In Alabama, a certificate of title is the legal document that provides proof of vehicle ownership. Car buyers are obligated to apply for a vehicle title in the state before they can register a new or used vehicle. There are exceptions and exclusions to this obligation, however. Anyone considering acquiring a vehicle in Alabama would do well to get an overview of the state's car title laws.
Alabama Certificate of Title
Most vehicles in Alabama are required to have an Alabama certificate of title. This legal document proves to whom the vehicle belongs. The term "vehicle" under Alabama law includes automobiles, trucks, recreational vehicles, mobile trailers, semi-trailers, truck tractors and most other self-propelled or drawn devices. Snowmobiles and carriages pulled by animals are not included.
Anyone wishing to get an Alabama certificate of title must apply through a designated agent of the Alabama Department of Revenue. Licensed motor vehicle dealers are designated agents, so those buying a new or used vehicle through a dealer can also get their certificate through the dealer. Other designated agents include officials who issue license plates and some businesses, like banks and credit unions, that finance vehicle purchases. On the other hand, anyone needing a replacement Alabama title can apply through the Department of Revenue.
Vehicle Title vs. Vehicle Registration
The certificate of title offers legal proof of vehicle ownership. On the other hand, Alabama vehicle registration is also required before drivers can operate their vehicles on state roadways. Vehicle owners generally acquire current car registration after they have submitted an application for title at an office that issues license plates.
Car owners must complete registration within 20 days of acquiring a new vehicle. Business vehicles must be registered and titled in an office for the county in which the company vehicle is driven. In order to get their vehicle registered, a car owner must show that the vehicle is covered by adequate liability insurance.
Applying for Certificate of Title
What documents are required in order to apply for a new certificate of title in Alabama? The car owner will need the current certificate of title or, if the vehicle was registered in a state that doesn't issue titles, the out-of-state registration documentation as proof of ownership. Other documentation may be necessary if the registered agent cannot ascertain whether the vehicle meets anti-theft smog and safety standards in Alabama.
In addition, the following information is also required: vehicle ID number, date of purchase, vehicle color, year, make and model, and its odometer reading and current title number. Applicant and lien holder information is also mandated, including name, address and other contact information.
Anyone who has recently moved to Alabama and is applying for an Alabama vehicle title will need to bring the vehicle with them to the county license plate issuing office. The car may be subject to a vehicle identification number (VIN) inspection. Once paperwork is complete, the designated agent must submit the application to the state Department of Revenue within 10 calendar days.
Alabama State Title and Lien Holders
A lien holder is any person or financial institution who has a lien on the vehicle, usually because they are financing the purchase of the vehicle. If the title of the vehicle was issued to the lien holder rather than to the individual owner, Alabama will not issue a certificate of title. However, it is possible to register the vehicle in Alabama without the Alabama certificate of title by bringing the out-of-state certificate of title to the license plate issuing office.
Title Fees and Timing of Certificate
Several types of fees apply to obtaining an Alabama certificate of title. The automobile title application fee is $15, and the fee for a manufactured home is $20. The designated agent generally adds a commission of $1.50 per application. The state of Alabama charges an application fee of $15 for each certificate of title application. The fee is nonrefundable even if it turns out that no certificate is issued. An applicant can also approach a designated agent to process the application for a replacement title.
The time it takes for the Alabama Department of Revenue to process the application varies. This depends on the location of the application as well as other considerations. If the certificate of title is delayed, the car owner can track the title application’s status online through the website of the Alabama Department of Revenue.
Exceptions and Exemptions
Although a certificate of title is required for most motor vehicles in Alabama, there are exceptions and exemptions. Some are based on the age of the vehicle. Vehicles more than 35 years old are exempted, as are travel trailers more than 20 years old. Manufactured homes that are more than 20 years old will not need a title either.
Any motor vehicles owned by a government agency are also exempt. This includes municipal, state and federal. Any vehicles owned by manufacturers and dealers who are holding them for sale are also excepted from the title requirement, even those used for demonstration or testing.
Some other types of vehicles do not need to have a title in Alabama. These include snowmobiles, off-road vehicles, junk vehicles, boats, ATVs, pole trailers and utility trailers that must be drawn by a car or truck. Any vehicles currently in Alabama that are owned by nonresidents need not be titled or registered in the state.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.