In most cases, it is not advised for you to buy a vehicle with only a bill of sale. This includes buying vehicles from family, friends, and strangers. The certificate of title is the official document that proves you own the car, and without it, you will have major problems. In some cases, you won’t be able to register your vehicle with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
What is the difference between a bill of sale and a title?
The bill of sale and the certificate of title are two similar, but very different documents. The bill of sale is the record of the transaction of the vehicle, think of it as your receipt of the purchase. The bill of sale only proves that you purchased the vehicle from the seller. The certificate of title assigns legal ownership of the vehicle and is produced by the motor vehicle division or secretary of state.
Some vehicles are sold without a title because they are not eligible for one
Some vehicles are sold without a title because they are not eligible for one. If a seller is having trouble obtaining a title for the vehicle, they may choose to sell it without one to avoid the hassle. Oftentimes these vehicles are salvaged, junk, parts-only, or have a certificate of destruction. You won’t know any of this until you have the original certificate of title in your hand or get denied a title by the DMV.
If the vehicle has a salvage brand, it may be eligible to be rebuilt in some states. A salvage title brand means that it was deemed as a total loss by an insurance company. If your state allows for salvage titles to be converted into rebuilt or reconstructed titles, you may be able to use this process to get a title in your name. States that allow for the conversion of a salvage title have very specific and rigid requirements for inspection. Since the insurance company stated the vehicle is not road safe, you must provide receipts for all used parts and undergo a salvage inspection before you can obtain a title.
Alternatively, the vehicle may have a lien title that indicates the vehicle has an unsatisfied loan from a bank or lending institution. The DMV is not permitted to issue any certificate of title for a vehicle that has an outstanding loan. On the same note, if the previous owner owes back taxes on the vehicle, you could be held liable for those back taxes as the new owner or purchaser.
How to title a vehicle with a bill of sale that is eligible but does not have a prior title
As stated above, if your state allows for the conversion of a salvage title to rebuilt or reconstructed title, this may be a good method to use if you’ve already purchased the vehicle and plan to fix it up. If your state does not allow for salvage titles to be converted, you will not be able to get a title for your vehicle.
If the vehicle is not a salvage, parts-only, certificate of destruction, or lien title, there are a few methods you can use to obtain a title:
A bonded title is a title brand that requires the vehicle owner to purchase a vehicle title bond to secure their claim to ownership. In the event of ownership discrepancy, the title bond keeps the DMV from being liable for the error. The bonded title brand typically will stay on a vehicle for only 3-5 years before it can be removed. A bonded title is a very popular and common method used to obtain a title when proper ownership documents are unavailable, however, not all states allow for this method.
Vermont title loophole
The Vermont title loophole can be used by any US citizen in any state to title a vehicle that is 15 years old or older using only a bill of sale. Vermont is the only state to allow for this type of title method. Vermont does not issue titles for vehicles that are 15 years old or older, instead, they are issued only a registration. This registration is Vermont’s legal certificate of title for vehicles of this age and can be transferred to a vehicle title in the owner’s home state.
Prior owner contact
If you are able to contact the prior owner, try contacting them to get you a duplicate title to sign over to you. If you already had problems with your seller and the title at purchase, this recommendation may not work. Additionally, if the seller is not the prior owner, they will not be able to obtain a duplicate title. Only the last registered owner of the vehicle is able to obtain a duplicate title.
This situation is risky for both parties involved. If a title has not been issued, it means that the vehicle was either never titled or was lost at some point. It might also mean that the vehicle was not sold to the individual trying to sell it to you. In some cases, the title might be clean but the car isn’t, so be careful when dealing with private individuals who are selling a vehicle that they own personally.