How to Check a Bank Lien on an Auto

You need to be careful when buying a used car to make sure you don't inherit a loan, or any other kind of lien against it. Most liens will be for vehicle loans, but some may be filed by mechanics or repair shops because of an unpaid bill. If you accept and record a title with a lien, you probably will be responsible for paying that debt.

Examine the title given you by the seller. Find the line that says "Lienholder" or something similar, normally on the back of the title where the seller signs to assign the car title to you. Ask the seller to explain or remove any lien listed there before you sign as "Buyer" to accept the assignment of title.

Check an online database of the National Motor Vehicle Registration System, vehiclehistory.gov, to find any liens or other claims against a vehicle you are thinking of buying. Open "Check Vehicle History," enter the Vehicle Identification Number and track the title history. Examine the complete title history to see what liens were ever recorded and when or if they were removed. Refer to one of several other vehicle information databases to reinforce this check.

Ask your state's motor vehicle division or other license-issuing agency, using the VIN, if any liens are recorded against that vehicle. Use this as an alternative to the national online system or as a double-check, before you buy a used car, especially from an individual. Make sure there are no liens recorded before you apply for a new title in your name and register the car to get a license.

Items you will need

  • Car title
  • Vehicle Identification Number

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About the Author

Bob Haring has been a news writer and editor for more than 50 years, mostly with the Associated Press and then as executive editor of the Tulsa, Okla. "World." Since retiring he has written freelance stories and a weekly computer security column. Haring holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri.