Buying a Car Without a Title: What You Need to Know | (2023)

You can buy a car without a title, but it should be approached with extreme caution. It involves researching the car’s history, talking to the seller, getting a bill of sale, (potentially) getting a lost title bond, and registering the car in your name.

A title proves legal ownership of a vehicle and is required to register it and purchase

car insurance

. There are legitimate reasons a seller may not have a title—but a missing title is a strong indication that the car might be stolen.

If the vehicle you’re looking at is missing a title, worry not. The car insurance comparison app and licensed broker


is breaking down everything you need to know about buying a car without a title. Here’s what you need to know to make the process as pain-free as possible.


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Can you buy a car without a title?

Buying or selling a car without a title is illegal in most states. And while you’re unlikely to face major consequences for doing so, you’ll encounter a lot of challenges.

Without a title, you can’t register your car, get license plates, or buy

car insurance

—which means you’ll be driving the car illegally.

A missing title could also indicate something illegal in the car’s history:

  • The car could be stolen

  • The seller could be title jumping—meaning the seller’s name isn’t on the title and they’re trying to avoid sales taxes

  • It could be a scam

  • The

    car could be a lemon


  • The car could have sustained water damage and be branded a flood car

Without a title, you’re also unable to take out a traditional

car loan

. Instead, you’ll need to take out a personal loan, which could be a costly endeavor

Key Takeaway Buying a car without a title comes with a host of problems, not the least of which is the car’s legal status.


Does a vehicle’s registered owner need to have car insurance?

Research the car’s history

If you’re still interested in buying a car without a title, you’ll need to do your own research on the car to understand the vehicle history. Here’s where you should start.

Get a vehicle history report

Run the vehicle identification number (VIN) through a reputable site like


or an

NMVTIS-approved data provider

to get a vehicle history report.

This report will tell you the legal title status of the car, as well as any history regarding previous incidents or

insurance claims

. You can use the report to confirm the information from the seller.


What is a CARFAX report?

Check with the DMV

Ask your local DMV to run a search on the VIN to confirm the status of the car. They will not be able to give you confidential information, like the name and address of the owner, but they can verify some vehicle history.

The DMV can also

check if there is a lien

on the vehicle. If you purchase a car with an active lien, you’ll be on the hook for the remainder of the loan agreement. It’s a good idea to contact the seller or financial institution to sort this out before continuing with the sale.

Make sure the vehicle isn’t stolen

Your local police department can run the VIN to confirm that the car isn’t stolen and hasn’t been involved in any illegal activities.

If you want to do this check yourself, run the above NMVTIS report and check the

National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB)

. The NICB will verify whether the vehicle has been reported stolen and not recovered or whether it’s been deemed a salvage or junk car by an insurance company.

Key Takeaway If there’s nothing worrisome in the car’s history and you still want to go ahead with the purchase, it will take about 8 to 12 weeks to complete the process.


How to buy a car from a private seller

Communicate with the seller

Don’t be afraid to ask the seller what happened to the title; it’s possible that it was lost or damaged. In this case, the seller can request a duplicate title from the DMV.

To get a replacement title, the seller will need to provide the name and address of the titleholder, the VIN, the car’s mileage, and proof of ownership.

It’s also smart to ask the seller about the car’s history. NMVTIS has a

useful checklist

to review with the seller before you move forward with the purchase.

If the seller doesn’t have the title, they may know how to contact the previous owner. You could also use the DMV to track down the last titled owner of the car. That person may be able to help obtain a duplicate title.

Key Takeaway The seller may be able to obtain a replacement title for the vehicle, which will save you a headache in the long run.


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Get a bill of sale

It’s crucial to have a written record of your purchase, so you will need an ironclad bill of sale. While it doesn’t hold the same legal weight as a title, it will offer some protection.

The bill of sale should include the following:

  • The terms of the agreement

  • VIN

  • Name of the last title owner

  • Contact information for all involved parties

In addition to the bill of sale, you’ll want a clear record of payment that can be proven later, if need be. A check or a bank draft would be a smart choice since these are written records of the purchase.


How to get car insurance before buying a car

Purchase a surety bond title

While they’re not available in all states, you may need to buy a surety bond or lost title bond before you can get a new title. A surety bond proves your ownership and ensures your responsibility for the car, protecting the DMV from loss of the vehicle or potential damages.

To obtain one, find a bond company and ask about their requirements for a lost title bond. The company will confirm the value of the vehicle to determine the amount of the bond, then, you pay a percentage of it. Once you’ve paid for the bond, you can register your vehicle.

Register your vehicle in your name

Once you’ve completed all of the above steps, you can return to the DMV to register the vehicle in your name. You will need to complete the necessary paperwork to ensure that the vehicle is properly registered, and only then will you be able to purchase insurance and drive the vehicle legally.


How to replace a lost or missing car title

Finding cheap car insurance

Now that you have purchased and registered your car, you’ll need car insurance to legally drive and be protected on the road.

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Can I sell my car to CarMax without a title?

No. CarMax requires that you have a valid title to sell your car to them.

What to do with a car that has no title

If you are the owner of the vehicle, contact your local DMV to get a replacement title. Apply for a Duplication of Title and provide the DMV with all pertinent information, including VIN, mileage, and proof of ownership.


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Is it illegal to buy a car in Texas without a title? ›

Texas State Title Regulations

Texan law requires an official title for all vehicle sales.

Can you register a car with a bill of sale and no title in Pennsylvania? ›

(b) Registration without certificate prohibited. --The department shall not register or renew the registration of a vehicle unless a certificate of title has been issued by the department to the owner or an application for a certificate of title has been delivered by the owner to the department.

Can you register a car with a bill of sale and no title in North Carolina? ›

Residents who are new to North Carolina or non-residents who have recently acquired a vehicle, must get the vehicle titled in North Carolina before registering it.

Can you register a car with a bill of sale and no title in Indiana? ›

1. Indiana Bill of Sale Requirements. You'll need to provide a bill of sale in Indiana when it isn't possible to obtain a valid title in order to register a vehicle in the state. Otherwise, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) doesn't require you to have a bill of sale for registration.

How to prove ownership of a car without the title in Texas? ›

Ask for a Manufacturer's Certificate of Origin.

That along with a bill of sale from the dealer will establish you as the legal owner of the car. With some dealers, you'll fill out the title for an application and they'll submit it to the state department of motor vehicles on your behalf.

Can you get a title with just a bill of sale in Texas? ›

Yes, but first, you must obtain a surety bond. While a bill of sale is a legal document that transfers ownership of that vehicle to you, it fails to mention whether there exist liens on the vehicle or not. The surety bond confirms the absence of liens on the vehicle.

Can you get a title with just a bill of sale in PA? ›

You need more than a bill of sale to transfer ownership of a vehicle in Pennsylvania. Additional documents will need to be presented to make the transaction official.

What documents are needed to transfer a car title in PA? ›

What is needed to do a Pennsylvania title transfer?
  • A vehicle title (or other “proof of ownership” documents such as Manufacturer Certificate of Origin, out-of-state title, or court order)
  • Application for Certificate of Title (Form MV-1)
  • Mileage.
  • Pennsylvania driver's license.
  • Proof of insurance.
Apr 21, 2022

How to buy a car without title in PA? ›

When buying a car without a title, you should:
  1. Run the VIN number to make sure the car isn't stolen.
  2. Meet in a public place and bring a friend.
  3. Get a detailed bill of sale from the seller.
  4. File for a replacement title at your local DMV.
Jan 14, 2021

What is the easiest state to register a car in? ›

What is the easiest state to register a vehicle? South Dakota is one of the easiest states to register a car in. You can register online if you have a South Dakota driver's license. Otherwise, you can register in person.

Can you register a car with a bill of sale and no title in Mass? ›

Obtain a Bill of Sale

In the state of Massachusetts, this is typically only necessary for registration if the vehicle is exempt from the Certificate of Title because of its age. In that case, the bill of sale and the previous owner's registration is needed to register the vehicle in Massachusetts.

How do I get a title for a car without a title in SC? ›

How to Apply for a Lost or Duplicate South Carolina Car Title
  1. Contact your local DMV. First, contact your DMV and tell them you'd like to apply for a South Carolina car title, explaining why you don't have the original title. ...
  2. Complete the South Carolina application for a certificate of title. ...
  3. Submit the application.

How much does it cost to transfer a title in Indiana? ›

New title/title transfer/vehicle title amendment: $15. Duplicate vehicle title: $15. Late fee: $30. Expedited vehicle title service: $25.

How much is a speed title in Indiana? ›

$15 title application fee. $30 additional administrative penalty will be assessed if the title application packet is not received within 45 days after the purchase date. $25 speed title fee. This optional fee is in addition to the $15 title application fee.

Can I register a car if my name is not on the title in Indiana? ›

The vehicle must first be titled in the resident's name; typically, IN residents can complete their titling and registration/transfer at the same time. Indiana residents are also responsible for the $9.50 plate transfer fee.

Can you go to jail for selling a car without a title in Texas? ›

Penalties for Fraudulent Transfer of Motor Vehicle

Under Section 12.34 of the Texas Penal Code, a third degree felony is punishable by imprisonment 2 – 10 years in prison. Depending on the circumstances of your case, in addition to your prison sentence you may be punished by a fine of up to $10,000.

How do I transfer a car title without a title in Texas? ›

In the state of Texas, you must have a vehicle title to transfer the title of a vehicle. If you have lost the vehicle title, you need to apply for a duplicate Texas vehicle title (Form VTR-34).

What happens if you sell a car and they don t transfer the title in Texas? ›

If the buyer does not sign the title and mail or give it to DVS, then the seller's name stays on the title of the car. If the buyer doesn't transfer the title within 10 days, the car's registration is suspended.

Is title skipping illegal in Texas? ›

Title jumping in Texas: If a vehicle seller engages in title skipping in Texas, but does not transfer a vehicle title to a new owner within 30 days of the sale, this individual pays a fine of up to $4,000. There are no fee waivers, with the seller also facing up to two years' imprisonment.

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