Can You Sell a Car If You Lost the Title?

by Jackie Lohrey

A car title establishes one or more people as the legal owners of a vehicle. It also displays the vehicle’s identification number and the odometer reading as of the last transfer of ownership and specifies whether there’s a lien holder. State Motor Vehicle Departments usually require that a title be present whether you’re selling, donating or salvaging a vehicle. Without the title, you usually can't transfer ownership. If you misplace or lose an original title, your only alternative solution in most states is a duplicate title.

Why Is a Title So Important?

From a practical standpoint, a car title protects both a lien holder and a buyer. It ensures the lien holder receives payment because you can’t complete a title transfer without a lien release. A buyer can match the VIN on a title to the VIN on the vehicle and find out if the odometer reading on the title is less than the reading on the vehicle.

From a state DMV perspective, titling not only establishes ownership but also provides a basis for collecting taxes and fees. In addition, a database containing vehicle title information assists law enforcement personnel.

How to Replace a Lost Title

State DMV laws outline the procedures for getting a duplicate title. Some states will only issue a duplicate title in person, while others will process a duplicate title request online. Regardless, you’ll need to complete a duplicate title application, pay the required fee and supply the required identification documents and information.

For an in-person request, this usually means a copy of your valid driver’s license or state identification card. For an online request, you'll typically need to provide the last four digits of your Social Security number, your driver’s license or state ID number, and personal identification information such as your birth date and eye color.

In most states, same-day service is available for an additional fee. Otherwise, the duplicate will arrive by postal mail within seven to 10 business days.

Alternate Options

Some states will complete a title transfer without a title if you and the buyer appear together at the DMV office. For example, in Michigan you can transfer a title as long as you appear with the buyer and you have the required documents – in this case the current registration card and a release from the lien holder.

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