Tips & Guides

What is a Car Title and Why is it Important?

In the United States, more than 90% of households own at least one car, and the country boasts over 275,000,000 registered vehicles. With such a vast number of vehicle owners, it’s essential to know about a crucial aspect of car ownership – the car title.

Well, don’t worry if you’re not fully familiar with it; you’re not alone! Many people may not be aware of its significance, and this lack of understanding can lead to headaches, especially when buying, selling, or trading a car – particularly through private transactions.

So, let’s dive into it. We have important information to answer all your questions!

What is a Car Title Exactly?

A car title serves as a crucial legal document, acting as concrete proof of vehicle ownership. Often referred to as the “pink slip,” it is officially issued by the state government. The title not

only identifies the vehicle itself but also traces its ownership history, both past and present.

In essence, the Title is your irrefutable “evidence of ownership.” Every time the car is sold, it receives a new auto title in the state where it is registered.

Why is a Car Title Important?

The car title holds paramount importance and serves as a vital document for any automobile. Similar to a birth certificate for a person, a car title is crucial for its official registration with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Without proper registration, the vehicle cannot receive its license plates, making it ineligible for lawful operation on the roads.

What does a Car Title Include?

The car title encompasses essential information, varying slightly from state to state, but typically including the following details:

  • Vehicle Identifying Information: Make, Model, Year, VIN, registration, and color.
  • Technical Information: Gross Weight for regulatory purposes.
  • Owner Information: Name and address of the current owner.
  • Signatures: Buyer, seller, and state representative’s signatures for legal transfer.
  • License Plate Number: Confirms association with the vehicle.
  • Issue Date: Corresponds to the purchase date.
  • Odometer Reading: Records current mileage for history.
  • Lien Holder’s Information: Details if there’s an outstanding loan.
  • State Seal: Official stamp from the issuing state, validating its authenticity.

How does a car title work?

In the typical process of purchasing a new car, it’s done through a dealer. The dealer takes care of filling out an Application for a Title in your name, which is then sent to the state authorities. The state, in turn, issues the new title and sends it directly to you, the buyer.

Now, if you decide to finance the vehicle instead of paying the entire amount upfront, there’s a slight difference. Within 90 days, you’ll receive a certified copy of the title, but the lender’s information, usually a financial institution, will be mentioned on the title as the “Lienholder.”

So, until the loan balance is settled, they’ll keep a hold on the title. But fear not, once you’ve made the last payment, you’ll receive the actual title that now proudly bears your name as the rightful owner, without any lingering claims.

However, if you opt to lease a car instead of buying it outright, there’s a notable distinction. Since you’re not technically the owner of the vehicle in a lease agreement, you won’t receive the title at any point during the lease term.

You are Moving to a Different State, how do you Transfer the Title to the New State?

When you’re already dealing with the hustle and bustle of moving to a new state, the additional task of registering and re-titling your car can feel like a lot on your plate.

Now, here’s the thing: Some states might require you to go through an emissions test or a safety inspection, or perhaps even both before they grant the title and registration to your out-of-state vehicle.

Don’t be surprised if they also ask for physical verification of your vehicle identification number. It’s crucial to figure out what your new home state demands in order to ensure a smooth transition.

If you happen to be coming from a state that issues car titles, you’ll need to bring your current title to the local DMV or Department of Transportation office in your new state. Gather all the essential paperwork you’ll need, which generally includes:

  • Proof of residence (apartment lease, electric bill, and so forth)
  • Form of payment.
  • Driver’s license
  • Current odometer reading

Car Title vs Car Registration: What’s the Difference?

Ah, the car title and vehicle registration may seem similar, but they do have some intriguing differences.

Firstly, vehicle registration serves as solid proof that you’ve completed the necessary steps to officially register your car with the state. It also confirms that you’ve dutifully taken care of any outstanding fees or taxes required. Essentially, it’s like a certificate bestowed by the state, giving you the green light to legally drive your vehicle on public roads. So, consider it your official stamp of approval from the state authorities!

Moreover, while the car title remains constant, vehicle registration requires periodic renewal, typically on an annual basis.

Can I Register My Vehicle in a Different Name than on the Title?

In most cases, vehicles are titled and registered under the same name. However, there are certain situations where things can work differently:

  • Let’s say you decide to sell your beloved used car privately. During this transition, there might be a brief period when the buyer becomes the legal owner of their newly acquired wheels, while you remain the registered owner.
  • In the case of leasing, the title officially belongs to the leasing company, yet, the registration bears the name of the lessee.
  • If someone inherits an automobile but the title is still in the deceased person’s name, they must complete the legal procedure to transfer the title to their name before they may register the vehicle.

Where to keep the Car Title?

While it’s essential to keep your car registration and proof of insurance readily available whenever you hit the road, there’s one vital document you shouldn’t leave inside the car: your car title. Keeping it in the vehicle exposes it to the risks of getting lost, damaged, or worse, stolen.

Instead, treat your car title with the same level of care and importance as you do with other crucial physical documents, such as your passport, birth certificate, and Social Security card.

You have Lost your Car Title: What do you do?

While we make every effort to safeguard crucial documents, life can sometimes throw unexpected challenges our way. If, unfortunately, your vehicle title has been lost, damaged, destroyed, or even stolen, worry not! The solution is to obtain a replacement title, commonly referred to as a duplicate title, without delay. Each state has its unique process for obtaining an exact title.

Whether you choose to apply online or in person for this duplicate title, there are some essential pieces of information you’ll probably need to gather:

  • Proof of ownership of the vehicle
  • Proof of liability insurance on the vehicle
  • Driver’s license or other accepted form of ID
  • Proof of registration

What are the most Common Types of Car Titles?

Acquiring a pre-owned car can be a fantastic opportunity, especially when you’re skilled at identifying the right choice. Understanding the intricacies of each car title is key to securing a remarkable vehicle without breaking the bank.

Car titles come in various forms, subject to the unique circumstances surrounding the vehicle. Let’s dive into the most crucial ones:


A “Clean” title is like a seal of approval for a car. It means the vehicle’s history is free from any records of prior damage, and it’s in good shape structurally. But here’s a friendly heads-up: even if a car boasts a clean title, it doesn’t guarantee it has never been in an accident. It’s wise to conduct a vehicle history report to double-check its past.


If you are getting yourself a car, there’s a good chance you are going to finance it. And in that case, a lienholder title is issued, that includes the lender’s information. The Lienholder remains in effect until you’ve paid off the loan in full.


Once you’ve cleared the loan, you’ll be rewarded with a “Clear” title. This means the vehicle is completely free from any financial encumbrance that could hinder its sale.


When an unfortunate event causes a car’s repair costs to outweigh a certain percentage of its value (which typically ranges from 75 to 90 per cent), the insurance company makes a tough call and declares it a “total loss.” In simpler terms, they deem it economically unfeasible to repair the car.

Well, there are several common reasons. Accidents can leave a vehicle severely damaged, weather-related incidents, especially floods, can wreak havoc, or in some unfortunate cases, the car may have been stolen.


A car with a salvage title can find new life as a “Rebuilt” title. This happens when the vehicle undergoes extensive repairs to bring it back to roadworthy condition. However, the rebuilt title acts as a cautionary flag for potential buyers, letting them know about the vehicle’s past. Before receiving a rebuilt title, the car undergoes thorough inspections to ensure it meets road safety standards established by the state.

Note that a rebuilt salvage designation doesn’t guarantee the car’s safety for driving; in most cases, it simply confirms that the necessary parts are in place and not stolen.

Keep in mind that a rebuilt title may have an impact on the car’s value and insurance coverage. Insurance companies might be cautious and offer lower coverage limits due to the vehicle’s history of damage.

Other Types of Car Titles

The other sorts of auto titles are less frequently granted, and some of these titles fall under the category of “brands,” which are essentially subcategories of larger title categories. To illustrate, suppose you own a car that experienced a flood and has no outstanding loans. In that case, you’ll hold a “flood title,” which falls under the “clear” title category, but bears the “flood” brand.

These titles are like little stories that shed light on a vehicle’s history. Each state may define these title brands uniquely, but here are some of the most common ones:

Affidavit Title: Occasionally, cars lack the necessary documentation or vehicle records. In such cases, the state issues an “affidavit,” a sworn statement of fact that vouches for the car’s ownership details.

Bonded Title: This title is granted to cars with missing ownership documents, where a security bond matching the car’s value is provided to the new owner. This ensures financial protection in case of any future ownership disputes. The validity of a bonded title usually spans three to five years.

  • Certificate of Destruction: When an insurance company settles a claim for a vehicle, they acquire ownership and may opt for a “certificate of destruction,” indicating their intention to scrap the vehicle at a junkyard.
  • Flood/Water Damage Title: Vehicles severely damaged by water are designated with a “flood/water damage title.”
  • Junk Title: Cars sold to junkyards receive a “junk title,” and they’re either sold for scrap metal or dismantled for individual part sales. Some states treat “junk titles” similarly to salvage titles.
  • Dismantled Title: Also known as a “parts-only title” or “non-repairable title,” this title is issued to cars damaged beyond reasonable repair. It’s necessary to sell the car’s remaining valuable parts.
  • Lemon Title: In rare cases, a vehicle may turn out to be a “lemon,” causing nothing but trouble for its new owner. Manufacturers buy back these vehicles due to recurring mechanical problems. A lemon title is given when the car experiences multiple failures of the same mechanical part while under warranty, with the said part being crucial to the car’s safety or maneuverability. However, the definition of a “lemon” varies from state to state.
  • Odometer Rollback Title: Given to a vehicle with its odometer secretly and illegally rolled back to display lower mileage than the actual distance traveled. A competent mechanic can usually identify if an odometer rollback has occurred.

Logistical Titles

  • Certificate of Origin: The very first document for a vehicle or motor carrier, issued by the manufacturer and given to the dealership that will sell the vehicle. It serves as the instrument to transfer ownership from the dealer to the vehicle’s first owner.
  • Export Title: When shipping a car abroad, an “export title” may be required, depending on the customs regulations of the receiving country.
  • Import Title: Conversely, when importing a car from a foreign country, an “import title” may be necessary, subject to the customs regulations of the receiving country.

Selling Your Vehicle – Unraveling the Title Transfer Process

As you get ready to sell or trade it, the title of your car will change hands, marking the beginning of a new chapter. Let’s explore how the title transfer process unfolds depending on the type of transaction.

Selling or Trading to a Dealership

If you’re selling your car or trading it into a dealership, you’re in luck! You won’t have to fret about the title, as the dealership will take care of any necessary title issues.

Selling to a Private Individual

However, if you’re selling your beloved vehicle to another private individual, you and the title recipient (the person you’re transferring ownership to) will have to complete the title transfer process. Here’s a step-by-step guide to ensure a smooth transaction:

  1. Agree on Terms: Negotiate a price for the sale of the car that both parties happily settle upon.
  1. Buyer Pays Seller: Once the buyer pays for the vehicle, it’s time to proceed.

If you’ve already completed the loan for the vehicle, and your title is clear, follow these next steps:

  1. Fill in Vital Information: Fill in all necessary info on the title and sign it over to the buyer. You can find the space for the transfer information at the back of your title. You’ll need:

    Your name and address
    The name and address of the buyer
    Mileage reading
    Sale price

Note: This information becomes a permanent record, so make sure it’s clear, accurate, and legible. If the title lists two owners, both may need to sign.

  1. Buyer Secures Liability Insurance: To protect their new acquisition, the buyer must obtain liability insurance for the car.
  2.  Buyer Registers the Vehicle: Proof of insurance and a driver’s license or ID will be needed to register the newly purchased vehicle.
  3.  Temporary Permit: In most states, acquiring a temporary permit to drive the car is a streamlined process.
  4.  State’s Title Transfer Fee: The buyer must pay the state’s title transfer fee.
  5.  Transfer of Ownership: Depending on the state, the buyer or seller may need to complete a transfer of ownership form and submit it to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Consider this

Each time a state issues a title, they keep copies of both the old and new titles, meticulously recording each owner and change in ownership over the car’s lifespan. This ensures protection in case of any issues during the sale or trade process.

Keep in mind that the process mentioned above is a general guide. Each state may have specific criteria for issuing titles. To ensure a smooth transfer, it’s wise to check your local DMV’s website before visiting their office, ensuring you have all the necessary documents to transfer the title into your name.

In Case a Loan Exists

If there’s still a loan on the vehicle, and a lien is present on the title, the situation becomes a bit more intricate. The lender will require the loan to be fully paid off before releasing the lien.

Here’s how you can handle this:

  • Complete the Transaction at the Lender’s Office: The simplest option is to conduct the entire transaction at the lender’s office. If it’s a local bank or credit union, everything can be sorted right then and there. You’ll need to make arrangements with your lender.
  • Pay the Loan in Full: If completing the transfer at the lender’s location isn’t feasible, you’ll need to work out the loan payment with the buyer. The buyer can pay your lender directly, and once the loan is fully paid, the lender will issue you a clear title, enabling you to proceed with the transfer.

Buying a Used Car – Essential Title Considerations and Red Flags to Beware

Before you embark on the journey of purchasing a used car, exercising due diligence is paramount, whether you’re dealing with a dealership or a private seller. Here are some critical points to keep in mind regarding the car’s title, along with warning signs to watch for:

Verify the Title

Always request to see the car’s title and ensure its legality in the state where you plan to make the purchase. Familiarize yourself with what a clean title should look like according to your state’s regulations.

Additionally, keep an eye out for any mileage discrepancies. Titles often present the reported mileage, designated as “Actual,” “Not Actual,” or indicating if the mileage exceeds the car’s mechanical limits.

Match the VIN Number

One of the primary issues to watch for is whether the VIN on the title matches the VIN on the car itself. You can locate the VIN tag near the A-pillar at the base of the windshield, in front of the driver. Verify that the VIN on the car matches the one displayed on other parts of the vehicle as well.

Get the Vehicle History Report

Before finalizing your decision, acquire a comprehensive Vehicle History Report (VHR). This report provides valuable insights, such as accident history, ownership records, and more. It can even reveal if the odometer has been rolled back to display fewer miles than the car has actually traveled.

Carfax is a reputable provider for VHRs, gathering data from various sources, including the vehicle’s identification number (VIN). A Carfax report for a single vehicle costs $39.99.

Check for Authenticity

Examine the title’s issue date; a relatively recent date could indicate a forged document. Look for a watermark; if it’s absent, this may be a sign of a copied title. Additionally, scrutinize the printing on the document for any fuzziness or unclear text, as this could indicate a copied document.

Beware of Title Washing

Title washing occurs when a previous owner attempts to remove a brand from the vehicle’s title. This could involve relocating the car to another state and withholding information during re-titling or tampering with the existing title. Such practices are illegal and can lead to misleading information.

To avoid falling victim to title-washing scams, rely on more than just the car’s title; a Carfax Vehicle History Report provides extensive information that can protect you from potential issues.

Steer Clear of Title Jumping

Be cautious of sellers who indulge in title jumping to save on sales taxes and maximize profits. Title jumping involves not registering the title and selling it after purchasing the car, leaving no legal record of ownership. Always ensure a proper title transfer to safeguard your rights as the new owner.

Seek Professional Insight

While test driving and inspecting the vehicle yourself can offer some initial insights, it’s beneficial to have a professional mechanic check the car thoroughly. Their expertise can reveal hidden problems or potential issues that might have gone unnoticed.

Should I Buy a Car Without a Title?

In most cases, the answer is a cautious “no.” Purchasing a car without a title can lead to a host of potential complications.

For instance, the seller may engage in “title jumping” to avoid taxes and fees. As the buyer, this scenario could leave you in a difficult position if you encounter difficulties transferring the title and registering the car in your name.

Worse yet, you might unknowingly end up with a car that has a “branded” title, such as a salvage title, or one that has a lien against it, indicating that there is still an outstanding loan on the vehicle. In extreme cases, it could even turn out to be a stolen car.

However, there could be genuine reasons for not having the title on hand, such as it being lost or stolen.

If you’re tempted by an irresistible deal, exercise caution, and take some proactive steps before committing to the purchase:

  • Run a free VIN search to check for stolen records.
  • Ask the seller to get a duplicate title before finalizing the deal.

Stay vigilant for red flags:

  • The seller hesitates to get a duplicate title.
  • The car’s VINs are altered or missing.
  • The seller pressures you into a quick decision or avoids your questions.

Find Your perfect Vehicle

Now that you’re well-informed about car titles and the potential pitfalls, it’s time to find the perfect vehicle that aligns with your desires and requirements.

Schumacher Used offers a wide array of high-quality vehicles that meet the highest reconditioning standards, backed by a top-tier warranty. With nearly a century of serving New Jersey, our commitment to excellence ensures a seamless car-buying experience.

Reach out to us today and take the next step towards finding the car of your dreams!