How to Buy a Vehicle From a Private Seller With a Lien on the Title

Many private sellers have classic or vintage vehicles.

Many private sellers have classic or vintage vehicles.

When it comes to buying a vehicle, purchasing from a private seller is often a good idea because you avoid the expenses involved with a dealership or professional car dealer; you cut out the middle man. However, buying from a private seller requires some additional work on your part. In addition to more carefully researching the vehicle, you will also want to ensure that the car you buy has a clean title. If the seller has a lien on the vehicle, be sure this lien is removed before you hand over the cash.

Negotiate a sales price. Research your car before you enter into any price negotiations with the seller. Search online car price websites to find how much similar vehicles have sold for in your area recently.

Obtain a car history report. Private car sellers almost always sell a car "as is." This means it comes with no warranties. Because of this, you'll want to obtain a car history report by using a report service such as Only buy a car that has not been in an accident and which does not show repeated repair problems or other warning signs. Ask the seller to provide you with maintenance records to get a full history of the vehicle.

Inspect the title. The car title will indicate -- typically on the back of the document -- the name and location of the bank or lender that has a security interest in the vehicle. Write this down or ask the seller to give you a copy of title with the lien information.

Ask the seller to obtain a lien release. Before the seller can legally transfer the title to you, he or she must obtain a lien release from the lender. This can only happen if the owner pays off the remaining loan. If the seller needs to use the purchase funds to cover the lien, both you and the seller will have to travel to the bank or lending location to complete the transaction.

Go to the lending institution when you and the seller are ready to complete your transaction. A bank officer will facilitate the transfer of the vehicle once you give the purchase funds to the seller. The lender will then release the lien and transfer the title to you. You can then obtain a new title from your state's Department of Motor Vehicles.

Items you will need

  • Car title
  • Lien release


  • Do not buy a vehicle without first inspecting it. If you are not capable of performing an inspection on your own, ask a mechanic to inspect the vehicle for signs of crashes or any other significant problems.

About the Author

Roger Thorne is an attorney who began freelance writing in 2003. He has written for publications ranging from "MotorHome" magazine to "Cruising World." Thorne specializes in writing for law firms, Web sites, and professionals. He has a Juris Doctor from the University of Kansas.

Photo Credits

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