Consumer Title Resource | Since 2009!

How To Transfer A Car Title

If you’re buying or selling a car, it’s important to know how to properly transfer a car title from buyer to seller. Not only is this important for the security of the transaction, but if done improperly, the DMV will reject your application for a title transfer. A car title, also known as a vehicle title or certificate of title, is the most important document for a vehicle as it assigns legal ownership. The name of the individual on the front of the car title is the only legal owner of the car in the eyes of the DMV. The title transfer process is meticulous and does not provide any room for error. This article discusses the steps necessary to transfer a car title from buyer to seller, and what you can do if the original title is lost.

How to transfer a car title with the prior title

Obtain the original title from the prior owner

The first step to transferring a car title is to obtain the original title from the seller. The seller should also be the prior owner or the prior owner should be present to sign the transfer. The front of the car title should be very detailed and should feature watermarks, background patterns, and scrollwork that are difficult to recreate. The front of the car title is where the current title holder’s name is located, make sure that the person signing over the title to you is the person listed on the car title document. The back of the car title is a form that assigns ownership of the title. To transfer ownership, the prior owner must complete and sign the back of the car title document and give it to you.

The most direct way to obtain a car title is to have it signed over to you by the prior owner. Oftentimes this document is required to be notarized, but not all states have this requirement. The notary verifies that the person transferring the title is the actual printed titleholder and not just someone trying to sell you a car that doesn’t belong to them.

As you and the prior owner are completing the assignment of title, be extremely careful to not make any errors or scratch anything out. Any stray marks, white out, scratch out, or damage to the document will invalidate the entire title. If the title is damaged in any way from a small rip on the corner to water damage, the title is invalid and you will have to proceed with an alternate method of title recovery.

Transfer the car title with the DMV

Once you have the previous title signed over to you by the prior owner, take that document to the DMV as soon as possible along with your government-issued photo ID. Most states require that you apply for a title within 30 days of purchasing the vehicle or a late fee will be imposed. At the DMV, you’ll complete an application for title, if your state does not allow for the assignment of title to double as an application. All states require a title fee and most states will require the applicant to pay sales tax on the purchase price or book value of the vehicle. Certain vehicles that are brought from out-of-state may require an additional VIN inspection. Make sure to check the requirements in your state before visiting the DMV.

How to transfer a car title without the prior title

If you don’t have the prior title or you lost the original title before you were able to take it to the DMV, there still may be methods available to obtain a new title in your name. 

Prior owner contact

This method of title recovery involves contacting the prior owner and asking them to obtain a duplicate title. Remember, if you were not the last printed owner on the title document, you cannot get a duplicate title even if the prior owner assigned you as the new owner, without that original document the duplicate process will not work. If the prior owner obtains a duplicate title, they can then sign over the title to your name again.

Bonded title

A bonded title requires the applicant to obtain a surety bond to back up their claim of ownership. The surety bond is intended to protect the DMV in the instance that there is a dispute of ownership over the vehicle after the bonded title is issued.

Vermont title loophole

If you have a vehicle that is 15 years old or older, you may be able to obtain a title using an out-of-state title method in Vermont. The Vermont title loophole, or Vermont registration, is a process used by non-residents to obtain a title for a vehicle that can be transferred into their state. Vermont is the only state that allows for this and it only applies to vehicles 15 years old or older.

The most direct and secure way to transfer a car title is by having the prior owner sign the title over to you directly. Once you have the signed title transfer in hand, make sure to take that to the DMV as soon as possible to avoid late fees, lost documents, or other avoidable issues. If you lost the original title, it’s damaged, or you never received it in the first place, there are other options available for title recovery. If it’s your car, you deserve a title in your name,

Have Title Questions? Talk to a Car Title Expert.

Book a consultation with a Car Title Expert from to get personalized guidance on your title recovery journey.

Don’t let uncertainty hold you back. If it’s your car, you deserve a title.

Share this article!

Check Your VIN Instantly:

Powered by