How to Sell a Car Without a Title

by Michelle NatiUpdated September 09, 2022
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It often happens that when someone wants to sell their car, they can’t find their title. The title shows who a vehicle’s owner is. When a person sells their car, they transfer the title to the new owner, who has to show it to the DMV to register it.

You can't sell a car without title.​ If you own the car outright and your title is missing, you’ll need to contact your local DMV for a duplicate and pay a small fee. If you have not paid off the car, the lien holder will hold the title until you do. However, you can trade the vehicle into a dealer who will pay off the loan and transfer the title.

The Purpose of a Title

When you purchase a car from a dealer or another owner, you’ll sign the car’s title making you its owner. If you purchase a vehicle with a lien against it, the lien holder’s information is on the title to ensure the person acquiring the vehicle pays the lien. Once they pay the car off, it is their name that is put on the title. A new vehicle has what is known as a clean title; however, damages and other life events will change the title to reflect those occurrences so future owners can see the vehicle's history. Other types of titles include:

  • Clear:​ A car with no debt against it
  • Salvage:​ A wrecked car that you may have trouble insuring due to the extent of its damage
  • Rebuilt or reconstructed:​ A salvaged vehicle that has been repaired for safe driving

The information on a title includes:

  • The vehicle’s vehicle identification number (VIN) make, model, and year
  • Its plate number
  • Technical information, including its gross weight
  • The name and address of the owner

Can You Sell a Car Without a Title?

No, you can't sell a car without a title​, as it declares legal ownership of a vehicle, and laws in every state require it for registering a vehicle. You’ll need a replacement copy of the title to sell the vehicle.

If you cannot locate the title, you can apply for a duplicate with your local DMV. Most DMVs require owners to complete an application online, by mail or in person and pay a small fee. Each state does things a little differently, so you’ll have to contact a DMV office in your area to find out what they require.

Can You Sell a Car with a Lien on It?

You can indeed sell a car with a lien on it, provided you handle the sale in the proper manner. If you still owe money on your car, contact the lien holder and ask them to give you the total amount left on the loan, as you’ll need to pay off the lien to sell to a private party before transferring the title.

You can also trade the car in at a dealership; it may pay off the loan as part of the trade-in. In that instance, the dealer typically makes the title transfer. When going through a dealer to trade in a vehicle, you’ll probably get less money for it, since the dealer is looking to make a profit on your car’s sale in the future. If you owe more than the trade-in value of the car, you’ll have to pay the difference between the remaining loan balance and the dealer’s trade-in offer.

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