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Buying A Vehicle With No Title: How Does It Work?


DrumBob
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It depends entirely on what state you are in. If you were to buy an antique car in Rhode Island (where I live) you simply could not get a title because the title law didn't go into effect until the mid-1970s and the state absolutely refuses to issue one for pre-title cars. You'll have to find out what New Jersey does in such a case...every state has different rules.

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11 minutes ago, DrumBob said:

I'm in New Jersey if that's any help. 

I have heard NJ is a real tough one.   You need a NJ person to help you for if there are any work-arounds...   😉

 

Is it registered now? or does it have an old registration, but expired? 

 

In my State, we don't get a title on older cars when we register it.  When selling one from my State to a Titled State like Florida like I've done, the buyer needed a current registration from me, to be able to register the car in Fla.. I could not have sold it to him if it was not registered in my name, and it must still be currently registered in the sellers name. 

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1 hour ago, bob staehle said:

It doesn’t

This ^^ !
In most cases or States, at best it can be be difficult, some impossible to register a car without a Title, i.e. proof of ownership.

In my opinion, vehicle without one should be regarded like or less than those with salvage title = worth considerably less than identical ones with clean/solid title and “no stories”.

Not to mention, if you ever try selling or shipping it abroad, with no title it can become a target for confiscation by appropriate authorities.

So basically IMO, any vehicle without a title should generally be treated/valued/viewed just as a parts donor (Race/track only or off-road vehicles obviously notwithstanding). 

YMMV.

Edited by TTR (see edit history)
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I am in Indiana where it is a fairly straightforward process although often time consuming, with there always being the possibility that you lose the car you just purchased (if the VIN comes up stolen). 
 

Unless fairly certain of the ownership history and that no surprises will come up when the state police or bmv start checking numbers off the car, a vehicle without a title should be avoided virtually anywhere. 
 

A quick google that took me to the New Jersey bmv webpage that does make it sound possible in that state, but they seem to be very specific about what information needs to be on the bill of sale. 

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This topic has been discussed many times and the result is don't buy without a title unless you get prior approval from you state DMV.

Google our forms for this topic and read a lot of really good advice,,  and horror stories. 

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It seems there are states that don't require titles for cars beyond a certain age. I know little about that scenario. Based on my experiences, I would agree with everyone who has said to avoid vehicles that don't have titles. That's near gospel in my state. There are apparently some ways to acquire titles for untitled vehicles, and that approach could be useful some instances...for example, you buy property that has a couple of cool old abandoned cars on it. I'd never take that approach when looking at cars for sale, however. If getting a title was as easy as shady sellers say it is, they'd do it before selling their car...and they wouldn't discount the vehicle as much as 50% (sometimes more) because it doesn't have a title. The biggest lie you'll encounter in old car ads is, "The title and paperwork will be here in a few weeks."

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Many early cars when found after decades of storage will not have a title. In many cases they have been sitting in a shed , barn, basement , warehouse since a decade or more before titles even existed in the state. There has to be a way of issuing a title or registration document for cars like this. See Ed's title section of the  "Great White " thread.

 My Staver project hasn't been a running car for probably close to 90 years. Did any state have Titles that far back ?

Edited by 1912Staver (see edit history)
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Here in Pennsylvania, I have obtained proof of ownership through the local court system many times. I take the PA DOT to court, they agree that there is no other known owner of the vehicle, and I receive a court order identifying me as the owner of the vehicle. I submit the court's order to the Department of Transportation with an application for title, and I get a title. It is slow and costs a few hundred dollars, but it is entirely legal, and it works. Some hire lawyers to do the work, but I have been able to do it all myself so far. 

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Yes, as hidden hunter has mentioned . A production vehicle needs a title to meet the Export approval process. Several years this was not the case and I bought a number of U.S. project cars / parts cars. The sort of thing that rarely has a title. That all stopped when the rules changed. 

 

 

 

 

Edited by 1912Staver (see edit history)
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I will probably stop into the local NJ DMV next week just to inquire about the process. But I agree, it may be a mistake to buy without a title. When I'm ready to buy, I want to make sure I do everything right. 

 

Again, that's why I come here and ask questions. In just over a week, I know more about old cars and the ins and outs of getting one than I ever did. 

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Not knowing anything about the car, walking away sounds like the best guidance. 

 

However,  if you can't live without it...go to one or 2 MVC offices.

 

Somerville is the worst.  Period.

 

I had great luck 8 or 9 years ago at North Bergen when a PA seller never titled/registered in his name. Somerville told me to have him plate it in PA, then sign it to me, then come see them. 

 

North Bergen gave me a title and plates within 30 minutes.

 

Obviously depends on current staff. 

 

https://www.state.nj.us/mvc/vehicles/historic.htm

Edited by JRHaelig (see edit history)
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It's all well and good to say "never buy a car without a title" if all you are interested in is post-war cars...this simply doesn't apply to early cars in "project" condition...and it constitutes a very real restraint of trade for those of us who live in states where no title is even possible.

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19 minutes ago, JV Puleo said:

It's all well and good to say "never buy a car without a title" if all you are interested in is post-war cars...this simply doesn't apply to early cars in "project" condition...and it constitutes a very real restraint of trade for those of us who live in states where no title is even possible.

 

You're right, a better term would be "ownership documents." Some states don't title cars over a certain age, but they do use registrations as ownership documents. Almost the same thing and just as critical either way for a new buyer to get the official paperwork that transfers ownership.

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Some states don’t have titles for vehicles of a certain age.  They buy/sell just on the registration.  Check out your own state laws for getting a lost-title or no-title replacement.  It may add some cost, such as obtaining a policy to indemnify the state, but is probably doable.  If the car has a current registration in the seller’s state, then all you may need is a notarized bill of sale (which is always a good idea, regardless) in addition to the registration form.  I have done this a number of times.  The key is to know the law, get the right paperwork, and patiently work the process.  One additional tip I would offer is, above all, make sure that the physical VIN on the car, in whatever format it may be, matches the VIN on the paperwork.  If the seller has matching paperwork in somebody else’s name (prior owner, former spouse, grandfather, whatever…), then the seller should get it straightened out into his/her name before selling.  

Edited by Akstraw (see edit history)
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21 minutes ago, Matt Harwood said:

 

You're right, a better term would be "ownership documents." Some states don't title cars over a certain age, but they do use registrations as ownership documents. Almost the same thing and just as critical either way for a new buyer to get the official paperwork that transfers ownership.

That being said, Matt, every state is different.

In Pa., where I live, they do accept a TRANSFERRABLE registration in order to obtain a title.

As stated earlier, some states do not issue titles for older cars but they do issue TRANSFERRABLE registrations ( N.Y.State is one of them) and that is a legal document that can be used, in Pa, to obtain a title.

Need to ask in NJ if they accept a TRANSFERRABLE registration to obtain a title.

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30 minutes ago, Matt Harwood said:

You're right, a better term would be "ownership documents." Some states don't title cars over a certain age, but they do use registrations as ownership documents. Almost the same thing and just as critical either way for a new buyer to get the official paperwork that transfers ownership

Well...that depends on "which" non titled State, as far as needing any paperwork at all, other than a bill of sale:

 

In my State, there are no titles on older cars.  If one looks at the DMV website here, it appears that you definitely do need a prior registration...but if you live here, and know what the local DMV has for special forms, you can register a non-titled car with no prior registration papers at all.  

 

If they ever change this, I will be in a bad spot with 2 early 1930's convertibles that are not ready for registration yet. Both were likely junked in the 40s, so no paperwork at all, just Bill of Sales

 

 

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6 hours ago, ted sweet said:

then i guess you will never buy a pre 1973 from nys

NYS has a transferable registration card on all vehicles older then 1973, which is an official document issued by NYS DMV and should not be a problem, the Bill of Sale States could be a problem. The only questions come up in NYS when the signatures and dates on the back are 20 years old and the car was never registered in all that time. The majority of people in DMV don't understand that someone will buy a car and not put it on the road and use it or buy plates (tags to some), they have no comprehension of what a project is. So if the paperwork is 'dusty' it tends generates flags in the system. So as pointed out by others homework is necessary and check with several different people in your state, and don't be surprised if you get conflicting answers.   

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I have bought some clunkers in my time. 
EVERY single one had a title. 
 

it may have been an old title, an out of state title, a title in the name of a dead person, but they all had titles and/or a recent registration card (to do a title less transfer) 

 

no title or reasonably current registration means no sale. I also usually pay $15 to have the dmv readout through a third party registration company to verify ownership. 

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Stay away from large metropolitan DMV's. Dress in well worn clothes with some kind of obvious military memorabilia. Bend your knees and let your back slope forward. Extend your neck like you are having trouble breathing. Let your shoulders droop. Hold your paperwork in front of you with both hands. Don't quote any rules or use DMV specific words. Open your eyes a little in hopeful anticipation and ask "Can you help me with my old car?"

 When you are old exploit all the stereotypes.

 

That's option 1 for a questionable purchase. There are others but only one ploy per office.

 

If you have a unsigned document and the nice lady at the window asks "Aren't they out in your car to sign it?" You're doing good.

 

I'll buy anything.

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So- when I bought my 1931 Buick, even though I bought it on an Illinois title, there was a process to get a Michigan title.  Due to the age of the car and the fact older VIN formats are not trackable in the National Motor Vehicle Title Information system (NMVTIS)

 

National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) | Overview | Bureau of Justice Assistance (ojp.gov)

 

my local DMV took the Illinois title and ran a search in the system to make sure the title was legit and there were no hidden lien holders.  That was a long, nerve wracking 3 days but the Illinois title did pass the test. 

 

Key takeaways from this previously discussed topic...

 

Talk to your state's DMV before you buy.  They own the rules of the road in your state.

 

Many older cars were never issued a title due to timing of passage of title requirements in the state they resided in

 

Talk to Your State's DMV Before You Buy.

 

Your state's DMV is aware that other states did not always title older cars and know what paperwork was required in other states to legally transfer ownership.  Be prepared to show definitively the untitled car you are trying to buy came from a state that did not require a title and come to your DMV prepared with paperwork that satisfies your state's DMV that a legitimate sell/buy transaction took place.  

 

TALK TO YOUR STATE'S DMV BEFORE YOU BUY.

 

Keep in mind your state probably benefits when you buy a car and want to title it in your state.  Their equity is sales tax.

 

TALK TO YOUR STATE'S DMV BEFORE YOU BUY.

Edited by Str8-8-Dave (see edit history)
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There are a lot of people out there right now who are working on a long term project that has not had ownership legally transferred into their name. They are spending a lot of time and money, as well as aging to a point where the end result of licensing can be really stressful.

 

Personally I am OK with a bill of sale. But taking ownership is job number one. Don't spend time or money on a car you can't prove is yours. I have purchased parts/project cars that were in pretty tough shape and licensed and insured them to get the stub of ownership. A common thought is to wait until the project is complete before licensing it. If I couldn't get it licensed in a month or two it goes down the road. I have never had that happen. And licensed these two prior to selling them.

 

Some won't spend the money for the insurance and plates to make it happen. I have been doing this kind of thing to fund my hobby since I was 11 years old, continuously without a few interim decades taken out, just another job concurrent with the career outside of cars.

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If that Bug Eye was in my area I would be all over it. I have owned 3 of them in long ago times. Horrible little cars in some regards, but magic in others. Most of the charm of a early  Lotus 7 at a discount price. And I am a snug but comfortable fit in a Sprite, the Lotus I can barely squeeze into.

 A Sprite in that sort of condition used to be a 2 G or so proposition up to the covid price madness. A similar 7 basketcase seems to start at about 10 G's , but you might only find one for sale in North America at that price every few years. Both cost about the same to bring back to life. I already own a better front end than what yours looks like, just need a body shell. But they have really dried up in my area.

 

This BAT 7 project was a great deal. But covid made even thinking about buying it an impossibility due to the border lockdown.

 

https://bringatrailer.com/listing/1962-lotus-seven-4/

Edited by 1912Staver (see edit history)
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Getting the title legal was more to the topic. Hard to sell otherwise. I paid $400 for the car and parts, cleaned up the paperwork, and sorted the parts neatly. I sold it for $2400 the day it was advertised. Three buyers were in my yard and two on the way. One left, one was demonstrating bargaining skills, and one walked over to his truck and his wife counted out the money.

The one who left called back the next day and said he had his wife's permission to buy it. A friend and I still joke about what she made him do for permission.

 

Paperwork is key.

 

I also took the effort to license this car before putting it up for sale.

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A friend and his wife stopped by and my wife walked out to the garage while we men looked it over. His wife asked mine "You let him buy that?" After they left my wife asked what she meant. I told her not to worry.

 

 

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Check with your local DMV.  It could be worth while. Wisconsin, you just have to post a bond, for 2 or 3 times of the value of the vehicle, for a length of 5 or 7 years. If no claims, you get refund. If you restore it and then there is a claim, they do not get your vehicle. The most they can get is the value of the vehicle when bonded. The extra goes to court costs etc and that’s if it’s proven that they have lawful right to that vehicle. You can then recover that money from the one that sold you the vehicle. You can’t really lose.  

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I absolutely agree Bernie. Paperwork problems are easier to solve in my area than what it sounds like in many U.S. States. But I always factor in a $1000.00 advantage to a project car with correct paperwork.

 Sounds like you stole that Sprite. I used to pay that for Sprite / Midget parts cars 30 or more years ago. 

 

You probably should have hung on to the E Type. Regardless of what you sold it for it is probably significantly more valuable today.

 Much better than money in the bank.

Edited by 1912Staver (see edit history)
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As was mentioned above transferring and proving ownership is job one. Sometimes I will go same day to AAA to transfer a car. I will add a car to my insurance before it leaves the previous owner’s premises. If I died before that car is transferred my wife and daughter would be in bad shape with a car not titled in my name. 
 

in my state- California it’s fairly simple, 

 

in state- title signed, statement of facts, smog (newer than 1975), vin verification if out of the system

 

out of state- same as above 

 

on my recent Imperial acquisition my search revealed the car out of the system but it turned out it wasn’t (so I wasted $100 unfortunately on the vin verification) it turned out there was thousands of dollars of fees owed. 

there is a loophole that a car over 25 years doesn’t have to be non op. So the registration group I go through was able to get it all forgiven for $60. (AAA is unable to do this). 

81893C93-891C-4645-AC0B-41DD80021DEA.jpeg

Edited by MarkV (see edit history)
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21 hours ago, DrumBob said:

I see vehicles on sale advertising, "bill of sale only." There's no title. How does that work when you go to your local DMV to register the vehicle? I'm in New Jersey if that's any help. 

Some researcher with time to kill could find the answer, WHEN WERE THE FIRST CAR TITLES ISSUED? If the car in question never had a title finding it will take a while. 

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51 minutes ago, 1937hd45 said:

Some researcher with time to kill could find the answer, WHEN WERE THE FIRST CAR TITLES ISSUED? If the car in question never had a title finding it will take a while. 

This varies greatly by state.  I recently purchased a car last sold (and never registered for the road) in the sixties in a state that didn’t title cars until the 70’s. That state also makes getting a title a chore requiring a bond and requiring you to wait three years after the bond is issued to get a transferable title (along with your bond back), something the seller didn’t want to do. Fortunately my state accepted a bill of sale and a police inspection saying that no red flags showed up from the five digit serial number. 
 

What numbers showed up on early titles and registrations varied as well. Some states wanted a serial number, some an engine number, sometimes that is the same number, sometimes it is not. Sometimes an engine gets replaced and now you have nothing on the car that matches the title. Sometimes a car titled on the serial number was stolen and titled by the new “owner” on the engine number. The modern VIN system is not a bad thing. 

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I have registered then titled several cars in NH that I bought without a title, several with a 30 to 40 yr old registration and even one without a bill of sale. In NH, you apply for a registration giving the body and engine numbers. Pay all the fees and then either take it to a State Police Station or if you’re lucky, have a State Trooper come to you and verify that the numbers on the car are the same as on the new registration. I’ve never had a problem. After a month or so the title shows up in the mail.

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I had some problems with obtaining a North Carolina title when I moved from California with title in hand. In North Carolina they will inspect your car coming from another state and search for a serial number (pre- 1956) before VIN and check if the stamped number on the engine matches the serial number. On an 80 year old car, most times it does not. My car had a title but the number in the vin box read RE 2345. This was stamped on the engine block and I can only assume when vin numbers came out they didn't look too hard for the number. After the car was inspected and they found the correct number on the frame, they ran both numbers and they came up clean. I was told that the car might have to have a bonded title, but I got the title without having to post a bond. I would not be surprised it you could not obtain a title through the bonding process in some other states, with only a bill of sale. 

Edited by kingrudy (see edit history)
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3 hours ago, yachtflame said:

I have registered then titled several cars in NH that I bought without a title, several with a 30 to 40 yr old registration and even one without a bill of sale. In NH, you apply for a registration giving the body and engine numbers. Pay all the fees and then either take it to a State Police Station or if you’re lucky, have a State Trooper come to you and verify that the numbers on the car are the same as on the new registration. I’ve never had a problem. After a month or so the title shows up in the mail.

One of my dad’s cars in Texas had a NH registration from the 80’s. It just sat in his Texas garage since he moved from NH. I was able to get a Texas title with the registration. 
 

A couple others, I only had a bill of sale and I thought I’d have to get bonded titles. I was turned down for them mainly because I was using a POA. I mailed the regional (Austin), DMV office with all the documents I had and wound up getting regular titles back in the mail for both. 


As for the OP, find out through your NJ DMV if they do titles with registrations from the state the car is in, or if they do bonded titles. I always had the best luck with the rural DMV offices.  

 

VIN checks by state police are typically required, so make sure it’s not stolen and the VIN on the frame matches other documents before purchasing.  

Edited by victorialynn2 (see edit history)
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