Is it legal to register a car without a title? The short answer is: sometimes.
A car title, or vehicle title, is a legal government document that assigns ownership of a specific vehicle. The proper way to transfer a car title is to have the prior original certificate of title signed over to you by the prior owner. The new owner can then take the title to the DMV and apply for a new title and registration in their name. But what happens when you’re missing the title?
Registering a car without a title
In most states, you’ll need the properly assigned title to register a vehicle. The vehicle registration states who is authorized to operate the vehicle, while the title states who owns the vehicle as well as the title brand of the vehicle (if any).
Many states have title regulations that do not allow for vehicles above a certain age to receive a title. Usually, this threshold is 20-30 years old at the time of purchase. In this case, a registration document will be your state’s equivalent to a title for your age of vehicle. There may be other scenarios where you can register a car without a title in your state, but these are the most common.
If you’ve recently purchased the vehicle, but simply lost the title, didn’t get it, or damaged it before it could be transferred, you’ll likely have to get a new title in your name before you can register the vehicle.
How to get a new title
There are many methods to get a new title for a vehicle, all depending on the amount of ownership documentation you currently have.
A court-ordered title can be applied for by filing a court case with your local county or circuit court to declare you as the vehicle owner. This is often the last resort title recovery method, but it is a great choice if you are missing most or all of the ownership paperwork. This is not legal advice, before using this method, be sure to obtain good legal advice for success in your county and state.
Prior owner contact
Contact the prior owner to obtain the original certificate of title. If they don’t have it, request that they get a duplicate title and sign that over to you instead. Ownership records are considered private information and protected by the DMV.
Vermont registration process
Also known as the Vermont registration loophole, the Vermont registration process is a method used by out-of-state residents to get a title for a 15-year-old or older vehicle using a bill of sale. You’ll receive a registration document for your vehicle that you can then transfer to a title and registration in your state.
If your state accepts bonded titles, you can obtain a surety bond, or title bond, to secure your claim of ownership. If your state allows for this process, this is typically the most direct way to get a new title.
Typically you’ll need the signed original certificate of title to get a new title and registration for your car. Before using the title recovery method listed above, make sure that your vehicle is required and eligible to be titled in your state. If it’s your car, you deserve a title and registration in your name.