Driving a car involves much more than getting behind the wheel and stepping on the gas pedal. There are intricate legalities tied to vehicle ownership, and the title of your car is one of the most critical documents you must possess.
However, many questions surrounding the concept of vehicle titles remain a mystery for some. One such query is: “Can you drive a car without a title?”
Driving a car without a title in most states in the US is illegal. There are fines attached to it, and sometimes, your car is impounded. To drive a car, you should have a certificate of title to prove you own it, which is crucial for law enforcement, insurance, and resale purposes.
This may have seemed like a straightforward question, but as you can see the answer is more complex than a simple yes or no. It’s a matter that calls for a deep dive into specific scenarios, regulations, and guidelines that vary from state to state.
That’s why we offer a comprehensive exploration of circumstances under which you may drive without a title, how to navigate issues related to a missing title, and the legal implications tied to these situations. Whether you’re a car owner, buyer, or seller, the insights you’ll find in this article will be highly beneficial.
When Can You Drive A Car Without A Title Legally?
However, you can drive a car without a title under certain conditions and a specific time frame. They may include
If The Title Is With A Lien
In the US, Many car purchases are funded. In this case, the lender or credit union will be included as a lien owner in the title.
So most times, the lien holds the title pending when the loan is completely paid. The owner may legally drive the car within this period even if he doesn’t have the title.
So, after the loan is paid, the lien will be lifted, and the certificate of title sent to the owner.
If You Misplace The Title
Things get lost now and then. So it could be like that for the vehicle title. If your title gets lost or damaged, you can still drive your car.
However, even if the title is lost, it will not affect using the car; you should replace it. And do this quickly, too, to avoid unnecessary drama from authorities.
To replace a title, you would need to go to the local DMV of your state. Then fill out a form for title replacement. Take along with you your ID, and proof of ownership, and a duplicate of the car registration.
You will also pay a fee to get your title replaced.
Best, you can visit the DMV websites to get information on replacement requirements.
If The Seller Has Not Signed Or Delivered the Title
There are cases where a seller has a lien keeping the certificate of title. This is because the seller has not fully paid off the loan.
So, in a case where a seller has just finished paying the loan, he may not get the title immediately.
During this waiting period, a buyer can drive the car.
When the lien holder finishes the process, the seller can have the certificate transferred to him. After which, he signs the certificate and gets it transferred to the buyer.
If The Title is Still Being Transferred
In California, for example, you are only given ten days to drive while you wait for the title.
So, When a buyer purchases a car, it is wise that the buyer and seller complete the paperwork together. If not, it will take longer to have the title transferred to the buyer’s name. In some states, it may take days or even weeks.
In Wisconsin, for example, it takes exactly three weeks for the department of transportation to get a title transferred to a buyer’s name.
During this time, the buyer is regarded as the car owner but won’t hold the title. So he has the right to drive the car within that time.
Why Is A Title Important?
A certificate of title, also called the pink slip, proves that you’re the car owner. It is usually issued to you by the department of motor vehicles (DMV). The title can be for a personal or business vehicle. There are different types of titles, and they may include
- Clean title, for cars with legal title status and good working condition
- salvaged title, for cars with mechanical issues
- flood title, for cars whose engine parts have been damaged by floodwaters.
When getting a title, ensure you get a clean (good) title.
You also need to make sure to prevent title fraud when buying a car, as the video below talks about:
Should You Buy A Car Without A Title?
Ideally, it is not advisable to buy a car without a title. This is because you might get involved in some legal cases.
First, after buying a car, you will need to register it. And if you do not have the title, you cannot register it since the title proves you own the car. And if you can’t register it, you can not insure and drive it.
Now ask yourself, if I can’t drive a car I am buying, is there a reason I should buy it?
For the record, driving a car without a title is illegal. So if you attempt driving it, your car might be impounded, and you may end up paying fines.
However, there are ways to go about it if you so love the untitled car.
I Love This Car, But It Doesn’t Have A Title; What Can I Do To Keep It?
First, find out why the seller does not have the car’s title. The reasons might be genuine or criminal. It could be that.
- The original owner has lost the title
- Title was misplaced
- The vehicle was stolen
- The car was damaged by water and tagged as a flood car by an insurance company.
- Or the seller is trying to skip the title process
In a case where the title got damaged or misplaced by the seller, it can be fixed. All the seller needs to do is to go to the department of motor Vehicles (DMV). Present all the necessary documents, fill the required form, and pay a replacement fee. Then you can have your beloved car.
But in other cases where the car was stolen, tagged as a flood car, or the seller is skipping the title process. It would help if you walked away from that car. You may end up spending time and money you could have invested in other things. And still would not be able to keep the car.
Lastly, even if the seller gives you a genuine reason why the title is unavailable, make your findings. This is to ensure that the seller is telling the truth. It will help safeguard your time and money.
How To Verify A Seller’s Claim About A Missing Title
Now, you’ve known why the car does not have a title. But to be on the safe side, you may need to verify the seller’s claim. You can do this by doing the following.
Run A Check For The Car’s History
The car’s history will tell if the seller is stating the truth or not. Autocheck and Carfax could play a huge role here. They help to run a car’s history check using your Vehicle identification number (VIN). Among many of their services, they could help you ascertain
- The legal title status of the car
- Previous records of accidents
- Odometer readings
- The place the car was formerly registered
- Insurance claims on the car
- Service reports etc
If you find out that the reports are contrary to the seller’s claim, after running these checks, you may need to go for another car.
Check With The Previous Owners
You can contact the previous owners of the vehicle in person or online. This most times is possible if the seller has a bill of sale of the prior owner. (This bill contains all the information about the last owner)
When you meet the previous owner, implore him to assist you in getting a title for the car. And assure him that you will pay for the cost to do it.
The previous owner’s willingness to help might be the fastest means to get a new title.
Check With DMV
Some questions about a car could be answered by a local DMV or offices that register vehicles. They can get certain information about the car history, including vehicle status, using the VIN.
However, there is certain information they may not allow you to access—for example, names and addresses.
Another thing the DMV can do is verify if there is a Lien on the car. If you buy an untitled car with a lien, the lenders may come for you to pay the remaining loan.
If you find out about the lien, try to contact the seller and the lien holding company. Ensure that everything is settled before going on with the purchase.
Check With The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB)
The NICB can help verify the legal status of a car using the VIN. This, too, they do freely. They can also help to
- confirm whether the vehicle was stolen
- or if the car was filed as a junk or salvage car by an insurance company
With this check, you can avoid any legal issues that will surface later. A car with such problems will generate legal matters for you. And in the end, you may lose all your money because you might not be able to recover your money from the seller after the authorities seize the car.
But if everything seems good, you can go ahead with the purchase.
How To Legally Own A Car You Purchased Without A Title
Now, you know why the car does not have a title, and you’ve been able to verify the seller’s claim. The next is to ensure you legally own it. So what do you do?
Ask The Seller To Request For A Duplicate Title
Here, the form one fills may differ from state to state. The seller only needs to ask for a duplicate title from the DMV. The DMV will request the seller to provide
- Name and addresses of the titleholder
- The vehicle’s VIN
- Vehicle’s mileage
- Proof that he owns the car he wants to sell.
It might take a few days to process this request and get a new title. However, if the seller provides the wrong information, the request will be rejected. To ensure that this process goes through before making payment.
Obtain A Bill Of Sale
If you can’t wait for the title to arrive, the next option is to complete a bill of sale.
The bill of sales is a vital process in the sales of vehicles. But when it comes to purchasing an untitled car, it is essential.
Before paying for the car, write out a bill of sales containing the sales details plus the VIN, price, and vehicle’s odometer reading. Ensure you include that the seller will provide the title on this bill.
Also, ensure you have detailed information about yourself and the seller on the bill. This information may include Full legal names, phone numbers, addresses, and driver’s licenses.
Lastly, when using this method, make payments in ways you can prove. A check or a draft might be a viable option. If anything comes up in the future, you can prove that you paid and rightly own the car.
Get A Surety Bond Title
You may not get a surety bond title in all states, but some do it. This process will require you to submit proof of purchase, address, and evidence that the car is not salvaged. You will also pay a fee for this.
To determine the bond amount, the bond company will need to evaluate your car. Once the company has verified all these, you then pay a certain percentage of the bond amount.
This amount varies from one state to another. But it is not higher than 1.5 multiplied by your car’s cost.
Your credit score and other financial records may also determine the bond amount.
You can remove a bonded title within 3-5 years if no problem surfaces with the bond title within this time.
Note that anyone can dispute the car’s ownership within these years, leading to a court trial. So ensure that all documents are kept intact.
When the waiting time elapses, you can get a good title and register the car’s title in your name.
Get The Car Registered In Your Name
As soon as you pay for a car, get it registered in your name. While some states will let you register without a title, some wouldn’t.
So how do you register a car without a title?
In this case, you will be issued a non-transferable registration by a state agency. Meaning that the vehicle is registered with the state, and as such, it can only be for personal use. Note that you cannot sell this car to another with this status.
All the records regarding your car’s registration or title transfer can be accessed on the state’s vehicle registration website. You can also visit the state’s office or contact them on the phone.
Can You Sell A Car Without A Title?
In many states, selling a car without a title is illegal, whether legally owned or not.
So even if you sell it in a state where buying an untitled car is legal, you may not find buyers. This is because the majority of buyers will feel you stole the car.
To them, they will never get a title for a stolen car. No title, no registration. And without registration, buyers won’t be able to insure and drive the car.
No doubt, you can drive a car without a title. But know that it is under certain conditions and specific periods.
Non-adherence to these conditions and time frame could result in your car being impounded. In other cases, you might be fined.
Again, buying an untitled car in most states is illegal. However, you can take the necessary steps to get your title if you so love the car. A surety bond is there; you can ask the seller to get a duplicate title and get your vehicle registered.
Ensure the reason the seller can’t provide a title is genuine. If you miss it here, you will not just waste your time, but money as well.
Lastly, the title is essential and the only proof that you own the car. So ensure you get it at all costs.
If you’ve got more questions about your car then consider checking our articles on whether you can drive a car without a CV axle, or if it’s legal to drive a car without a catalytic converter, and many more!
Hi! My name is Stefan; I’m the owner and lead writer at TheDriverAdviser.com.
I’m an active writer on this blog myself, as well as a novice car mechanic. For the really technical stuff, I find writers with experience as a mechanic or who have studied mechanical engineering.
Read more about our fantastic team on our about page!