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Selling a Car: Can You Sell Your Car If You Don't Have the Title?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro January 2016

There are many important steps to selling a car, but possibly the most crucial is handing over the title to the new owner. After all, the title confirms the car's ownership status, making it the most important document to go along with virtually any sale. But what if you don't have the title? Can you still sell your car? Here's all the information you need to know about selling your car without the title.

The Bank Has the Title

The primary reason a car seller won't have a title is if the bank has it instead. This typically happens when a car is financed: the bank usually takes possession of the title until the vehicle owner pays off the loan.

So how do you sell a car if the bank has the title? We recently covered this process -- and it isn't as tricky as you might expect. All you have to do is find an accommodating buyer and work things out with your bank, determining the payoff and using the buyer's money to pay off the loan. From there, the bank gives the title to the seller, and the seller can give it to the buyer. If your bank is especially accommodating, it may even be possible to send the title directly to the buyer.

The Title Is Lost

Don't worry: losing a title isn't that big of a deal. In fact, it's so common that most states have an entire "lost title" section on their DMV websites to deal with this exact problem. Normally, losing a title is as simple as going to your local DMV and asking for a new one, which can be printed and mailed out within a week or two. If you need the title right away (because you've already sold your car, for instance), some states even offer on-the-spot title printing for an extra fee. You'll have to call your local DMV to make sure this is a service they provide.

Your State Doesn't Issue a Title

In some states, vehicle titles aren't issued for cars over a certain age. While this age is usually 25 years or older, some states don't even bother with titles for cars once they're 15 years old -- and that can make buying and selling used cars a little tricky, especially if you're selling a car with no title to an out-of-state buyer who needs one.

In this case, our advice is to write out a clear, dated bill of sale that includes all the particulars of the car you're selling, along with contact information and signatures for both the buyer and the seller. You may want to notarize the document for extra legitimacy. To register the car, the buyer or seller may need to fill out additional forms or complete extra paperwork before the new state will issue a new title.

Buyers: Be Careful

Our last message is to buyers interested in a vehicle whose seller says that he or she doesn't have a title. Although there are several legitimate reasons why someone selling a car may not have a title, there are also many illegitimate reasons -- like, for example, the car is stolen. We strongly suggest not paying anything for a vehicle until the title (or some similar ownership document) has been handed over, proving the car's seller actually owns the vehicle he or she is selling.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Selling a Car: Can You Sell Your Car If You Don't Have the Title? - Autotrader