How to Perform a Vehicle Title Search

Name Phone Number License Plate VIN
Name Phone Number License Plate VIN

Why a Vehicle Title Search Is Important

A vehicle title search is an important part of buying any used car, truck or SUV.  Performing a vehicle title search can help you learn about a vehicle to ensure that you’re making a smart buy when shopping.  Buying a new car can be costly though, and for some people, it’s either out of reach or simply not worth the extra expense. That’s when most people turn to the used car market. Since vehicles are need to for just about everyone that commute to work or take their kids to school, they’re a necessity and not a luxury. The process of buying a used car can greatly be assisted with a vehicle title search that can help identify what cars are a good value and which ones are not. This search can easily be performed by running the VIN number through a vehicle record website on their smartphone or any device that has internet access.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there were 20 million used cars sold in 2022 in the United States. The used car market is giant and a quick title search can help buyers to make more informed decisions. There are many online vehicle record websites that offer unlimited vehicle title searches for a small fee, which allows people to quickly run a vehicle inquiry on their smartphone while they’re shopping. It’s a valuable tool that uncover the true value of a used car, truck, SUV or motorcycle. Without knowing the vehicle history before making a purchase can be risky if there are unknown issues. Issues such as odometer discrepancies or a salvaged title can lead to overpaying for a vehicle that is not worth it.

Vehicle Title Search

Why Run a Vehicle Title Search?

Running a vehicle title search can help you learn more about the history of a vehicle beyond what the owner has told you. While many sellers are completely on the up and up, some may be unscrupulous. Otherwise you may simply not know the full history of the vehicle because they were never given all of the information about the automobile history. When you perform a vehicle title search, you’ll be able to find out if the vehicle has been involved in any minor or major collisions. This can impact the value of the car as well as the potential overall performance of the vehicle you’re looking at buying. You’ll also learn whether the owner knows the true history of the car or if they’re trying to pull the wool over your eyes and get you to buy at a price that’s not truly fair.

According to the NHTSA accident statistics, there were over 5 million car accident collisions reported in 2022 which means that there are a lot of damaged used cars on the market. Running a quick title search can uncover those potentially unsafe and over-valued used cars and give the buyer some peace of mind that they know all they can about their purchase. There is a well known term that applies to buying a used car, “Caveat Emptor”, which simply translates to “Buyer Beware”. This is means to do the homework before any significant purchase. It’s the buyers responsibility and liability once the transaction is made.

Main Reasons People Conduct a Vehicle Title Check

  1. Verify Vehicle Ownership: A quick title search will let the buyer know if the seller is the owner of the vehicle and there are no hiccups in the vehicle title transfer
  2. Title Lien Check: This will let the buyer know if a bank still owns the title on the vehicle they want to purchase. If this is the case there cannot be a transfer of the title to the new owner until the loan is paid off and processed by the DMV.
  3. Odometer Readings: If the odometer reading on the title shows that it’s not accurate there might be a significant issue which can drastically bring down the value of the vehicle.
  4. Salvaged or Junk Title: If the title says it’s salvaged or junked then the value of the vehicle might be much less than the sticker price. A salvaged title means there was significant damage, or a total loss from an accident and there were repairs made to make it roadworthy. The problem with this is the value will be greatly depreciated and there may be safety issues and other unknown expenses down the road.
  5. Accident History: Knowing if a vehicle has been involved in an accident can also be a deal breaker if there are unresolved issues that can affect performance, safety and the value.
  6. Title Branding: In many states a title branding is used to let the consumer know significant events in the vehicle’s history such as flood damage, cars that are considered lemons or those that were used as taxis or for law enforcement. This gives the buyer a better picture of the value and history of the vehicle.
  7. Confirming the VIN: The title will show the vehicle identification number which should match those numbers stamped on the vehicle’s dashboard, driver-side door and engine, catalytic converter and transmission. This helps to prevent fraud and if anything was removed or replaced. The VIN in stamped on a multitude of places on every modern car, truck and SUV. 

What You Can Find With a Vehicle Title Check

  • Vehicle accident history
  • Vehicle owner information
  • Recalls and known safety issues
  • Flood damage
  • Lemon law vehicles
  • Salvaged or junk status
  • Title verification
  • History of airbag deployment
  • Basic maintenance records
  • Odometer issues
  • Records of vandalism or theft
  • Bank owned liens

Car Owner Search

What to Do if There is a Lien on a Vehicle

Performing a vehicle title search is an important step for used car buyers to make informed decisions, protect themselves from potential fraudulent sales, and make sure there are no bank liens on the vehicle to ensure a smooth transfer of ownership. There are some procedures that can be taken by the seller and buyer to release the lien and transfer the title to a new owner. It is essential for the sales and transfer process to have the bank release the title once vehicle has been paid off, this process is usually the same for every state and lender. Without this step, the buyer will not be able to have the title transferred into their name. If someone is buying a used car with a bank loan, the buyer will need to have the title transferred to the new bank lender until the loan is paid off.

Steps For Releasing a Vehicle Lien

  1. Negotiate to pay the lien off when you buy the vehicle. You can typically do this safely if the buyer and seller meet to pay off the lien in person before transferring the title. Negotiate the final sale price with what you’ll need to pay to have the lien removed.
  2. Have the seller pay off the lien with a good faith agreement that you will buy the car after they provide proof that the vehicle is now lien-free.
  3. Use an escrow service that will hold the title to ensure that both parties do their part. This can protect a buyer who agrees to pay to have the lien removed.
  4. You can wait until the seller pays off the loan and gets the title transferred, then the title can be transferred and signed over to you.
  5. If the vehicle loan is paid off then you, or the seller, can file for a lien release document to provide the DMV with to make the title transfer to the new owner.

How To Transfer a Vehicle Title

  1. Get The Original Title from the Owner: The seller should have the original vehicle title. If they do not then they should apply for a duplicate title from the state DMV. 
  2. Complete The Title Transfer Form: Both the buyer and the seller must fill out the original title and sign and date it with the current odometer reading and the purchase price. 
  3. Get a Bill of Sale: This is not necessarily required but it is a good idea to have this handy to confirm the sale and vehicle description, VIN, and names and addresses of both the seller and buyer.  
  4. Submit the Title Transfer Form: The buyer will submit the title transfer form to the DMV and the seller is responsible for submitting the release of liability form. 
  5. Register the Vehicle: The buyer should visit a DMV office in person to submit the title transfer form to insure it is received and the DMV has all the information they need to register the vehicle with the new owner and transfer the title to their name. 
  6. Pay the Fees: The title transfer fees, taxes and registration fees are required before the motor vehicle department will issue new registration, the title transfer and tags for the vehicle. 

How To Register a Vehicle Without a Title

Transferring the vehicle title without the actual title can be a little complicated depending on what state the vehicle is registered in. In most cases, the original owner will need to request a duplicate title and then transfer it to the buyer but if that’s not an option then a bill of sale and an affidavit from the buyer may be necessary. There are certain circumstances where there is a precedence that can be followed but you will need to check with your state DMV requirements. You will want to discuss this before making the purchase with the motor vehicle department or you may be stuck with a car that you cannot register to be legally driven on a public road.

Vehicle Title Checks By State

Frequently Asked Questions About Vehicle Titles

What to do if I lost my vehicle title?

If you lost your vehicle title you can get a duplicate title from the DMV. Download the form to request a duplicate vehicle title and bring it into a DMV office with your driver's license. You will have to pay a nominal fee and the new vehicle title will be mailed to you in a few weeks.

Can I sell my vehicle without a title?

Yes, it is possible to sell a vehicle without a title. You will want to sign an affidavit that all the information is accurate on the vehicle you're selling and also put into writing a bill of sale for the purchaser. It's typically not best practice to sell aa vehicle without a title but it does happen and there is not always time to get a replacement vehicle title.

How to Find the Title Number on a Vehicle

Your vehicle title number is listed on the title of your vehicle as well as on your vehicle registration card. The title number is typically 8 digits and is usually located next to the other vehicle information on your registration, such as your VIN or license plate number.

Can I buy a vehicle without a title?

Yes, you can purchase a vehicle without a vehicle title. You will want to make sure you get a bill of sale and evidence that the vehicle is paid off before purchasing this vehicle or it will be difficult to obtain a duplicate title. It's best practice to contact your local DMV directly before purchasing a used vehicle without a title before you complete the transaction.

What is a vehicle title?

A vehicle title is a legal form that establishes ownership of a vehicle, which is also known as a pink slip

How long does it take to receive a vehicle title in the mail?

It can take on average from 4-8 weeks depending on the state, but typically after processing by the DMV it should only take a few weeks to receive it by mail

Can I drive my car without a vehicle title?

You can drive your car as long as you have current registration and are waiting for your vehicle title. This is common when purchasing a new vehicle from a dealership

Can I get insurance without a vehicle title?

You can get insurance as long as you have the vehicle registered in your name. If the vehicle is bank owned, you will not have the title until you pay off the bank loan

Do I need a title for a gifted vehicle?

Yes, if you gift a vehicle you will need the title to transfer to the new owner. It goes the same for receiving a gifted vehicle

What is a bonded title?

A bonded title is used when the original title to a vehicle is lost, and there may be difficulty obtaining a new one depending on the circumstance

What's the difference between a title and registration?

A title shows ownership of the vehicle, while the registration shows the vehicle to legally be driven on public roads by the registered owner. You only need to have your registration card in your vehicle in case you get pulled over for a traffic citation

What is a salvage title?

A salvage title is given to a vehicle that has been deemed a total loss by an insurance company due to extensive damage from accidents, natural disasters, or vandalism

What is a clean title?

A clean title means the car has never been declared a total loss, rebuilt or had any significant even or lemon law

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Responses to “How to Perform a Vehicle Title Search

  1. says:

    It’s prudent to be skeptical when purchasing a used vehicle, especially if the title owner information does not match. There are a couple of options for you, the first is to contact the DMV directly about the title discrepancy. Another good option to make sure the vehicle has not been reported stolen is to use the free government resource which is the National Insurance Crime Bureau website where you can run a VIN lookup.

    How To Determine If A Vehicle Was Stolen

    You can quickly search to find out if a vehicle is stolen by entering the VIN number into the National Insurance Crime Bureau webiste, This is a free VIN search service to assist you with out if a vehicle has been stolen and any reported accidents

  2. says:

    If the title of the car has a business name and the guy that is selling it to me is not is not the same as the one on title, should I trust it?

  3. says:

    William, in order to obtain a title for your foreign car so that you can bring it into the United States and register it here, you will want to contact the DMV in the state you are planning on moving to. They will have a form you can fill out for an Application for Title or Registration ( i.e. REG 343 in California ). There is also a list of other documents for your vehicle that you may need that we have listed below for you.

    How to Register a Vehicle Imported From Another Country

    1. Complete an Application for Title or Registration form
    2. Proof of ownership or bill of sale
    3. Verification of Vehicle form.
    4. Lien holder release form, if applicable
    5. Vehicle Transfer form
    6. Statement of Facts form
    7. A smog and weight certificate
    8. Evidence that the vehicle has cleared customs

  4. says:

    Im Stationed in Korea and brought a us spec car from a Korean Dealer and want to ship it to the states but I need the title. I have the Bill of Sale and registration but I want to take it back with me.

  5. says:

    Since Puerto Rico is a United States territory you can transfer a vehicle from Connecticut to Puerto Rico as long as you make sure you have all the required documents listed below. You will just want to confirm all the information with the Puerto Rico DMV before transferring the vehicle title and registration from Connecticut to Puerto Rico.

    Requirements To Transfer a Vehicle To Puerto Rico

    1. Have a valid Puerto Rico driver’s license
    2. Possess the vehicle title to transfer
    3. Have a valid passport and any import documents
    4. Show evidence of paying the excise tax payment
    5. Social security information and proof of residency

  6. says:

    Of i have my license from Puerto Rico, can i pass a car to my name. Or i need the licence from connecticut?

  7. says:

    Andrew, you can obtain a duplicate Virginia vehicle title by contacting the Virginia DMV and making this request. You can do this online, in person or by mail. See below for additional details on how to get a duplicate vehicle title.

    How to Get a Duplicate Virginia Vehicle Title

    Visit the Virginia DMV website and setup an account using your Virginia driver’s license and DOB. Then login and fill out the form VSA66 for a duplicate vehicle title and submit it online or in person. You will need to pay a nominal fee and a new vehicle title will be mailed to you in a couple weeks.

  8. says:

    Please need your help to obtain a replacement title VIrginia

  9. says:

    Thanks for reaching out Abbye. We are happy to assist you with a vehicle title inquiry. Was there a specific question about the rebuilt or salvaged vehicle title you would like to know more about?

    What Is A Rebuilt Vehicle Title?

    A rebuilt vehicle title usually means the vehicle was once salvaged. This means the vehicle probably had major repairs from some kind of accident where the auto insurance company totaled the vehicle and someone purchased the vehicle to rebuild. This will typically take away from the value of the vehicle and what it can be sold for.

  10. says:

    You will need to contact the owner of the vehicle, if that is the daughter now, through your local DMV. You can tell the DMV you are trying to take ownership of the abandoned vehicle and would like to track down the previous owner. The sheriff department will also be notified about the abandoned vehicle. If there is no response and you are unable to contact the previous owner then you can proceed with getting the vehicle title transferred into your name. Depending on the state you live in, this may include you going to court to claim the abandoned vehicle. The first step is to make your inquiry through the DMV

    How to Get a Title From an Abandoned Car

    1. Find out the laws in your state for abandoned vehicles
    2. Contact the DMV and report an abandoned vehicle you’d like to claim
    3. Provide the DMV with the full VIN and license plate of the vehicle
    4. The DMV will attempt to contact the previous owner & notify the sheriff department
    5. If no response then you can proceed with obtaining the title of the abandoned vehicle

  11. says:

    I am a property manager at a senior development. One of my residents passed 3 or 4 years ago, her daughter left the car and everything at my property. I wish to take ownership of the car, how do I get the title so I can sell it? Thank you

  12. says:

    Bought a car didnt know it had a rebuilt title . The man was very rude when I went up and ask him about the rebuilt title..

  13. says:

    Obtain a Duplicate Vehicle Title By Mail

    To obtain a new title for your vehicle you will need to contact the DMV in your state and make this request. You can download the form for a Duplicate Title Request and submit it via mail or you can visit a DMV branch in person to expedite this process. Typically once the DMV has all the information needed to issue you a duplicate vehicle title, it will take a few weeks for this to be mailed to you by mail.

  14. says:


  15. says:

    Finding out if a vehicle title has been transferred out of your name is easy, you can contact your local DMV, in person if possible, and request to find out if the vehicle you sold has been transferred to the new owner.

    How Do I Find Out If a Vehicle Title Has Been Transferred Out Of My Name?

    Visit your local DMV in person, or over the phone, and request to find out if your name has been removed from the title and released of liability. You will need to have the VIN or license plate of your old vehicle as well as your driver’s license to make this request.

  16. says:

    How do I find out if a title has been transferred out of my name?

  17. says:

    Albert, to get a copy of your motorcycle title you will want to reach out to the DMV in your state and make a request for a new title. You can download the duplicate title form and either mail it in or hand it in person. If you decide to mail it in the DMV will sometimes only send the title to the address on the title and/or registration.

    How To Get a Duplicate Motorcycle Title

    1. Visit your state DMV website
    2. Download the form for a duplicate motorcycle title
    3. Fill out the form and mail it or hand it in person
    4. Show proof of identification & pay the required fee
    5. Processing by mail may take a few weeks

  18. says:

    I have this Harley Davidson for I think about 20 years the title was in my name but I have lost it

  19. says:

    Rex, in order to change the vehicle title and registration on that abandoned vehicle you will want to contact the Texas DPS directly and request to have the vehicle title transferred into your name. Since you don’t have the title or know the owner of the vehicle you will need to discuss your options with the Texas DPS. You might have to sign an affidavit to confirm that the vehicle was found abandoned and you couldn’t reach or contact the previous owner.

    How To Change The Title on an Abandoned Vehicle

    Visit your DMV and request a title search on the abandoned vehicle. You can then try and contact the owner of the vehicle. If you cannot contact the owner and discover there are no liens or claims on the title you can request to have the title signed over to you. You might be required to sign an affidavit that the vehicle was abandoned and you did your best effort to contact the owner. Then you can have the DMV transfer the title over to your name for a nominal fee.

  20. says:

    I bought a 60 year old car that had been abandoned on someone,s property. In Texas, I bought the car from the owner of the property what do I need to do to get a Texas Title in my name? The car isn\’t stolen doesn\’t run. The VIN VC57S14658

Last Updated: 2023-01-19

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