How to See if a Car Title Is Valid

By Jen Davis
Performing a used car history search can help you learn more about about a car before you buy it.
red car 2 image by Viachaslau Makouski from Fotolia.com

When buying a used car, there are a number of things you should check out or investigate in order to make sure you are getting the best deal possible. Every once in a while, a car shopper may find a car that seems to be too good of a deal. Sometimes the seller is just trying to sell the vehicle quickly, but other times the low price may be compensating for another problem. Vehicles with title problems may be mechanically fine, so you might not discover the issue until you go to register your new car, only to learn that the seller had no right to sell it to you. Getting your money back may be next to impossible, so it is important to make sure a car has a valid title before you buy it.

Locate the vehicle's VIN (vehicle identification number). The VIN will be the 17-digit number stamped on a special plate on the left hand of the dashboard, written on a sticker in the doorframe and listed on the title, registration and insurance paperwork. The VIN identifies that specific car.

Provide the VIN to a company that performs vehicle history searches, such as CarFax or AutoCheck. The vehicle history search will pull up all the recorded information about the vehicle.

Wait to receive your vehicle history report. It should only take a couple of minutes and will reveal any potential title problems, such as a salvage title or a listed lien holder.

Make sure the information on the title matches what you know. Even if the vehicle history report comes back clear, you should physically examine the title to make sure the registered owner is the same person who is selling you the car and that the title has been signed in the correct places.