Laws on Selling Cars Without a Title

By David Carnes

If you are in possession of a car without a valid title, you will need to secure an appropriate title before you sell it. The title may have been lost by the owner, there may be no title on file for the car, the car may be titled but not roadworthy, or the car may have been titled as a salvage vehicle and later rebuilt to roadworthy status. Each of these situations requires different procedures before the car can be sold.

Antique car

"1957 Cadillac" is Copyrighted by Flickr user: thebig429 (Mike) under the Creative Commons Attribution license.

Duplicate Titles

A car is not considered to be legally untitled if the title has simply been lost by the owner (or a previous owner). In order to obtain a duplicate title, you will need to obtain the car's vehicle identification number (VIN), which is engraved on the car (the location varies by make and model). You will have to run a check of the VIN (see Resources section) to determine whether the car has been stolen and to confirm that it has a title. A duplicate title will be issued as long as you can prove you own the car (by presenting a bill of sale, for example).

Selling Without a Title

Selling a legally untitled car is illegal in many states. Even in states where selling an untitled car is legal, you can expect to have a very difficult time finding a buyer for two reasons. First, a buyer is likely to suspect that the car is stolen even if no theft has been reported. Second, an untitled car cannot be registered, insured or legally driven on public roads.

Bonded Titles

If the state Department of Transportation (or its equivalent in your state) has no title on file for the car, then you will have to obtain a bonded title before selling it or driving it. You will have to locate the VIN. You will also have to prove that you own the car. Then you will have to certify whether the car has been reported stolen, whether it is roadworthy, whether there are any liens against it and other information. The state title authority will assess a bond that you will have to pay before a bonded title can be issued.

Salvage Titles

If your car has been declared a total loss by an insurance company and you wish to sell it for its salvage value, you will have to exchange your ordinary title with a salvage title in order to sell it in most states. This type of title does not allow the owner to drive the car or obtain a license plate. The application process is usually straightforward, although you will need a copy of the insurance company's loss report.

Rebuilt Titles

If a car that has a salvage title is rebuilt to roadworthy status, the salvage title must be exchanged for a rebuilt title before it can be driven or issued a license plate. A rebuilt title is designed to alert the buyer of potential problems with a car that was once totaled (an inaccurate odometer reading, for example). If you rebuild a vehicle with a salvage title, you will need to have the vehicle inspected by a state-approved inspector and have an inspection report issued before you will be issued a rebuilt title.

About the Author

David Carnes has been a full-time writer since 1998 and has published two full-length novels. He spends much of his time in various Asian countries and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. He earned a Juris Doctorate from the University of Kentucky College of Law.

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