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Have you come across a deal on a car that you did not want to miss on but the private seller did not have a title? Buying a car without a title can cause a lot of anxiety if you do not know what to look for and verify. We will offer you some pro-tips to avoid being a victim. Additionally, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has solutions for most problems that customers encounter, including buying a car without a title.


But let’s first make sure we are on the same page to assess your situation. I won’t have you read this entire page until we first identify what your exact scenario for your particular vehicle is.

How to Get a Title for a Car Without Title

Note: This is not for any other State Department of Motor Vehicles other than the California DMV. Every state has its own rules, regulations, requirements, and procedures. However, most states have a similar process. Please contact your local department for more information to see what your states require.

The Seller is the Current Owner

If the individual or company that is selling you the vehicle is also the title holder then you are in luck and the process to fix this is much easier. This could be a simple case of a lost title and all they have to do is apply for a replacement title or follow one of the solutions listed below:

  • Give you a bill of sale signing off on the car

  • If the vehicle is 10 years or newer the bill of sale must also disclose the odometer reading on a REG 262 form (you can pick these up at your local DMV or at our office – this form is not printable online).

  • Apply for a duplicate title & wait for the replacement title to come in the mail.

You do not need to read any further! However, if this is NOT the case, please continue reading.

Note: Read here on how to apply for a missing title.

Identifying Your Vehicle

How to get a title for a car without title vin number

Before you buy, you must identify. The first step in the process is to properly identify your vehicle. It is imperative that PRIOR to purchasing the vehicle you do a pre purchase inspection of the VIN numbers. Do not use the license plates as a way to identify the vehicle because license plates can be switched from one vehicle to another..

  1. Make sure that it is legible,

  2. make sure that there is no indication that it was tampered with,

  3. Make sure that there is a public VIN. A public VIN is seen easily from outside the vehicle, such as a window VIN or a VIN on the door.

  4. Make sure that the VIN actually decodes the vehicle that you want to buy.

DO NOT BUY A CAR WITHOUT A VIN. Purchasing a vehicle with a bad VIN number or no VIN number on it is a VERY bad idea. It will greatly increase the time to obtain a title from days to several weeks, months or in some cases get no title at all. Additionally, you will have 2 problems instead of just one. Any of the issues that have been mentioned here are major red flags. There is no deal good enough to run that risk.

Determine If It Is or Was a Stolen Car

nicb How to get a title for a car without title

It is always a good practice to determine if the vehicle was stolen. You can click here to use the NICB’s “VINcheck” to see if the vehicle you are purchasing is stolen, was stolen, or has been reported in some kind of auto insurance agency fraud. Additionally, calling the local police department to run it up against their database is a good practice. Especially when you’re buying a classic car, it is imperative to double-check as much as you can because there may be a history from years ago that may come back to haunt you. It isn’t unheard of that a vehicle that was stolen decades ago is returned to its rightful owner.

Determining the Title Status of Your Vehicle

When we initiate services for a customer the first thing we do is run a vehicle history report – both a local report for the California DMV & a national report called an NMVTIS (National Motor Vehicle Title Information System) report. The vehicle history report will largely tell us which direction we will go into to fix the problem. These reports will tell us the following:

  • Current owner

  • Prior Registered owner

  • Previous owners

  • Current owners that are banks, financial institutions, lien holders, or lenders that currently hold the title on the vehicle.

  • If the vehicle has a salvage title

  • The state the car title was last issued in

  • The past title history

There are cases where the report will come back with NO ownership information, meaning that the vehicle was NEVER registered or it has fallen off of any database.

What is the Right Solution for You?

nicb How to get a title for a car without title

At this point, we have the information we need to be able to determine which of two paths to take to obtain a new title. The reports that we generate using the vehicle’s VIN number that you provide will answer of the questions listed below.

  1. Is your vehicle greater than $4999 in value?

  2. Is there a legal owner on the record?

  3. Is there an indication that this vehicle is currently titled in another state?

  4. Is there an outstanding loan on the vehicle?

PATH 1 – If you answer yes to ANY of these questions please click here to read on a bonded title solution and due diligence process. The rest of this article will not pertain to your scenario and will require extra steps, and will will ended up getting a bonded title and conducting a diligent effort with a paper trail.

For surety bond, you can contact your local insurance company OR our sister company Mey’s Insurance Service to purchase a surety bond.

Note: In other states, any vehicle that doesn’t have a title will automatically be a bonded title – but not in California.

What Are the Next Steps to Get a New Title?

How to get a title for a car without title

PATH 2 – Per DMV VIN memo VIN 2012-07 you can obtain ownership of a car without a title as long as it meets the following meets eligibility requirements, which are:

  • The vehicle is valued under $5000

  • There is no legal owner on the record

  • There is no indication that the vehicle was titled in another state

Proper documentation and the complete chain of ownership are not required when the vehicle is “low value” and it falls under the aforementioned criteria. However, if you are able to obtain the signatures from the previous owner it is advisable to do so, but not required per the DMV memo. If you are unable or have no knowledge of the previous owners and only have access to the only person that sold you the vehicle, then going down this path to buy a car without a title legitimate reason to proceed in this fashion.

What Will I Need to Register a Car Without a Title?

You will need is any document that would indicate ownership, such as a bill of sale, or other evidence of purchase. It does not have to be a detailed bill of sale – a bill of sale can be handwritten or typed up & does not need to follow a particular format (unless the vehicle is 10 years or newer)

Furthermore, you will need a REG 256 completed by yourself, in hand-writing, indicating the facts of the matter on the following:

  • Who you purchased the vehicle from

  • How much you paid

  • where you purchased the vehicle

  • What date you paid

  • And, indicating that to you know there are no liens, pending liens, or loans.

If Your Vehicle Has NO California Record, You Must Obtain the Following

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vin verification california dmv title

In addition to the aforementioned documents, you will need the following if there is no record of your vehicle.

  • For all vehicles, a VIN Verification – you can contact our sister company QUick VIN Verification and schedule that.

  • For commercial vehicles, such as pickup trucks or box trucks, a weight-master certificate. You can locate a local weigh station by clicking here.

  • For vehicles that are 1976 and newer and are gas-powered, you must get a smog.

How Long Does California Take to Issue titles?

how long does it take to get a title

Generally speaking, once the application for title transfer has been submitted to the local DMV the new owner gets their car title within 2-3 weeks of us submitting an application. It is advisable that you prepare to wait up to 6 weeks because the California DMV uses the United State’s Postal Service. However, generally speaking, the entire process takes less than a month.


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