How to get a title for a car

Young man sitting in car wondering how to get a title for a carImage: Young man sitting in car wondering how to get a title for a car

In a Nutshell

If you’re buying a new or used car, the car title plays an important role in your vehicle purchase. Here are some tips on how to easily access this essential document, and some pitfalls to be aware of as you navigate the process.
Editorial Note: Credit Karma receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our marketing partners don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted.
Advertiser Disclosure

We think it's important for you to understand how we make money. It's pretty simple, actually. The offers for financial products you see on our platform come from companies who pay us. The money we make helps us give you access to free credit scores and reports and helps us create our other great tools and educational materials.

Compensation may factor into how and where products appear on our platform (and in what order). But since we generally make money when you find an offer you like and get, we try to show you offers we think are a good match for you. That's why we provide features like your Approval Odds and savings estimates.

Of course, the offers on our platform don't represent all financial products out there, but our goal is to show you as many great options as we can.

If you’re making a cash purchase at a dealership, the dealer will usually send your title paperwork to your local Department of Motor Vehicles, or state transportation or revenue agency. The DMV or agency will send you the official certificate of title once the paperwork has been processed.

If you’re financing the vehicle, the lienholder will typically send you the title after the loan has been repaid.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how to get a car title and clue you in to some pitfalls to avoid during the process.



What is a car title?

In some situations, you’ll need to prove you’re the legal owner of a car. That’s where a car title comes in.

A car title certifies that you own your vehicle and entitles you to all the rights and privileges that go along with that. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the useful information this document provides. It contains vital information, such the number of miles the car had on the odometer the last time it was sold, which is required in some states.

And if a vehicle has been seriously damaged in any way — like during a flood or accident — it’ll typically be reflected on the car’s title.

Your car’s title is usually issued by your state’s transportation authority, often the Department of Motor Vehicles. If you live in a state that doesn’t have a DMV, it may be issued by another government agency, like the Department of Revenue.

What you need to get a car title

You’ll need a car title to handle many common vehicle transactions. If you’re selling your car, you’ll need to transfer it to the new owner. If you’re buying a used car from a private seller, you’ll need to make sure the car’s current owner transfers the title to you once payment has been made.

What do you need to get a car title? One thing to remember is that you can get that car title only when the vehicle no longer has a lien on it, meaning it’s been paid for in full.

So if you’re financing the vehicle, your lienholder will usually send you a copy of the title once you’ve paid in full.

New title

When you’re purchasing a car, getting the title is usually pretty straightforward. If you’re making a cash purchase on a new car, the dealer will usually forward your paperwork to your local DMV, or other agency, for processing. And if you’re buying a used car from a private party, the seller should sign the vehicle title over to you. But if the car isn’t owned outright by the seller, you may need to reach out to the lienholder to get the car’s title.

When you get the title, you’ll need to register it in your name with your state’s DMV or the appropriate agency.

The documents you need to register the title in your name vary by state, but can include …

  • The title showing it’s been signed over to you
  • A bill of sale with the purchase price
  • An odometer disclosure statement
  • Lien information, if you borrowed money to buy the car
  • A lien release, if the current title shows there’s a lien against it from the previous owner

After you file the necessary paperwork and pay any taxes and fees, you should receive either a paper or electronic version of the title.

Lost or duplicate title

If you’ve lost or misplaced the certificate of title that you got from the seller or former lienholder, you can apply for a new one at your local DMV office or transportation agency. What you’ll need to get a replacement car title can vary by state, but here’s an example.

  • Download the lost or duplicate title application from your local DMV’s or transportation agency’s website
  • Sign it (as the car’s legal owner)
  • Have the application notarized, if required by your state (usually for a fee)
  • If your state doesn’t require notarization, you’ll usually need to include proof of identity — like your state driver’s license
  • Submit your application by mail, in person or online, depending on your state’s requirements
  • Pay the application fee

Fast Facts

What is a notarized document?

A notarized document is one that’s had signature(s) certified as authentic by a notary public. A notary public is an official who verifies the identity of the person signing the document, witnesses the signature and then signifies authenticity with a seal.

Beware these pitfalls when getting a car title

Check to make sure all the information shown on the certificate of title is accurate when you get a title for a new vehicle. The year, make and model should match that of the vehicle you’re actually getting.

If your car title is coming from a private-party seller, make sure the seller has completed the title’s transfer of ownership section (usually located on the back of the title).

Pro tip: In some states, using correction fluid or an eraser on the transfer of ownership section automatically voids the document, so make sure to keep it clean when taking possession of the document.


What’s next?

Once you’ve gotten your car title, keep it in a safe place. While it’s a good idea to keep your vehicle registration in your car’s glove box, this isn’t an ideal place for storing your car’s title. If the car is stolen and the title along with it, the thief may be able to use this proof of ownership to sell your car.


About the author: Warren Clarke is a writer whose work has been published by Edmunds.com and the New York Daily News. He enjoys providing readers with information that can make their lives happier and mor… Read more.