How to Do a Car Title Search in Pennsylvania

by Scott Krohn

Including a title search as part of your due diligence before buying a used car can help you avoid problems with liens and also uncover events in the car’s past that a seller might prefer to remain hidden. In Pennsylvania, free and low cost services are available that let you search for titles and get comprehensive vehicle history reports.

Precautions and Red Flags

Your title search will require the vehicle identification number of the car under consideration. Take the VIN directly from the car to avoid being given a number from a similar car that has a better history. A second precaution is to continue your search even if the seller shows you a clean title. In Pennsylvania, liens placed by repair and storage facilities are filed with the state’s Department of Transportation, but won’t show up on an existing title. Consider the absence of a title as a red flag. Regardless of the reason given, you won’t be able to transfer ownership or register the car without it.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau

The NICB offers free title searches, but the information that is received from its partners is limited and provided on a selective basis. The organization’s 1,100 partners, most of which are insurance companies, report on auto thefts and cars that have been written off as total losses, but they can choose whether to provide both types of reports, or select to provide information on only one category. To conduct a title search with this service, go to the NICB website and click the box titled "VINCheck". Once on the VINCheck page, enter the VIN and the available title information will be displayed.

The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System

The Pennsylvania DOT refers all title searches to the NMVTIS. The NMVTIS site can be accessed from the Pennsylvania DOT site by clicking the "Search" tab at the bottom of the left column. Enter "NMVTIS" in the search box. When the results are returned, click the NMVTIS link. After being directed to Penn DOT's NMVTIS information page, click on the link for the NMVTIS site at the bottom of the text. As of 2015, title search services can be purchased from the list of approved vendors, which are displayed on the site, for $4.95.

Private Title Search Companies

Title search companies such as Carfax and Autocheck gather data from hundreds of sources to build comprehensive vehicle history reports, which include title searches. To order a VHR that includes title information, visit the home page of either service and enter the VIN where prompted. As of 2015, a single VHR can be purchased from Carfax for $39.99, or for $19.99 from AutoCheck. Both services also offer an unlimited number of reports. The charge for this option is $54.99 at Carfax and $44.99 at AutoCheck.

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