The car registration, title and paperwork usually indicate whether or not there is a lien on the car or if a lien has been paid in full. Even if the car paperwork indicates that the lien has been paid off, the buyer is better off asking for paperwork as proof that the lien has actually been fulfilled.
The vehicle identification number, or VIN, on the car should also be compared with the information on the title and registration. The VIN is a 17-digit number usually found on a small plate on the driver's side dashboard. It's best to abandon a car deal entirely if there are any numbers missing from the VIN or if there is no VIN at all.
The VIN can be taken to the local DMV to get a full history of the car, including who has owned the vehicle in the past and if it has been involved in any accidents. The history also indicates if there is a lien on the car from past owners. Besides the DMV, there are also online resources that can be used to investigate the history of an automobile.
Even if a seller provides paperwork that proves that the lien has been paid, it's best to wait for an official report, which can take one to two months.