A title is used to convey ownership. When selling a car, it is important to have the title available. After money is exchanged, the seller completes the back of the title providing the purchase price, odometer reader and buyer's name. Both parties must sign. If there is no title, things get complicated, especially when the buyer tries to place the car on the road.
In many states, selling a car without a title is illegal. In states that don't make it illegal to sell a vehicle without a title, sellers are required to eventually produce a title. For example, in Connecticut, sellers can use a notarized Application for Duplicate Certificate of Title and Ownership Transfer in Absence of Title to assign ownership to an in-state buyer. Sellers can verify if a title is needed by contacting the state's department of motor vehicle.
Reasons for Not Having a Title
As a buyer, if you are offered a car without a title, it should raise red flags. Sellers typically do not have a title for a reason. Replacing a title is a simple process. Sellers who are unwilling or unable to produce a title may have a reason, which is likely not a good one for the buyer. For example, if the seller still has a loan on the vehicle, the finance company won't release the title until the balance is paid. A car without a title could also be an indication of a stolen vehicle. To find out if a vehicle is stolen, provide the police with a vehicle identification number and ask the officer to run a check for you.
Registering the Car
A car cannot be registered without a title, even in states where selling without a title is not illegal. The signed title, proof of insurance and identification are necessary to register a vehicle in most states. Selling a car for scrap or parts to a junkyard is generally the exception to the rule. However, some paperwork is usually required when the title isn't available.
Obtaining a Duplicate Title
If the seller has misplaced the title, a duplicate copy can be obtained by completing the appropriate paperwork from the local DMV. The paperwork and proof of ownership requirements may vary among states, but in most cases the owner needs to supply her Social Security number, driver's license and vehicle identification number. Some DMVs provide titles immediately, while in other locations it can take several weeks.