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How To Get A Title For A Car You Just Bought

5-minute readJanuary 03, 2022

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Learning how to successfully buy a car is an accomplishment worth celebrating, but the car isn’t legally yours until you learn how to get a title for your car. The purpose of a vehicle title is to prove ownership. If you have a car loan that hasn’t been paid off yet, your lender will have a lien placed on your car and hold the title until you pay off your loan. Once you pay off your loan, the lender will release the lien to you.

When transferring a title, states typically allow new legal owners 15 to 30 days to transfer ownership to the new registered owners. That said, the processing time varies by state and those days can go by quickly.

Understanding the car title transfer process is important so you can wrap up the paperwork and enjoy your new ride.

Why Car Title Transfers Matter

A Certificate of Title is a legal document that includes information such as the make, model, year and owner of a car. It's a key document for proof of ownership purposes, and you can't prove you own a vehicle without it. A state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) typically handles title transfers, with Hawaii being a notable exception. In Hawaii, you need to reach out to the county-level authorities.

You shouldn't buy a car without researching how to recognize an original title from a duplicate title, or without understanding the car title transfer process. Knowing what the local laws are and transferring the title as soon as possible can save you both time and headaches. 

How To Replace A Lost Title

If you’re selling your car but are unable to locate your original title, you can replace your missing title with a new one. You should start by visiting your state’s DMV website to determine exactly what they need to issue a new title, but here are a few common things you should be prepared to provide:

  • Financing information that shows the lien has been released by paying off your car loan. If you haven’t paid off your car loan, your lender still holds the title to your car.
  • The year, make and model of your car
  • Your vehicle’s VIN, which can be found on the forward part of your dashboard where it meets the windshield on the driver’s side. Or for some newer vehicles, on a sticker inside the driver’s side door jamb
  • Your driver’s license and current vehicle registration
  • Payment for your state’s fee for replacing a title

How To Transfer A Car Title

It’s actually fairly easy to transfer a title for a car. The seller simply needs to sign the back of the title document, also commonly referred to as a “pink slip,” and list some basic information, including the odometer reading. Once the title is signed, the previous owner relinquishes ownership along with all liability from the listed odometer reading onward. From there, the new owner will collect a new title from the DMV and register the car in their name. 

Before you transfer a car title, you should be aware of what documents you'll need and who pays taxes. The buyer is always responsible for sales tax, but if you gift a car worth more than $15,000 as a single person or $30,000 as a married couple, you'll need to fill out a gift tax form when filing your tax return. 

Typically, you'll need the following documents to transfer a car title: 

  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
  • License plate number
  • Owner's information (Name, ID, address, telephone number)
  • Title holder's information
  • Cost of sale (if applicable)
  • Owner's signature

The process of transferring a title is generally slower and more involved than requesting a duplicate or replacement title, as those procedures have more modest legal ramifications and typically only require adequate proof of identity. The transfer process may be accomplished in various ways:

Online

In many states, you can transfer the car title online and pay for any fees with your credit card. The availability of online transfer and the process vary by state, so you'll have to check your state's DMV website to confirm that it's an option and follow the steps it lays out. 

By Mail

If transferring a title or visiting the DMV in person isn't possible or practical, mailing the signed title and associated documents is an alternative. Make sure you have everything needed to transfer car titles in your state, and then mail the documents to the DMV.

In Person

You can obtain a title in person by:

  1. Receiving the signed title from the previous owner.
  2. Collecting other necessary documents such as the bill of sale or title transfer.
  3. Presenting the documents at your local DMV office.

Car Title Transfer FAQs

Besides the information above, you may have other questions about car title transfers. Here are the answers to a few common car title transfer FAQs. 

What does a car title look like?

Despite people calling them pink slips, car titles are rarely pink today. Their appearance varies by state, but they consistently contain key information such as VIN, make, model, date of registration and odometer reading. Discoloration and incorrect information are clues that a car title is fake. 

How long does it take to process my title application?

The time it takes to process a title application differs from state to state and can vary by the method of transfer. Transferring a title online will invariably be faster than by mail. Some states suggest 6 – 8 weeks as a normal time frame, while others advise that applicants can expect their new title in less than 90 days. 

How do I transfer my car title to a new state?

Depending on the state, buying a car out-of-state may add an additional bit of research. Some states will allow you to use the existing title to register the car, while others, such as Florida, require you to present proof of ownership with the original title and pay for a new title. 

The Bottom Line: Car Title Transfers Have Entered the Digital Age

It doesn't have to be difficult or time-consuming to get a title for a car, especially now that the entire process can often be completed online and away from the DMV. However, this makes it all the more important to be aware of potential fraud and only deal with reputable, trustworthy institutions. It pays to understand the title transfer process, as it helps keep you protected and on the right side of the law. 

In today’s digital world, you can reap all the benefits of buying from a dealership, including their infrastructure that takes care of the car title transfer process, by learning more about how to buy a car online.

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