Reputable title companies will tell you they hope most hobbyists don’t need their service. It’s not because the title companies don’t want to help fellow old car owners get a title, it’s because the process for getting a title has gotten more difficult as time and new laws pass. In some states, it’s darn-near impossible to get a new title for a vintage car.
“New Jersey, Illinois or North Carolina — I just tell people they need to move to another state [if they want to title their cars],” joked Neal Andrews, owner of Broadway Title.
In other cases, it’s not the location of the car, but the type of car that has become difficult to re-title.
“I can’t get the old ‘bags of bones’ titled any more,” Andrews said, referencing the salvage yard escapees and barn finds he once was able to more easily register. “The guy who buys [a rough car] usually wants to get the title before restoring it. Now it’s the other way around.”
Indeed, in today’s world, car owners are required to make a car safe and road worthy before a vehicle can be registered.
“Now I have to get a mechanic to inspect it and say it’s road worthy, and an insurance card from the owner.”
Titles vs. registrations
It’s important to note that there are two types of paperwork used to provide a vehicle owner’s proof of ownership. In some states, titles are issued containing an owner’s identity and location and their vehicle, identified by serial number. Other states use a registration method as proof of ownership that is similar to the title procedure. A registration-only state’s official paperwork (registration) can be converted into a title in a state that only issues titles (and vice versa). Title companies aid the process of providing proof of ownership through the registration process in the state of Maine, New Hampshire, Alabama, Georgia or Louisiana, any of which can provide registration for a vehicle, even if a vehicle is not located in that state. That out-of-state registration can usually be transferred to a title or registration in the owner’s home state (the exception being such states as those mentioned above).
How to avoid needing title services
To avoid the hassle and expense of getting a title or new registration, title companies urge car owners to do everything in their power to get a title or registration form from a seller, not just a bill of sale. A seller that has previously titled or registered a vehicle in his or her name but lost the document can apply for a replacement title or registration. The estate of a car’s previous owner should be urged to locate a title or registration for a car.
“A lot of people are promised a title and never get it,” Andrews noted. Obviously, if a seller states that a title exists, it’s best not to exchange funds until that title can be produced.
If a title or registration form cannot be located, the best advice is to walk away from a car, especially if it isn’t drivable. But in a hobby driven by emotion, that’s not always easy to do. In those cases, companies such as Broadway Title can still help a hobbyist who drags a car or truck out of a barn, salvage yard or have simply bought or already own a vehicle and have lost the title. To save some heartache, title company professionals urge owners to do a little leg work before picking up the phone and calling them.
An owner’s due diligence
“The worst thing is, if there is an active title in your state, your state is not going to issue two titles,” Andrews said. “It never hurts to run a title check” before seeking a title, if not before buying a car, he added. After five or seven years, most states purge their records of unregistered cars, so if a car has not been registered or titled in that length of time, it’s not likely to be in a state’s records. New registration or a new title will be required.
To run a title check, view all of the vehicle’s serial numbers and compare them throughout the car — do they match each other? (Locations of serial numbers can be found in Krause Publications’ “Standard Catalog” series. Since engines can easily be swapped, it’s best to use the numbers on the chassis. If the serial numbers are satisfactory and do not appear to have been meddled with, then ask your local police department or department of motor vehicles to verify that the serial number is not listed in a stolen vehicle database or is connected with a current title. Before sealing the deal, get every piece of available ownership history from the seller, and have the seller write up a bill of sale that includes the car’s VIN, sale price, date of sale, etc.
“It’s best for [a vehicle buyer] to get everything they can,” Andrews said. “If a car is from a non-title state, get the guy to register it in their state. Get a notarized bill of sale and a registration. I am not going to take your money if you can get it for free.”
If the seller is able to provide registration, that registration can be used to re-register or title the vehicle. If the seller cannot provide a registration or title, that’s where title companies step in.
The service of a title company
Title companies expect owners to make sure the car is not stolen or is not already titled, and that the owner has investigated his or her state’s policy on transferring an out-of-state registration to a title.
If a vehicle is not listed as stolen, doesn’t have an existing title on record and it’s older than 1995, a title company can usually help register the vehicle.
Title companies require the owner to complete paperwork verifying a car’s proof of operation, its serial number, etc. (this paperwork is accessible on most title companies’ web sites). To prove that a vehicle is operable, owners can contact a police officer, state inspection agency or a licensed repair facility near their home to complete the necessary paperwork required by the state that will issue the registration.
With the paperwork completed, the title company then applies for registration for the owner through one of the aforementioned states, which runs the VIN, and if clear, registration in that state is issued. The owner can then use the registration to title or re-register the car in their state.
For example, “You are going to get a registration in your name in Maine, then it will be registered in Maine,” Andrews said. “Maine allows you to register your car in Maine, even if you don’t live there. You take [the registration] to your DMV and transfer it from Maine to your state. Your state, being a title state, will issue a title from the registration.”
How to avoid future title needs
Just because you currently have a title doesn’t mean you or your family won’t need a title service. Many people fail to transfer a title upon purchasing a vehicle, and if that title is then lost or destroyed, the process to obtaining a title or registration, and the fees associated with it, will be required to license or register the vehicle. There are also legal implications to failing to register or title a vehicle shortly after its purchase, and this practice is not recommended.
To prevent losing a title, be sure to place it in a safe and secure place, and make sure trusted family members and friends know where to find the titles and registrations to your vehicle(s).
“I have some people say, ‘My uncle or grandpa gave me a car and I want to restore it finally,’” Andrews said. In this case, the car has been parked for a very long time and the title cannot be found. Showing the location of your vehicle’s title will save your heirs the problem of re-titling or registering your vehicle.