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All about Car Titles and How to Replace a Lost One

  • Auto Insurance
  • Natasha Young
  • 6 minutes

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Buying a car without financing from a bank or dealer comes with a certificate of title from the seller. The vehicle title may appear to be nothing more than a piece of paper, but it holds significant value.  As proof of ownership, a vehicle’s title includes its make, model, and VIN. As soon as you discover that you’ve misplaced or lost your car title, you’ll probably be wondering how to get a new one. Here are a few pointers to get you started. 

What does a car title look like? 

Title certificates serve as proof that the vehicle belongs to its rightful owner. To register or sell your car, you’ll need the title. If a vehicle has a salvage title, it means it got extensive damages. The use of electronic titles rather than paper copies is are acceptable in many states. When a vehicle is sold, the state’s department of transportation issues a title. In the event that a car loan exists, the lender retains ownership of the property until the loan is full payment. The following information is commonly available in titles, though it varies from state to state: 

  • Owner’s name 
  • Vehicle identification number (VIN) 
  • Odometer reading at the time of the sale 
  • Weight class 
  • Lienholder information if the sale is financed 
  • Title assignment section with buyer and seller’s names, addresses, date of sale, and signatures 

lost car title replacement

Vehicle registration vs. Vehicle title 

Registration of your vehicle is a requirement in addition to the title. Titles show ownership, but registration certificates show if your car has the allowance to be on public roadways. If you’re caught driving without valid registration, you could face a fine. 

What are the different types of car titles? 

  • Clean: There have been no major accidents that have resulted in the vehicle being declared “totaled” by an insurance company. 
  • Clear: There is no lien in opposition to the vehicle, and the owner has full ownership rights. 
  • Salvage: The vehicle was declared a total loss and disposed of as such. When a state issues a salvage title, it declares that the vehicle in question cannot be used or sold as-is. 
  • Rebuilt or reconstituted: Vehicles that have been rebuilt or reconstituted are given the title “rebuilt” or “reconstituted.” Repairs made on a budget may have left the vehicle in poor condition and necessitated more expensive ones down the road. 

How to get a new title for a car? 

Apply for a certificate of title in your name when purchasing a new vehicle or moving an existing vehicle to another state. You’ll need to bring these documents to your local DMV office: 

  • Proof of identity (driver’s license or passport) 
  • The proof of ownership, such as a bill of sale 
  • Proof of insurance coverage that meets state-minimum requirements 
  • Application for title 
  • Applicable sales, tag, title, and registration fees 

Title fees vary by state but range from $5 to $150. For example: 

  • Illinois: Individuals have to pay a $150 vehicle title fee.
  • North Dakota: In North Dakota, the title fee is just $5.
  • Pennsylvania: In Pennsylvania, the cost to get an original title after the issue is $58.

replace lost car title

Car title replacement 

If your title recedes, don’t freak out. If you don’t want to pay, you can always get a new one. You can apply for a new one online, but we recommend visiting a DMV branch in person. It’s always preferable to meet in person. Check your state’s DMV website to see what paperwork you’ll need to submit. However, in most cases, the following items appear on the list: 

  • Make, model, and year of the vehicle 
  • Current odometer reading 
  • The VIN 
  • Financing information 
  • Your driver’s license 
  • Cash, debit card, or check for the reissuing fee 

How to get a title replacement of your vehicle in your name? 

In most states, if the car is titled in your name, you can get a replacement from a local department of motor vehicles. A small fee and proof of ownership (such as a loan agreement for the vehicle) may be required before the replacement can be issued. Depending on where you live, you may also be required to provide your car’s VIN and some personal information.  

For example, in order to apply for a replacement title in Wisconsin, you’ll need your driver’s license or another form of identification, your Social Security number’s last four digits, and an email address, among other things. It’s important to remember that a new title almost always indicates that the old title has been replaced. 

 How to get a title replacement if you don’t own your car yet? 

It is possible to get a new title if you purchased a vehicle from a private seller and the title was lost before you transferred it into your name. To get around this problem, Road and Track Magazine recommends requesting that the previous owner do so on your behalf (you may have to pay a replacement title fee). Then, when the title arrives, they could sign it over to you. 

If that isn’t an option, you may be able to get a court order to get a title in some states. The only way to get a title this way is to appear in court and have a judge award your ownership. Submitting a title application with a court order is usually successful as long as the order contains specific vehicle information (such as the VIN and manufacturer). If you want to sell a vehicle that you inherited from an estate, you may need to go through this process to get a title. 

What is the process for getting a new car title? 

Depending on where you live, the time it takes to get a new driver’s license can also vary. Replacement titles are not issued within 15 days after an original title is issued or 30 after a duplicate title is issued as a precaution against fraud. In addition, it’s possible that you’ll have to wait a few weeks before receiving your book by mail.  

However, if you need a new title right away, some states (such as Michigan) provide same-day service. Keeping your vehicle’s title in a secure location can help prevent it from being lost or stolen. Remember to check your state’s requirements before applying for a replacement if you do happen to lose your car title. 

Here’s more info on top-rated airport parking, the best parking spots in your city, the most affordable insurance for your car, and top-rated car washes near you.


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