Buying a Car Without a Title: What You Need to Know

You can buy a car without a title—but you’ll need to research the car’s history, get a bill of sale, and register the car in your name before you can drive it.
Written by Melanie Reiff
Reviewed by Carrie Adkins
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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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