legal owner. This provides leverage in case the seller fails to properly transfer ownership.
Use common sense precautions and your gut instinct when evaluating any title issues or suspicious sellers. And be ready for some extra time and costs getting an untitled car properly registered in your name.
The takeaway? With the right preparation and diligence, buying a used car with no title can end up a smart and legal deal. But only if you avoid potential scams and know the documentation process before handing over cash.
Summing Up How to Buy a Car With No Title:
- Cars can have no title if the previous owner lost or never transferred the existing title
- You can legally buy and register a car with no title by providing alternate ownership docs like a bill of sale
- Getting a new title requires filing forms at the DMV, fees, and sometimes a VIN inspection
- Expect to pay extra for title and registration fees compared to buying a car with the title provided
- Follow tips like checking the VIN history and having a mechanic inspect before purchase
- With the right steps, you can safely buy and register a great used car even if the current title is missing
Buying a car without a title requires some extra diligence and paperwork hassle. But don’t let a missing document scare you away from an otherwise promising deal. Just go into the purchase process informed, do your due diligence, and get ready for a few extra DMV hoops to jump through.