If you are planning on buying or selling a car, you cannot do so legally without a copy of the certificate of title. Do not purchase a car without a title--the car might have been stolen, or there may be a defect in the title that will cause you problems later on. Hopefully, however, the car has clean title and the title document has simply been lost. If this is the case, applying for a duplicate title document is not particularly difficult--you will simply have to complete a relatively simple application process. Here are step-by-step instructions on how to do it.
Search for the car's Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). If you have access to the car's registration document, the VIN should be printed there. Otherwise, you will need to physically inspect the car. The location of the VIN depends on the car's make and model. Possible locations include the steering wheel, the steering column, the door frame of the front driver's door, the dashboard, the front of the engine, the radiator support bracket, the firewall or the left-hand inner wheel arch.
Check the VIN to determine if the car has been reported stolen, whether it has valid title, whether the title is listed as a "junked" or "salvage" and whether there is a lien on the vehicle. A VIN check can be performed online (see Resources).
Navigate to the website of the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for the state that issued the original title certificate (in some states this office goes by another name). Download an Application for Duplicate Title.
Print out the Application for Duplicate Title, and have the current owner fill it out and sign it in the presence of a Notary Public (the owner's photo ID will be required).
Take the application to the car's lien holder, if any (a bank that financed the purchase of the car, for example), and have a representative sign the application in the presence of a Notary Public. Since most banks employ notaries, the bank representative will not have to leave the bank to have the application notarized.
Prepare a check or money order in favor of the state DMV to pay the required application fee. If your bank account is from out of state, you will probably need to buy a money order from a local bank. In most states, the application fee does not exceed $20.
Deliver the completed application to the state DMV. It may take up to 10 weeks for the duplicate title to arrive.