Do you have to sign a title to own a car?
Yes, you have to sign a title to own a car. We go over the vehicle ownership transfer process and other tips for getting ready to sell or buy a car.
Register a car with the title
To be able to register a vehicle, you must own it and have your name on the title. When you sell a car to someone, not only is there an exchange of money, but there is also a transfer of ownership.
To officially transfer ownership of a vehicle to someone else, the seller and buyer must sign the title of the car. Each state has slight variations in how their titles are set up, but there is always a section called “seller assignment of title” or “transfer of title” – or something like that.
States vary in their specific wording on their individual titles, but, regardless, most states require that you sign and print your name on the title during a sale. Many states require other information to be recorded on the title, such as the vehicle’s current mileage at the time of sale.
After both seller and buyer sign the title, the buyer passes the title on to a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or Secretary of State (SOS). There, the buyer gets a new title with his name printed on it, which allows him to register the car in his name and affix a plate to it. The registration must match the name on the vehicle title, so you cannot register a car in your name if your name is not on the title.
In addition, to register a vehicle, you must have a valid driver’s license. You don’t technically need a driver’s license to buy a car, but you need it to legally register and drive it.
What if I don’t have the title?
There is a way to recover a lost, stolen or damaged vehicle title. You can usually go to your local DMV or SOS and fill out some paperwork. Usually, the form you need to request is called a replacement vehicle title request or duplicate title form. Some states also allow you to complete these forms online. You will need an ID to request a copy or duplicate of the car title.
To replace a title, expect to need these items:
- Your driver’s license
- Your social security number
- Vehicle identification number (VIN)
- The make, model and possibly year of the car
- The reason you are requesting a duplicate title (in some states)
Your condition may require more or less information, but it is the basic information that you should prepare. Plus, you’re probably going to pay a small fee. Some states also require that a notary be present when you sign the replacement title, which may incur additional fees.
What if I never had the title?
If you bought a vehicle from someone else and never received the title, or signed the title, the sale was not legitimate. It’s called title skipping – and it’s illegal in all states.
If a private seller or car dealership doesn’t give you title in a vehicle sale, don’t go all the way. Without a title, you cannot prove that you are the legal owner of the car, and exchange it in to a legitimate dealer is no longer an option.
If you’ve been the victim of a title break and your vehicle has never been registered in your name, your next step should be to engage in an honest car sale with a trusted establishment.
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