The Documents Needed to Purchase a Car

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The car purchase documents you need to register and title a vehicle differ by state. Expect to obtain a certificate of title when you purchase a car, a common requirement of most states. Otherwise, additional document requirements might include alternative title forms, bill of sale, a lien release or original motor vehicle forms.


State rules differ for document requirements required for vehicle purchases. For a complete list of documents you'll need to provide to a motor vehicle office to transfer ownership of the vehicle you purchase, call your state motor vehicle office or visit its website. Some states require that owners report the sale of their vehicle, meaning you'll have to also provide your information to the seller. You may also find that title or form signatures are not enough; you might have to visit a motor vehicle office with the vehicle's seller or have your signatures notarized.

Vehicle Title

A vehicle's title proves ownership. To transfer ownership from one party to another, you'll need the vehicle's certificate of title properly signed and filled out. You'll bring it with you to a motor vehicle office to register and title your car. Some states may offer alternatives to the vehicle's title, such as a bill of sale or an original form provided by a motor vehicle department. Some states do not require titles for vehicles over a certain age. Do not pay a seller without accepting a title or other state approved document.

Bill of Sale

A bill of sale is optional in some states and required in others. If your state does require a bill of sale, your state's motor vehicle website likely offers a form that you can download and print. A bill of sale confirms the date of a sale, which is required in some states that require buyers to re-title a vehicle within a certain number of days. A bill of sale also states the vehicle's selling price, which allows the state to determine sales tax charges. Some states require an original bill of sale form that must be obtained from a motor vehicle office. The seller must provide his information and signature to the bill of sale.

Lien Release

Many states do not allow title transfers when a lien is listed on the vehicle's title. If you have a title that lists a bank or credit union name on it, this means a lender has financial interest in the vehicle. Even if the seller paid off the loan, you must still provide a lien release to transfer ownership. Obtaining a lien release is the responsibility of the seller, not you. Read a vehicle's title over before accepting it to ensure that no lien holder information is stated on the title. Otherwise, make sure you obtain a lien release from the seller to avoid problems when trying to title your vehicle.


About the Author

Shanan Miller covers automotive and insurance topics for various websites, blogs and dealerships. She has extensive automotive experience, including auction, insurance, finance, service and management positions. Miller has worked for dealer sales events around the United States and now stays local as a sales and leasing consultant for a dealership.