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Understanding car titles
How to make changes to your car's title and ownership.
Your car title is like your car’s birth certificate. The information on a title is extremely important, so it all needs to be accurate. The title to your vehicle provides proof of ownership, and you might need it for a handful of situations, like selling your car. Discover how to get a copy of your title, when you might need it and how to make changes to your car title.
What's in this guide?
- What's on a vehicle title?
- How do I add or remove people from my car's title?
- When do I get my title after paying my vehicle off?
- Do I need my car title to get car insurance?
- How do I transfer my car title registration when I move states?
- What happens to a title when I sell the car?
- Can I transfer my car title online?
- How do I get a new car title or check my current title?
- What should I do if I can't find my car title?
- Bottom line
- Frequently asked questions about car titles
What’s on a vehicle title?
Several important pieces of info can be found on your car title.
- Your vehicle’s VIN. The vehicle identification number of a car remains consistent no matter who owns it. It can be used to track ownership, accidents and even repair and maintenance records.
- Make and model info. This includes the car’s model year, as well as any additional model information for trim upgrades or special engine options.
- Title number. Used as an administrative tracking tool.
- Date title was issued. Extremely important — this is used to track when you bought or sold the vehicle.
- Odometer reading when issued. This is also very important, and it’s used as a way to verify when you bought or sold the vehicle in question. Verifying ownership becomes vital when a crime is committed with the vehicle, and this info can be helpful to the police if your vehicle is ever stolen.
- Weight class. Typically the higher a vehicle’s weight class is, the more it will cost for annual registration.
- Full name and address of owner or lender. This might be your home address, or it could be the name and address of the bank that loaned you money to buy the car if you’re still making payments.
How do I add or remove people from my car’s title?
Adding or removing people from your car title is similar to getting a new title. Typically, you’ll need to file for a new title, and then update the owner info fields.
Contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to find the right form for updating owners on a vehicle.
When do I get my title after paying my vehicle off?
Typically after you make your last payment to the bank or dealership your car title will be sent to you in the mail. The title that is sent to you should reflect all the correct information, including having your name and address on it, since you’re the true owner of the vehicle now.
If you don’t receive it within a month, contact the bank that held your car loan to find out when you should receive it. And if you still run into issues, contact your local DMV.
Do I need my car title to get car insurance?
For the most part, no. Most car insurance providers don’t require you to show the car title when you’re purchasing a policy. For drivers with a car loan or lease, you typically won’t even get the title with ownership rights until you pay off the loan.
You can also get insurance for a car you don’t own by getting a nonowners car insurance policy.
Do I need my car title to register my car?
No, you don’t need the title as long as you have proof the car is yours.
For example, if you have a loaned or leased car, you will need to show proof of ownership instead until you pay off your car and the title is in your name.
If you bought a car without any proof of title or ownership, you’ll need to contact the DMV about getting a new title. This should be a similar process as replacing a lost car title, though you might need to do a little more legwork to get proof the car is yours now.
How do I transfer my car title registration when I move states?
You’ll need to update your license, car insurance and registration when you move states. Although you don’t have to update your car title when you move to a new address, it might make it easier if you’ll be selling your car in the future.
- Find out how long you have to update registration in your state.
- Search online to find the forms you’ll need to fill out for your state’s DMV.
- Some states require state vehicle inspections to complete your registration.
- Go to your local DMV to get your new license plate and driver’s license and transfer your title.
- In some states, you’ll need to bring your new license and plate to your local county clerk office to update or transfer your car’s title.
- Keep your new car registration papers in your car and update any registration stickers on your license plate.
What happens to a title when I sell the car?
There are two additional sections to the vehicle title designated to reassigning ownership. The buyer and seller both fill out what’s called the Title Assignment section and enter the following info.
- Buyer and seller information, usually name and address
- Odometer reading
This title assignment can only be filled out once, and it can’t be corrected or amended. No scratching things out or erasing them. Because this form is so important, your focus and penmanship should be top-notch when you’re filling it out.
What kind of documentation do I need after selling my car?
After you sell your car, you must keep a copy of the reassigned title for at least 18 months. But why would you need to keep track of a vehicle you’ve gotten your money for and sent down the road?
Let’s say you sell a car to someone in a private sale. Both you and the buyer fill out the title transfer properly, and the new owner goes on their way.
Now six months later you receive a letter or phone call telling you your vehicle, the one you sold, has been impounded after some criminal activity. You’re told that you’re responsible for coming to get the car, as well as the damages from an accident the vehicle was involved in — you’re still listed as the owner.
How could this be possible?
If the person who bought the car never registered it in their name, you can still be held liable for what happened with the car after you sold it. This is where your proof of sale will come in handy with the title reassignment form — by presenting this information to the police and any other parties involved, you can prove that you aren’t responsible for the vehicle anymore.
What happens if I don’t sell my car directly?
If you trade in your car or sell it to a third party, you might never deal with the new buyer directly. It’s up to the dealership and new owner to transfer the title, but that’s no guarantee they will. It’s up to you to make sure the title changes hands correctly or you could still be responsible for a car you no longer own.
For example, let’s say you trade in your car with a dealership. The buyer doesn’t update the title in the required 30 days, and then the buyer gets a parking ticket. The car’s VIN is still registered to you, so you get the bill for the parking ticket in the mail.
Now you’re stuck with a parking ticket that wasn’t your fault because the dealer and buyer didn’t follow the right process for transferring a title. Your next options in this scenario are to contact the dealership or DMV to remove yourself from the title.
After selling your car, confirm with the buyer or third party that the title has properly transferred. Keep proof of sale and any other supporting documents in case you need to dispute issues that come up after the sale.
How do I get proof of the car sale?
You can use the title certificate with the new owner’s name, the bill of sale or the sales tax form as proof you sold your car. You can download a bill of sale from your state’s DMV website for both parties to sign.
If you need additional documentation, contact the buyer for additional proof. If your car was a trade-in, ask the dealership for proof of sale and submit it to the DMV. Dealerships have no obligation to make sure your car’s future buyer fills out the proper transfer paperwork, so this is a good idea to protect yourself from future legal issues.
Can I transfer my car title online?
The exact process for changing ownership on a car’s title varies by state, but many states will process online or mailed title applications. You can check with your state’s DMV website or customer service for that process.
For example, the state of Georgia allows sellers to start the application online and then contact the local county tag office for instructions. New York accepts applications at the DMV or mailed directly to its Title Bureau.
How do I get a new car title or check my current title?
We get it, you may have lost your original title or never received one after buying or paying off your car. Unfortunately it’s going to take a bit of paperwork and a fee, typically less than $20, to get a new title sent to you. The good news is that it can be done through standard channels with your DMV.
These forms are accurate at the time of writing, but you might want to check with your local DMV to make sure you have the most recent forms.
What should I do if I can’t find my car title?
There are a few ways to find your car title:
- Contact any existing lien holders. This could be a bank or credit lender.
- Get in touch with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Depending on your location, the DMV will either send the title by mail or require you to pick it up at a local branch.
- Apply for a duplicate title with your state’s DMV. If you know basic details about your car, such as your VIN and license plate number, you can request a duplicate title for a fee. Most states can expedite this process, and some states — like California — allow you to apply online.
A car title reveals key details about your ride, like its VIN, make and model and the address of the owner or lender. It’s important that you maintain an accurate car title, which means you may need to make changes if you sell your car or move states.
While you’re in administrative mode, compare car insurance policies to get the best coverage for your ride.
Frequently asked questions about car titles
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