Car Title Laws

Legal ownership of a car is proved by a certificate. An owner transfers title when a car is sold, inherited or given as a gift. The new owner proves ownership to the state government by submitting a certificate of title. Look in the state's motor vehicle code to find the requirements for a sale or a purchase .


When a seller sells a car to you, he must have a certificate of title that is recorded with the state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). If a dealer does not have a title or a private seller has lost the title, he applies to the DMV for a certificate and pays a fee.

Once the seller has notified the government the car has been sold, her owner's liability ends. At the time the car is transferred, a private seller gives the certificate of title for a used car to you. You, as the buyer, then submit the certificate to the DMV for proof of your new ownership. If the seller is a dealer, the dealer handles the documentation for the car sale, including submitting a certificate of title to the department. For each deal, the seller and the buyer sign the certificate.


Titles are also an important part of inheriting a car or receiving a car as a gift. When a family member dies, leaving the car to you, you inform the DMV of your ownership by taking to an office the death certificate, the title with signatures and payment for the title transfer fee. Car gift transfers are recorded by providing the title the giver has signed over to you, the giver's notice of transfer and the fee.


Titles can be changed. Simply file the title modification with the DMV. A change of name requires legal proof, the original title and an application to change your name on the certificate. if you want to add a name, a new owner signs on the certificate and the change is recorded at the DMV.

Renewal and Replacement

Certificates of title do not need to be replaced unless you lose the title or it is damaged. Renewal is not needed. If you lose a certificate, you must replace the certificate to gain proof of ownership. A DMV office accepts applications for a duplicate title.

Branded Title

Words on the certificate, called a brand, tell you there are important conditions in the vehicle's history. If you pay attention to these words, you might discover the car is not good for purchase. Prior uses, such as for a taxi or a police car, are noted. Serious changes to the car's condition are the most important facts to note. A car that has been salvaged or remanufactured might have lost so much integrity the car is no longer fit for use.

Read More: What is a Bonded Title?

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