Buying a car with no title

Looking for a cheap@$$ car on craigslist, I notice a few with “no title”. I always thought that whoever held the title owned the car (a la racing for pink slips) so is there any way in which buying a car without the title is NOT a horrible idea? Assume that on craigslist there are not any all-time fantastic deals that make it worth the time or effort to track down the mystery of the missing title.

Sure. Some old lady lost the title to her husband’s 1964 1/2 Ford Mustang but can produce the original bill of sale from the dealer and the death certificate & will giving her all her husband’s worldly possessions and now she wants to sell it to you for $500 so she can buy her grandkid an Ipod Nano /shrug.

With a clear chain of custody (and depending on your jurisdiction) if the seller can prove ownership and you can produce a bill of sale, the DMV will generally issue a title.

State laws vary widely. In GA, any car older than a certain number of years doesn’t need a title while IN law requires every car on the road to have a title. Call your DMV or license branch or whatever it’s called in your state.

I used to buy & sell cars all the time …

It can also be as simple as the vehicle is titled to the seller according to DMV records, but the seller has lost the piece of paper & is too cheap / disorganized / Tea Party to spend $20 to get a replacement.

Each of these sales will be different in the details of where & why the title’s missing or nonexistent. Know the law in your area, and check with the DMV for each vehicle you might buy BEFORE you buy it. If you are confident you understand the facts of the title mess & can clear it up, then the car’s safe to buy, at least from the title angle. Note that the facts do not necessarily match what the seller tells you. Whether they’re lying or honestly mistaken doesn’t much matter; you’re stuck with the outcome.

If you intend to take the vehicle out of state it gets more complex. I would recommend against buying a vehicle with a messed up title which you intend to ever register or try to sell in any other state. That opens a professional quality can o’ worms that you probably don’t have the skill or experience to easily digest.

You oughta know this, but always pull a CarFax on a no-title deal. There are a lot of hulks out there with 'salvage title" or flood damage that don’t have a legit title for a good reason: they can’t legally ever have a legit title again. You don’t want one of those unless you’re buying it for parts.

In NY State you can get a duplicate title by walking in with the VIN number and paying $20, or even with just the license plate number. It’s easy – a half hour in line at the DMV. You can even do it online if you own the car. They simply send it to the address on the registration.

I’m with LSLGuy – I suspect that if someone is trying to sell a car without a title, it has either been salvaged or stolen or the chain of ownership is messy. Stay away.

I never said stay away. I said check it out & proceed according to the facts of the case.

I used to buy cars with messed up titles from clueless fools for well below market & for $20 I had the problem solved an hour later at the DMV. There were other cars where Clarence Darrow himself couldn’t have gotten it unscrewed up. Those I left with the seller.

My apologies… I just meant to agree with your comments about working out the title, not suggest that my conclusion was one you agreed with. Clumsy writing on my part.

I guess I’m dubious, and I tend to suspect trickery rather than cluelessness when it comes to Craig’s List.

In Canada–or at least in Quebec–there is no such thing as a title to a car. So if I moved to the US with my car how could I get it registered? Surely, there must be some way. When I moved to Canada in 1968, the MVB had no idea what to do with a title and I guess it eventually got lost. But I know that when I sold that car, I didn’t give the buyer the title.

In my state, and I gather this is the way it works in a lot of other ones, you can get a “bonded title”, which means that you have to put up a bond for some percentage of the vehicles value, the state issues you a bonded title, and you hope that the rightful owner doesn’t show up (I’m not sure exactly what happens if they do-- I’ve never heard of it actually happening). After a certain number of years you get the bond back and they issue a regular title.

I’ve done this before when a friend of mine skipped town leaving her car in my driveway and couldn’t be bothered to go through the formal steps of transferring it over to me. This is also the procedure for claiming an abandoned vehicle, which I suspect is what a lot of those craigslist cars are (albeit perhaps vehicles “abandoned” by friends and family).

How do you go about figuring out whats wrong without the seller not knowing whats wrong? These listings just post “no title” and never mention why or they just say they don’t want to go through the hassle of getting it.

Cite from listing on Craigslist – 1996 GMC Conversion Van - $800
*This is an Explorer Limited Conversion Van. It is equipped with the vortech v-8 and 4 speed automatic transmission. It has 133,XXX miles. It is missing the rear 2 seats and has NO TITLE. You can apply for the title but I am not willing to go through the hassle with Jefferson City. It is burgundy w/tan interior. It starts and runs but needs some fuel injection work. This is a potential awesome ride to have. If you are interested in pictures then please don’t hesitate to contact me. Thank You !!! *

This sale is a steal for $800.00 and I’m guessing but sure it is from not having a title. He says the buyer can apply for a title but he won’t. Can the buyer apply for a title to a car that’s only proven his by a written bill of sale? Maybe there’s a better way…?

Is it possible to find out the deal with a no title car without the sellers knowledge? Maybe get the VIN and call the DMV? Will they need proof of anything? The point for this is if the seller finds out how easy it would be to get the title, they may back down or jack the price up.

What are all the reasons why a car can’t have a legit title?
I can understand a car being stolen. Even then, cant they get it back to the owner and make it a legit car?

Is it possible for a salvage titled car to receive a legit title?

LSLGuy, what did Tea Party mean when you used it?

I don’t think anyone is going to go through the risk of trying to sell a vehicle that is obviously going to come up stolen on craigslist. Granted, if it is a situation like I mentioned above where it’s an abandoned vehicle, there may be problems with the abandoner coming back, but even then in a lot of states if the car was left on someone else’s land, the original owner is going to have a very tough time getting it back once a new title has been issued.

But I think the more common “no title” situation is that the owner lost the title and is just too much of a lazy SOB to go through the state’s procedure for issuing a duplicate title (which, to be fair, can be a pain in the butt, expensive, and in some states impossible to do at the same time as a title transfer). They figure they’re not going to get much for the car either way, so why should they spend the time and expense to get things legal?

While there’s probably perfectly reasonable channels to get a no-title car on the road, I will point that the personal habits and general life attitude that leads to title funny business usually does not lead to good car maintenance habits. So even if not for the title issue, a no-title car is still probably not a great buy.

This totally depends on the state. In some states an abandoned vehicle that’s issued a new title is automatically a salvage car, but I believe this is less common. As I mentioned above, usually there’s a separate category of title that gets issued (since salvage titles are only supposed to be for wrecks and the like). Like I said, in my state it’s a bonded title, but then it becomes a normal title. As an aside, getting a bonded title in a state that issues clear titles afterwords is one way that salvage title cars get “cleaned” by disreputable dealers.

Not to speak for that poster, but I believe he was referring to the populist quasi-anti-government movement that has arisen as of late. Basically, not wanting to give any more money to the danged gubbmint would be another reason not to clear up a missing title.