In most states, you must turn over your car title to the new owner upon sale. It’s non-negotiable – and it’s not a legal sale if you can’t transfer the title.
Why is the title so important? The car title is your legal proof of ownership. It documents the vehicle’s history (previous owners and severe damage) and identifies when you became the vehicle’s owner. If you can’t produce the title, then there’s no proof that you have the right to sell it.
However, not everyone can whip their title out of thin air. So, you'll need to learn how to sell a car without a title. In other cases, the bank may still own the vehicle, or you may have a repair lien on it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t sell the vehicle: you have a few extra hoops to jump through.
If you need cash fast, you can still sell your junk car even without a title. Here’s how to get it done.
How to Find Your Missing Title
A missing title isn’t the end of the world. Most of the time, it’s only a phone call (and a fee) away. However, it is worth trying to find your title before you sell it. Although there are plenty of reasons why car owners misplace their titles, buyers will be wary of a car without a title or a similar ownership document.
According to the law, the buyer doesn’t own the vehicle until they’re on the title – even if they give you the money. Also, they don’t know that the car is yours to sell. No buyer wants to drive away with a good deal only to get pulled over and accused of stealing the vehicle.
So, start by trying to find the title, and if it doesn’t work, then move on to the next section.
Apply for a Duplicate Title
If you can’t find your title and you have time to spare, then you can request a duplicate title from your DMV.
The process varies significantly according to your local department rules. Each state uses a specific form and method that may either be incredibly straightforward or include some bizarre practices.
For example, if someone you know took your car title and you can’t get it back, then the Oregon DMV won’t issue you a replacement title.
In other cases, the buyer is responsible for chasing down the title. New York places the onus on the buyer to find the title and switch the name over.
If you already have a buyer, ask your state if they can transfer ownership without the document. In some places, you can get a temporary permit to give to the buyer, which replaces the title while you wait for the duplicate. In other cases, you can transfer the ownership.
Either way, you still need to get that duplicate title.
Ask for the Title from the Bank
Do you still owe money on the car? Then, your bank keeps the title until you pay back your debt in full.
You can sell a car you owe money on, but you need to tell your bank, pay back the loan, and ask about the bank’s specific process for turning over the title to the new owner. Sometimes, your bank will help you by sending the title directly to the buyer.
The same applies if you have a lien on your vehicle. You need to complete the lien, and then you can get the title back and pass it on to the buyer.
Register Your Title as “Lost”
You know where your license and registration are because you use both at least once or twice a year. However, you might not have seen your title since the day you acquired the vehicle. If the title is lost, you can ask your DMV for a new one and register it as lost.
Because lost titles are such a common request, your state DMV may allow you to register your title as lost online. Then, you receive it in the mail in a few weeks, depending on how quickly your state's DMV operates.
If you’re willing to go into the DMV, then some states may provide one to you on the spot so that you can sell your car ASAP. However, it will cost you more.
There’s No Way to Get My Title
If you own a late model vehicle (or one under 20 years old), there’s a good chance that an online form or a trip to the DMV or the bank will solve your woes. It may take time and require you to wait in line, but it usually isn’t too difficult to solve.
However, you may find it more difficult if you have an older car. For example, if your vehicle is 25 years or older, then the state may have never issued a title for your vehicle in the first place.
And if your car is over 15 years old, then your state may not reissue your title.
For example, New Hampshire doesn't issue titles for model dated 1999 or older.
The magic of bureaucracy is that it doesn’t matter if the DMV won’t issue a title: you still typically need one to sell.
What can you do?
There are two answers: call a junk or salvage yard or write out a comprehensive bill of sale (also known as a title-exempt bill of sale form).
Call a Junk Buyer or Salvage Yard
The most straightforward way to ditch a car without a title is to ask around at your local junk buyer or salvage yard.
Some junk buyers will only take cars when you can produce the title. However, some may accept your proposition if you can demonstrate proof of ownership. In some cases, you can provide your proof of registration and your license and trade your car for cash.
If they’re willing to take your car, they will provide you with a complete list of documents needed to process the sale legally.
How to Write Out a Bill of Sale
A complete bill of sale is the only step available to you if you want to sell your car without a title.
The bill of sale needs to include all the details of the car, including the make, model, year, and VIN. It also needs to include all your information (name, contact details, registration details). Finally, you need to add the buyer’s details.
In some cases, you may need to notarize the bill of sale for it to stand up as a legal document. Not all states require you to do so, but it’s a good idea if you can because it will make the registration process easier for your buyer.
If you’re unsure about what you need, ask your state DMV. Many states provide a template or provide you with a list of the required information.
Do you need to provide a bill of sale because your vehicle is technically “title-exempt?” You may also need to fill out exempt title forms with the DMV. Your state’s DMV website will show you precisely what you need to do, including whether you need a certificate from an inspector.
What if the Buyer Lives Out of State?
Things are trickier if the buyer wants to register the car in a state other than your state of residence. It’s particularly complicated if their state uses titles for all vehicles and doesn’t have a title-exempt process.
However, a notarized bill of sale should work in most cases. As the seller, you may have to provide further proof of your formal ownership, including a copy of the registration.
Each state has its own rules about what needs to happen for a legal sale. Both the buyer and the seller should contact their respective DMVs before completing the transaction.
Now You Know How to Sell a Car Without a Title
If you can't find your title, then the first thing you need to do is go to the DMV and report it as lost or apply for a duplicate title. Why? Because in most states, you can't legally sell a titled car without a title, and most buyers will walk away from the sale if you can't or won't produce it.
In some cases, you can use a bill of sale or provide the correct documentation to another type of cash buyer, like a junk buyer, who will take the vehicle off your hands.
Do you have more questions about how to sell a car without a title? We might buy it. See what we can do for you.