What Is the Title of a Car?

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The title of a car is a legal document providing proof of ownership of a vehicle. You will need the title of a car for different situations. A title contains important information about your car. All the information on a title needs to be 100% accurate.

If you should need to replace a title because it was lost or destroyed you will need to visit the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or other agency that handles titles in your state. You will be required to complete an application for a duplicate title and pay a fee for the copy. Many states have transitioned to electronic titles.

Names on Automobile Titles

The title will show the name—or names—of the owner of the vehicle. This information can not be changed after a title has been issued. Names on titles only change after they are sold or you donate a car. States will vary in exactly how to complete the transfer so be sure to check with the DMV of your area. Also, if the car is totaled and the insurance company is providing a payout you will need to sign the title.

Should you have a name change after you receive the title to a car, be sure to sign using the name shown on the front of the title. Beneath that name sign with your new name. If more than one person is listed on a title, all of them will need to sign when the car is sold or donated.

If you have a car where the owner listed on the title is deceased, you will need to visit the Motor Vehicle Department and get a transfer form. You will need proof of identity and a certified copy of the death certificate to transfer the title.

Title Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)

A unique 17 letter and number identification number, also known as a VIN, is given to all vehicles. It is most commonly located in a car title, car insurance declarations page, proof of car insurance, a vehicle registration card, bill of sale, car loan paperwork, and on the vehicle itself. The vehicle VIN is usually located on the driver's side door viewable when the door is open, and also in the dashboard when looking into the car when standing outside.

The certificate of title should also include:

  • Year, make, and model of the car
  • The body style of the vehicle
  • Title number
  • The date the title was issued

Odometer Reading at Date of Vehicle Purchase

The odometer reading is important. It is another way of verifying when the car came into possession. Being able to verify possession is important just in case a crime is or was committed before you owned the vehicle or after you sell it. It will also be important information for the police to have in case your vehicle is stolen.

Vehicle Weight Class

Weight class corresponds to how much it costs to register a vehicle annually. The higher the weight class, the more expensive the cost of registration.

Lender's Name and Address

This section is only applicable if you purchased your vehicle using financing. In most states, the title certificate is kept by the lender until the vehicle is paid off. In other states, the title is sent to the buyer who currently has the car in their possession, but the name of their lender will appear on the title. It is possible to have multiple lenders listed on a vehicle. The lender will be listed as the First Secured Party or Second Secured Party. Each lender will have their name and address listed along with a Signature of Agent Line and Date area to be used when the loan is paid off.

Title Assignment Section

There are two sections to the Title Assignment. One is to be completed by the seller, and the other one is to be completed by the buyer.

  1. Sellers: Input the names of the purchaser(s), the purchaser(s)’s address, date of sale, selling price, odometer reading, type of odometer reading, the signature of the seller, printed name of the seller, and the seller's address.
  2. Buyer: Signature of the purchaser(s), printed name of the purchase(s), and a space for the new lender's name and address.
  3. Important Info About the Title Assignment: You only get one shot at filling out this information. Mistakes are not allowed. You will not be able to scratch off, erase, or use white-out to fix mistakes. Most commonly the seller puts their name and address into the purchaser's slot, essentially selling the car to themselves. You will need to request a duplicate title and or provide a bill of sale along with a notarized document verifying the sale from the seller depending on which state you reside.

A Very Important Notice to Sellers

The notice states "Sellers must keep a receipt or photocopy of the reassigned title for their records for 18 months or accompany the purchaser to a Secretary of State Office." What does it mean and why is it important? Knowing the person buying your vehicle put the vehicle in their name is what it means. If you cannot personally witness the transaction, you need to have proof you sold the vehicle. Get the purchaser(s) to fill out their portion of the title assignment. Next, fill out the seller's portion of the title assignment. Finally, make a copy and don't lose it. It is for your protection.

For example, you sell your car to someone you connected with online. He pays you in cash, you sign the title, and he leaves. Everyone seems happy. However six months later, you get a phone call about your vehicle being impounded after a serious drinking and driving accident. The vehicle was driven into several parked cars and you are listed as the owner. How is it possible; you sold the vehicle six months ago? It is because the buyer never legally put the vehicle in his name. Maybe he didn't want to pay the taxes, or maybe he has a revoked driver's license, but it does not matter the reason: if there is no record of sale, you will be liable for the damage caused in the accident. Potentially, you could be at risk of being responsible for the driver's actions since you are the current owner of the vehicle.

Usually, things can be worked out to where you are not held liable. Having a copy of the signed title on hand will enable you to clear up any issues a whole lot faster.

Do You Need My Title to Purchase Car Insurance?

Most insurance carriers will not require the title to be shown to get a car insurance policy, but you will need your title to get your vehicle properly licensed and registered. The title also does have helpful information on it to speed up the insurance process. Getting quick access to the VIN and lender information on a title can certainly come in handy when getting a quote or making a car insurance change.