Get a Replacement Title for Your Car Quickly With These Helpful Tips
Your shot at the title doesn’t have to be a fight.
I have purchased four cars over the past 18 months. That’s hardly a record, but it means I know a little something about how to get a title for a car. It may also mean I have a problem. When it comes to cars, I’m a high-functioning addict. Craigslist is my gateway drug, but I’m not a heavy user. So far, I’ve avoided stronger addictions such as Bring A Trailer.
I’m not sure there’s a Car Buyers Anonymous group, but there are steps to get a title and register your vehicle. A trip to your local motor vehicles department can be a breeze if you follow my steps. It comes down to knowing what paperwork you need and filling it out correctly.
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Car Title Basics
Estimated Time Needed: 2 to 4 hours
Skill Level: Beginner
Tools: Access to the internet, title documents, and a little patience
What Is a Title?
A title is an official document that provides information about a vehicle. It lists the vehicle’s year, make, and model with the vehicle identification number, or VIN. It also shows the vehicle’s mileage and the purchase date. Finally, it contains information about the person or people who own the car, including their address.
The back of the title is an Assignment of Title form used to transfer ownership of the vehicle when it’s sold. The Assignment of Title includes the seller’s information, sale date, odometer reading, and sale price. Many states accept this document as the bill of sale.
Different types of titles provide additional information about the vehicle. Most vehicles have clean titles, but you may also see a branded title, meaning the vehicle was salvaged or rebuilt. A salvage title is issued when a car is heavily damaged, and the insurance company declares it a total loss. Some states will replace the salvage title with a rebuilt title if the vehicle is repaired and passes inspection. A branded title is not necessarily bad but does hurt the car’s value. Many financial companies won’t loan money for a car with a branded title, it can be difficult to get it insured, and it makes the vehicle harder to sell later. Before you decide to buy a car with a branded title, find out why it was totaled and have the repairs inspected.
Everything You’ll Need To Get a Title
The car gods do not require you to sacrifice a goat or a GTO to get a title — just the correct documents. Get it right, and your state’s motor vehicle department can be a breeze — or at least no worse than returning goods at a department store.
There are two reasons you need a replacement title. Either you just bought a vehicle and need to register it, or you lost the title to your current vehicle.
Getting a New Title
If you’re buying a car, make sure you get all the paperwork during the sale. The documents vary by state, so check your motor vehicle department’s website to determine what’s required. At a minimum, you’ll need the current title with the Assignment of Title section completed. Some states require additional documentation.
If there was a lien on the old title, you need paperwork from the lienholder showing it was released. A lien is a financial stake against the vehicle's value, usually placed by a financial institution when a loan was provided to purchase the car. An official payoff letter from the lienholder satisfies this requirement in most states.
Replacing a Lost Title
If you lost the tile on a car you own, you can apply for a duplicate title. The process usually involves filling out a duplicate title form and paying a fee. The process varies by state, but the motor vehicle department usually asks for the following:
- Year, make, and model of the vehicle
- Current odometer reading
- Vehicle identification number or VIN
- Lienholder information
- Your driver’s license info
- Cash, debit card, or check for the reissuing fee (usually less than $50)
Many states use Electronic Lien and Title system processing. If your DMV’s website uses ELT, you can request a title online. Other states require you to submit the request in person, provide identification, and prove you own the vehicle.
Pro Tips for Getting a Car Title
Do Your Homework
Visit your state’s motor vehicles department website to determine which documents are required and if any of those documents require notarized signatures.
Make sure you fill out the paperwork correctly. If you sign in the wrong place, check the wrong box, or try to erase something, it will slow down the process. You may have to file additional paperwork or request a new/duplicate title before transferring ownership.
If You Move
Most states require you to register your car within 30 days of your move-in date if you move from another state. The registration process usually requires you to apply for a new title at that time. Even if you aren’t required to apply for a new title, it’s still a good idea. An in-state title makes registering and selling your car easier.
Check your new state’s motor vehicles department website to learn which documents you need to register your car. Most states want your current title, driver’s license, and proof of residence. Some states require inspection paperwork like an emissions test or VIN verification.
If you register a vehicle with a spouse or partner, use “or” instead of “and” for the title. If “and” separates the names, both owners must sign the title transfer. When “or” separates the owners’ names, either owner can legally sell the car.
The motor vehicles department in some states gets a bad rap as a bureaucratic hell. Don’t take that out on the people who work there. Kindness opens doors.
I bought a classic car at the beginning of the pandemic and had trouble with the paperwork. I checked the wrong box on the title, which led to my state’s motor vehicles department asking me for an odometer statement on a 55-year-old car. I called the department, asked for help, and was friendly and polite. After explaining how to fix my mistake, the lady I spoke with informed me about my department’s new title drop-off service. This information wasn’t on the website, but it meant I could drop off my paperwork instead of standing in line.
Since then, I’ve used the title drop-off on every car I’ve bought. A few minutes of kindness saved me hours of time since then.
Got questions about getting a title? The Drive has answers.
Q. What is a pink slip?
A. The pink slip is another term for a car’s title. Some states originally printed the car’s registration on pink paper, which is where the term originated.
Q. Can I sell my car without a title?
A. The short answer is no. The title shows who legally owns the vehicle and is required to register a vehicle. Selling a car without a title is illegal in all states.
Q. Can I get a title with a bill of sale?
A. Some vehicles are title exempt by age. The seller of those only needs to provide a properly executed bill of sale. Check your state’s motor vehicles department website to find out what they require.
Q. Can I get a copy of my car title online?
A. Requesting a replacement car title online is the easiest option if your state allows it. Check your state’s motor vehicle department website and follow the steps they provide. If you have to go in person or apply by mail, the website should list the required documents and indicate if a notary is required.
Q. What is title jumping?
A. Title jumping is the act of buying a vehicle and selling it without registering the vehicle in your name. People title jump for many reasons, mainly to avoid paying sales tax. Title jumping is illegal in every state.
The hardest part of titling a car is making sure the paperwork is filled out correctly. Do it right, and the most time-consuming part is standing in line at the motor vehicle department. Check the department’s website or call to learn which documents your state requires.
There are many videos about how to get a title for a car. Not all are reputable, and many are only advertisements for title services. This short video from Howcast provides a good overview of what’s involved.
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