Although the title is a key piece of legal documentation in the sale of a vehicle, it is possible to legally purchase a car without a title. However, anyone planning on buying a car without a title needs to conduct due diligence to ensure that the vehicle is not stolen and to acquire a replacement title upon purchase.
A vehicle's title, also known as a certificate of title or pink slip, is the legal document which identifies a person or organization as the owner of a car, truck, motorcycle, etc. Titles are issued by the state DMV in which the vehicle is legally registered and titles are transferred between states when owners move. It is not uncommon for people to lose their vehicle's title over time, which is the leading (legal) cause of lack of title during a vehicle sale.
However, it is also possible that a vehicle without a title was stolen, and therefore the title never transferred to the seller. In this case, one cannot legally purchase the vehicle.
Anyone considering buying a vehicle without a title can protect themselves by doing some simple search, using the vehicle identification number (or VIN) to ensure that the vehicle is not stolen. The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) provides an easy-to-use service that allows users to check a vehicle's history by its VIN number. This report will include information on accidents as well as whether the vehicle is stolen. (See references section for link) Alternately, buyers can take the VIN to the local police station and, for a nominal fee, ask them to check if the car is stolen.
Once buyers establish that the car they want to buy is legally the seller's they can then obtain a new title by filing some paperwork with the appropriate DMV. Each state's DMV has a different method for doing this, and buyers can access the information for their particular state through the national DMV website database provided in the references section below.