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How To Sell A Car Without A Title: A Step By Step Guide

Hanna Kielar6-minute read
UPDATED: December 13, 2022


If you want to sell your vehicle but you’ve misplaced its title, you may feel as though you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Can you sell a car without a title? The good news is that even if you’re not in possession of a title, there are steps you can take to recover your title and sell your car.

Can You Sell A Car Without a Title?

Yes, you can sell a car without a title if you have proof of ownership. Selling a car without proof of ownership is illegal in most states. That said, it’s not uncommon to discover that you don’t have your car’s title in your possession. 

The simplest solution is to request a duplicate title through your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Sometimes, you may not even need a title to sell your car. We’ll dive deeper into all your options later on.

Can You Trade In A Car Without A Title?

If you live in one of the 24 states that has an Electronic Lien and Titling (ELT) Program, you can trade in your car without a title. Dealerships can access the entire ELT system to confirm and transfer ownership. Compared to a private party sale, trade-ins through dealerships in ELT-eligible states are far more convenient. Even without a title, you could start your trade in today with a Rocket AutoSM dealership partner.

Private party sales do require a title in hand to transfer ownership, though. You’ll need to plan ahead and request a duplicate title, which can take weeks or longer, depending on your local DMV.

While it may take extra waiting time, it’s fairly easy to replace your title. We broke down how to order a duplicate title and sell your car in five steps.

Step 1: Find Out If Your Vehicle Is Exempt

If your car is more than 15 – 25 years old or considered a collectible, it could be exempt. This means the state won’t issue a title for the vehicle and the only proof of ownership required to register it is a bill of sale. 

It’s also possible that your state will allow you to sell your car without a title, so long as you begin the retitling process and legally transfer ownership to the new buyer, who would be issued a temporary permit. This could allow you to sell sooner, though the buyer would take on the burden of completing the retitling process. Since titling varies by state, your best bet is to research sales exempt requirements in your jurisdiction.

Step 2: Learn How To Replace A Car Title

For most people, the best solution will be to apply for a duplicate title at the local DMV. You may not even have to step foot in a DMV office if your state has an ELT program. For example, the California DMV allows you to transfer ownership using its online system, and also offers rush title processing for a fee.

Here's what you can do if you don’t have the title, depending on the circumstance:

  • The title is under a lien: Contact your lender directly and tell them you want to sell your vehicle. They’ll give you instructions on how to sell your car with a lien on it and get the title released to you.
  • The title is lost or damaged: Submit an Application for Duplicate title with your DMV. The DMV will guide you through the steps to complete this process.
  • The car was stolen: Find your bill of sale to show as proof of ownership when you request a duplicate title from the DMV.
  • You moved out of state: It’s time to learn the titling laws in your new state. If both states use an ELT program, you can likely complete the process entirely online. If not, the process may involve a trip to the DMV.

Gather Your Documents

Set yourself up for success and make sure to gather the following documents before applying for a replacement title:

  • Your vehicle make, model and year
  • The vehicle identification number (VIN)
  • Your bill of sale and vehicle financing information
  • Your current address and proof of residence
  • Your driver’s license

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Step 3: Request A New Title If Necessary

Requesting a new title means you want to change the title status. Preferably, you’ll have the necessary documents to request a transfer of ownership.

If you apply for a new title, you need to show the original bill of sale that proves your ownership as a buyer along with the bill of sale that proves it has changed ownership, with you as the seller. If you can apply for an abandoned vehicle title, the DMV will attempt to locate the last owner of record and confirm the sale.

Step 4: Write Up A Bill Of Sale

A bill of sale is the most important piece of information needed to transfer a title. Visit your state’s DMV or Secretary of State website to download a bill of sale template. If your state doesn’t have an official template available, you can search the internet and find one to follow.

The information on a bill of sale is the same as what’s provided on the vehicle title. Make sure to include:

  • The make, model and year of the vehicle
  • The current mileage on the vehicle
  • The VIN
  • Your address
  • The buyer's name and address
  • A notarized signature

If you’re selling to an out-of-state buyer, you may need to provide a copy of the vehicle registration in your state, the bill of sale and a notice of sale so the new owner can transfer the title. If you’re unsure of what you need, contact your DMV for more information.

Title Exempt Bill Of Sale

For title exempt vehicles, all the buyer needs to register the car in their name is a notarized bill of sale. For most titled vehicles, notarization requirements vary by state, but it’s a good idea to include this in your documentation even if it’s not a requirement. This especially holds true for title-exempt vehicles. If your vehicle is more than 15 years old or considered a collectible, notarize the bill of sale to ensure the new owner can register it.

Step 5: Sell Your Car

There’s a lot that goes into selling your car before signing on the dotted line. Selling to a dealership is the simplest option because they fill out all the legal paperwork for a living.

If you’re selling to a private party, however, you should know how to fill out the pink slip, another colloquialism for the Certificate of Title. First, you’ll want to make sure that the title is not a copy.

A completed pink slip will include the following:

  • Registered owner’s signature: If there are two names listed under “Registered Owner(s),” make sure both owners sign the release section of the form. If the names are separated by an “OR,” only one owner signature is required to legally release interest in the vehicle.
  • Odometer disclosure signatures by both buyer and seller: At the time of sale, write down the number of miles on the vehicle, sign on the dotted line and make sure the buyer does the same.
  • Buyer’s information: The backside of the pink slip will ask for the new owner’s name, mailing address, driver’s license number and signature.
  • Sale information: Make sure the buyer accurately dates the time of sale and the value that the vehicle was purchased at.

Don’t worry about any sections that are labeled for dealership or lease use only. Again, we strongly recommend completing an official bill of sale for your records. Once the pink slip is filled out and the buyer has paid you, you can hand over the title and your car keys. The buyer will take it from there.

Still Can’t Get The Title?

If all attempts to obtain a replacement title fail, consider applying for a bonded title. Once you put up a cash bond equal to the car’s estimated value, a bonded title declares you the legal owner of the vehicle. If there’s a future conflict, the bond can satisfy a ruling in favor of someone else claiming to own the vehicle. Regardless of how or why you lost your car title, it’s usually possible to get a replacement through your DMV or Secretary of State. Call or visit your DMV and ask for the appropriate paperwork and steps to follow. In most cases, you can pay a fee to obtain a replacement title as long as you have valid proof of ownership.

It can take up to 2 months to receive a new title after applying. While you're waiting, start researching how much your vehicle is worth, so you’re ready to sell when you receive the title.

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Rocket Auto can help narrow down your car options to help you make the right choice.

Hanna Kielar

Hanna Kielar is a Section Editor for Rocket Auto℠, RocketHQ℠, and Rocket Loans® with a focus on personal finance, automotive, and personal loans. She has a B.A. in Professional Writing from Michigan State University.