A car’s title is the official document establishing legal ownership of the vehicle. Titles must be processed by your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), so you likely won’t get it the same day you buy the car. While you can still take the car home in the meantime, it’s only when you have the title that you can legally call it yours. Knowing how to get a title for a car can help you navigate the process in between, and maybe even save a little time.
Getting a title for a car when purchasing a new car
When purchasing a new car, getting the title is a straightforward process since you’ll be its first owner. There are typically two ways this can play out, depending on how you’re paying for the car:
Purchasing in cash
If you’re purchasing the car in cash, the dealership will typically forward your title paperwork (and possibly even fill it out on your behalf) to the local DMV for processing. Once this is complete, the DMV will send you the title certificate in the mail. Exact processing times may vary based on your local DMV. If your title has been delayed for longer than the time specified by the DMV, you could try contacting them to inquire about its status.
In the meantime, the dealership will normally assist you with getting a temporary registration and tags so that you can still legally drive the car. Exact rules and regulations around temporary registrations may vary, so it’s best to consult your local DMV to find out more.
Purchasing with financing
When purchasing a new car with financing, the process of getting a title for a car is generally the same as when purchasing a new car in cash. The major exception is that the title will instead go to the lienholder (usually the lender), giving them the right to potentially repossess your car if you do not make your payments.
So, when do you get the title for a financed car? As long as you keep making your payments, you’ll get the title transferred to you by the lender once you’re finished paying the car off. Then, the lien is released, and the car is now exclusively yours.
Getting a title when purchasing a used car
When buying a used car, the process of getting a title for a car may differ slightly since there’s another owner to potentially contend with. Here’s what to know:
Buying from a dealership
If you’re buying your used car from a dealership, it’ll be a lot like the process outlined above, with the dealership often assisting you with completing the paperwork. If you bought the car with financing, the title may once again go to the lienholder first until you’ve paid off the loan, at which point it will be transferred to you.
Buying from a private seller
If you’re buying a used car from a private seller, you and the seller will have to fill out the title paperwork on your own instead of having the dealership take care of it. This typically requires a little more effort as well as potentially having to coordinate with the other party on some matters.
The buyer will typically need to file a title transfer application with the DMV and submit any other documents that are requested, and then wait to receive the new title. Note that regulations may vary by state, and consulting your local DMV before completing a car purchase could help you navigate those state-specific steps more efficiently.
Getting a replacement for a lost or damaged title
It’s possible your car title was lost or damaged due to unforeseen circumstances — accidents can happen to anyone. Getting a replacement title, also known as a duplicate title, for a car is also, thankfully, not too complicated. The general steps are:
- Obtain a duplicate title form: You’ll need to start by finding an application for a duplicate title. This is typically located somewhere on your local DMV’s website, or you can pick up a paper form at the local office.
- Fill out the application: The form will likely ask for your personal details, such as name and address, as well as information about your car, such as its vehicle identification number (VIN), make and model, year and more. There may be additional documentation required, such as proof of identity or other forms of proof of ownership, like a registration card or a bill of sale.
- Pay the fee and submit the application: Many state offices charge a fee for replacement titles, which will need to be paid in full before you submit the application for processing. It may help to double check all your details before submission so that you don’t potentially get denied over a small mistake.
- Wait to receive your duplicate title: Once submitted, all that’s left to do is wait to receive the duplicate. This may take some time, as processing speeds may vary based on your local DMV.
Note that while these are the general steps you’ll need to take, each state has its own rules and regulations. Consulting with your local DMV can help you get the most accurate information for your situation.
Figuring out how to get a title for a car may seem daunting at first. But as you can hopefully see, the process is generally straightforward, whether you’re buying new or used, from a dealership or a private seller (or if you simply need a replacement for a lost or damaged title). Staying informed of your state’s requirements and following the necessary steps are typically all that’s needed for success.