How to Sell a Car Without a Title

Beverly Braga | Oct 26, 2020

Selling a vehicle is hardly a stress-free activity. Determining your car’s value, prepping the vehicle for beauty shots, posting an ad, receiving low-ball estimates from dealerships and resellers, and meeting with potential buyers takes up time and requires patience. Then, when you finally make the sale, it’s not as simple as just handing off the keys.

how to sell a car without a title

As with many things in life, there is paperwork. And perhaps the most important one regarding a vehicle is its certificate of title, colloquially known as the car title or pink slip. This is a legal document that establishes ownership of the vehicle. If leasing or financing a car, you will not see this document. Only when a vehicle is purchased does a car title materialize. 

There are four types of car titles, of which their descriptors are self-explanatory: Clean, Clear, Salvage, and Rebuilt/Reconstituted. And although versions vary from state to state, the basic information listed remains the same: 

Vehicle: make, model, body style, color, manufacturing year, vehicle identification number

Specifications: mileage at the time of purchase, license plate number

Owner: purchaser name, address, date of issue

But what happens if you’ve misplaced, damaged, or destroyed (thanks, Fido) the car title? Can you still sell your vehicle without a car title? The short answer is yes. The long answer is below.

Implications of Selling a Car Without Its Title

Once you’ve decided to sell your car, it’s best to gather up all related documents before listing the vehicle or negotiating a sale. While there are many legitimate and legal reasons why a vehicle might not have a title (e.g., paperwork lost, somebody abandoned the vehicle, the lender holds a lien), many prospective buyers will consider the lack of one suspicious. 

Also, consider that without proof of ownership, selling a vehicle is illegal in many states. After all, having a car title will show that the vehicle is not stolen property or obtained via dishonest methods. Even in those jurisdictions where it is permissible, an untitled vehicle still cannot be registered, insured, or legally driven on public roads.

How to Replace a Car Title 

So, once you realize a car title is gone, your first step should be to replace it. If you own the vehicle outright, apply for a copy from the state in which the car is registered. If the vehicle is financed or has a lien on it, you’ll need to request a copy directly from the lender. Some states also require you to hold a title for a certain period, such as 30 days, before transferring ownership.

As of last month, 24 states participate in an electronic lien and title (ELT) processing program that allows motor vehicle departments to send digital titles to car owners and lenders. However, for the rest of the country, processing times can take weeks, which could put your negotiated sale in jeopardy. 

Also, consider that although an online application may be expedient for you, processing time on the agency’s end may take longer. Double-check with your local DMV as they might offer in-person express services like on-site printing. Keep in mind that additional fees and forms may apply. 

Once you have your duplicate title, know that it will void the one it replaces. Should you find the original car title in the sofa cushions, for example, best to actually destroy it this time to avoid any issues down the road. 

Sales Exempt from Car Title Requirement

You’ve probably already determined that car titles are not a one-size-fits-all requirement. In fact, a vehicle can be completely exempt from needing a title in order to be sold. Below we’ll cover how to handle non-exempt and exempt vehicles as well as alternative proof of ownership methods. 

Request a transfer of ownership

Some states will allow sellers to transfer ownership of a vehicle without a title, but the responsibility will fall onto the buyer to obtain one. So, while this does allow you to complete a and gives the new owner a temporary permit to drive the vehicle, this would only work if a new or duplicate car title is being processed. Additional documentation, like a certificate of inspection from a state-approved facility, might be required as well.

Bill of sale

When it comes to classic cars, whether museum-quality collectibles or otherwise, many states will not issue a title if the vehicle is more than 15 to 25 years old. In this situation, a state may have a standardized bill of sale form, which buyers can then use to register the car. 

If your state does not have an official version, many templates are available online, or you can create your own. The document needn’t be fancy, and information on a bill of sale is virtually identical to that on a car title. Notarization is also a requirement in some states. Even if not, there’s little harm in notarizing a bill of sale. The cost is minimal and also adds a level of validity to the transaction.

Out-of-state buyers

A frustrating scenario might be selling to an out-of-state buyer who needs a title, but your state deemed the vehicle exempt. A bill of sale, even if notarized, might not be enough documentation. As a seller, you may have to provide additional documentation, like a copy of the vehicle’s registration in your state, for the new owner to obtain a new title and register the vehicle in their state. 

A separate notice of sale might be necessary as well. While this document would serve more like a receipt of the transaction and not be related to ownership rights, it and other forms may be needed for registration and licensing.

Always consider your state’s motor vehicle agency as a resource. Many documents are available online, along with a breakdown of any associated fees and inspection requirements. No one said selling a car is easy, but as long as you’re informed and prepared, the closer you are to closing the deal and doing something else with your time.

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