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What is an Auto Title?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 23, 2024
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An auto title, also known as a "pink slip," is a legal certificate of ownership issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Among other information, it lists the current owner's name and address, the make, model and year of the vehicle, and the first date sold.

An auto title is a very important document that is often kept in a safety deposit box or other secure location. When selling a vehicle, the title must be signed over by the seller. The buyer then takes the title to the DMV to register the car in his or her name. A fresh auto title is prepared by the DMV and mailed to the new owner, listing the buyer as the current owner. When that buyer wishes to sell the car, he must go through the same process of signing the car title over.

In addition to the owner or lien holder, the auto title also lists the vehicle identification number (VIN). This is a unique number that appears on a steel strip on the dash of the vehicle, inside the driver's door jam, or in the engine compartment. When purchasing a car from a dealership or private party, be sure to check that the VIN on the vehicle matches that on the car title.

The title also lists mileage at the last date of sale. This allows consumers to perform a cursory check to see if the odometer or mileage indicator on the car seems reasonable given the time that has passed since the title was generated. For example, if the title shows that the car had 65,020 miles on it two years ago, and the vehicle's odometer currently reads less than that, this is a red flag. It doesn't indicate foul play absolutely -— there may be a mechanical reason, like a digital chip replacement that inadvertently reset the odometer —- but it requires a good explanation that can be backed up with records.

The auto title also includes the word "salvage" if the vehicle was in an auto accident that the insurance company claimed was a total loss. In this case the car was "junked," then subsequently bought from the junk dealer by a third party to be repaired and resold. When this is done legally, the title shows it as a salvaged vehicle.

Salvaged vehicles sell for far less than a comparable unsalvaged vehicle, giving incentive to some unscrupulous people to keep this knowledge from prospective buyers in order to get full market price. In this case, they may claim to have lost the title. The DMV will replace a lost auto title and in more cases than not, there is likely a problem with the vehicle when someone claims they do not have the title. If not salvaged, the vehicle might be stolen, or there may be some other problem with it. To protect yourself, it's best to insist the seller get a duplicate title from the DMV. If they refuse, it's recommended to pass on the car.

There are several online services that will run a DMV check on any vehicle using the VIN number. For a small fee, the report will reveal the entire history of the car, including dates sold, odometer readings, and if the car has ever been in a reported accident or flood. This is not a guarantee against past accidents or flood damage, as the owner can repair damages himself without reporting them to police or his insurance company. But overall title checks, called VIN checks, provide considerable peace of mind.

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Discussion Comments
By anon988074 — On Feb 08, 2015

I have a big problem. I just recently got a settlement and bought my first car. When I went to buy the car, me and my boyfriend signed for it because he had already had insurance and what have you. His name was only suppose to be on the title until he bought a new car this past February, which never happened and now he won’t give me the car. He’s taken it and my keys and refuses to give the car back.

I need help on what I can do to take him off the title and get my car back. Granted, he pays the insurance on the car, but we went half on the warranty and anything else that needs to be fixed. What am I to do? This is my first care and I paid $12,000 for it. He has a Lexus that he drives.

By anon930671 — On Feb 05, 2014

Does anyone know if the title number changes?

By anon355174 — On Nov 14, 2013

I need help! My husband got an auto title loan without my consent. We are separated and both our names are on the title. What can I do about the lien on our truck that I didn't sign for?

By anon345827 — On Aug 22, 2013

I am about to sell my old car, seeing as how I have had a new one for over a month now. The only problem is we don't have anyone to notarize the sell today. It's going to be up to him to get it notarized. Will I get penalized if he never gets the title transferred into his name? I don't see him doing that, but I'm just trying to find out information.

By anon341519 — On Jul 12, 2013

I recently bought a car from a guy and it was his stepdad's car. The title is signed, but the DMV needs it notarized but the kid I bought it from now refuses to have his stepdad come and have the title notarized and said if I don't want it, I can pay more money out of my own pocket to have it towed the 35 miles back to his house and drop it off. He won't come pick it up himself and said nothing about a refund. Is there anything I can do? Can I get the title notarized myself?

By anon324569 — On Mar 11, 2013

My car is currently still financed to my ex and me. He is listed on the title and registration. We are split up, and he lives out of state. He got himself in legal trouble now there is a stop on his name in the VA DMV. I can't renew my registration because he is on it. Can I change the registration to only my name if he is still listed on the title?

By katieann123 — On Jan 20, 2013

I bought a truck and the seller did a written bill of sale, but our military base is very strict and said that was is not legal, but my main question is that I got blamed for something I didn't do, but the cop came to my job and he looked up the truck an said that it was not in the seller's name, that it belonged to a lady in Eugene, Oregon. So can I file for a lost title since the seller did not put it in his name within 30 days and did not give me the registration to the truck but only a bill of sale? Can't he get in trouble for that?

By anon303240 — On Nov 13, 2012

My husband brought a car while we were married and it is paid for. How can I keep him from signing the title over to someone else to keep me from putting it in the divorce papers? I live in Florida.

By anon292314 — On Sep 19, 2012

I bought a car back in May of this year. The title is in my name, and the bill of sale states how much the car was sold for. The person that I bought the car from is now wanting more money than agreed upon, and is threatening to come and get the car. Is this legal?

By anon271208 — On May 25, 2012

I was given a personal loan from my previous boss, and he was happy to make 8 percent back on his money. Problem is, we never signed any paperwork saying that the loan would be a lien against the car.

When I went to register the car, I accidentally put his name second on the title (under my finance company). How do I go about removing his name from the title? I just found this out (VA) and the note to my finance company will be paid off next month, transferring the title to him. He has since fired me (we had litigation) after I complained about his advances on me. So the worst case scenario would be for to have him have any power over me at this moment.

By peaches52401 — On Feb 03, 2012

My mother had given me her vehicle, and on the title she accidentally filled out the buyer and seller field of the title. Will the secretary of state still accept the title so that I can register it in my name?

By anon216949 — On Sep 23, 2011

I purchased a vehicle and I have a deferred payment that is due. I bought the vehicle from a used car lot. The car lot is telling me that they will withhold my car registration until the deferred payment is paid. I would like to know if this is legal.

By amypollick — On Sep 13, 2011

@Facebook_User_1701955757: Go to the license office at the courthouse (where you bought the tag), and get a copy of the tag receipt, if you don't already have one. Also, get a copy of the canceled check you wrote (or debit card receipt from your bank, or credit card receipt), and take those copies, along with your copies of your bill of sale and copy of your title if you have it, to your insurance agent. These prove the day the vehicle came into your possession, along with the day you bought the current tag for it, with the proper tag number.

This should take care of the problem. Good luck.

By Candice Morales — On Sep 13, 2011

please help me! my husband bought a truck in april of this year and tagged it the day after buying it and like three days ago, we got a letter saying that the truck was in a hit and run accident in aug of this year and they are trying to sue us, but the tag number they have is the old tag number. we never had that tag. the guy who sold it to us has it but the insurance company is saying the old tag is in my husband's name but the day after we bought it, we got a tag for it and it's not the tag number they have. what can i do? please help!

By anon208804 — On Aug 24, 2011

I sold a car in March. The purchaser resold the car recently. The problem is the title was never transferred. Now the new owner is trying to get the title.

By johna1 — On May 15, 2011

can i put a title in one name even if the registration has two names? i have a lien and the dealership let me put it in just my name.

By anon165077 — On Apr 03, 2011

I'm trying to buy a motorcycle but the guy tells me he has the pink slip and registration but it is not in his name because he just purchased it and is moving so he decided to sell it. should i buy the bike? will it make a difference when i try to register at the dmv?

By anon164730 — On Apr 02, 2011

A few years ago my friend was given a car by a family member who has since died. Because he didn't drive it, he never changed the title although he had the pink slip. He has given the car to me. How can I transfer it? It is registered in CA and I live in OH.

By anon156875 — On Feb 28, 2011

I got the title for my car from my parents. The title was from a lease back six years ago. The bank signed 1a. sign and printed, in the odometer disclosure and in 2. I filled out the odometer at the time my father sold me the car. The DMV wants a countersignature from the bank, even though everything is already signed.

By LordVoo — On Feb 23, 2011

The Notary Certificate of the default process is a procedure guaranteed to provide you with court admissible evidence to your right to title.

By anon146884 — On Jan 27, 2011

A salvage title means that you cannot get registration for the car and cannot put it back on the road until it is fixed. This is a very complex process that I wouldn't suggest that a normal person take on. It's often more trouble than it's worth and in the end you have a car that's been branded as "rebuilt salvage." That brand stays on forever and hardly anybody wants to buy a former wreck.

By anon144476 — On Jan 19, 2011

I have a huge problem. I recently bought a dirt bike and gave the guy cash. He said he would give me the pink slip later. Now the guy won't give me the pink slip or sign a bill of sale unless I give him more money.

He says he's going to report the bike stolen. Is there anything I can do? Can I take him to court? I gave the bike to my girlfriend as a gift. Hope I can get some advice. Thanks.

By anon141346 — On Jan 10, 2011

I have a vehicle and I have the title in my possession but it is under my grandmother's husbands name. She is threatening to take the car back. Can she do that?

By anon135820 — On Dec 20, 2010

My boyfriend bought a car for my son for his 16th birthday but put the title in his name. We have now broken up and he is threatening to come and take the car away.

I am assuming we have no legal way to stop him from taking the car? I have paid for the registrations and insurance and all repairs since we have owned it. Any help would be appreciated.

By anon134297 — On Dec 14, 2010

My wife just sold her car. She was filling out the pink slip and accidentally filled her name in the boxes for 'buyer'. Will the DMV consider this a problem or is it okay since she did sign the line as seller.

By anon123031 — On Oct 30, 2010

I live in NJ and purchased a car from a private seller in NY. He filled out the back of the clean car title and signed. I filled out the back but the pen gave out while printing my name. I went over my name with a new pen to darken the letters.

I went to NJ DMV to transfer the title and the agent said I altered the title and it is no longer valid. I did not alter the title at all. All I did is print my name twice the second time over the not legible first time I printed it. DMV now expects me to get a new title from NY. Any advice? can I dispute this with NJ DMV? is it really an altered title by making my name darker. After all, they do need my name on the back of the title as the buyer and they do need it to be legible. Joe

By dddglife — On Oct 28, 2010

Situation: I have a Harley motorcycle pink slip with two names on it as "and". No lien holder. One owner can show proof of entire purchase with invoice and a canceled check as well as any repairs, registration and insurance. The other party has contributed gas about 70 percent of time. Party two will not willingly sign the pink slip and has hidden the vehicle. Not sure where.

How can someone go about getting item in a single name? Is it legal to take the bike if found since that person's name is on the pink slip?

Is there a way to keep it from being registered if taken out of state or re registered in the state? Please help. time is of the essence.

By anon122231 — On Oct 27, 2010

what if you buy a car and were deceived about why the engine is not running properly? you buy the car and get title but will not put the car in your name because it does not run. if you cannot get your money back and the car is still in the seller's name, what should you do to get your money back?

By anon119560 — On Oct 18, 2010

should a car title and loan have the same name on it? can a loan be in one name and title be in another?

By anon115026 — On Sep 30, 2010

I'm having a dispute with my mother, sadly. we went out around christmas and bought a car. she paid for it but she didn't have a license so she put my name and her name on the title, the same thing with the boat. she now wants me to sign the title over or she is taking me to court. what happens?

By anon112668 — On Sep 21, 2010

A collection agency writes for me to pay, one may guess since it is a non-specification in the notice letter, the purchase fee of a vehicle I am not owning nor possessing. What is the answer?

By anon106472 — On Aug 25, 2010

okay i have a situation and really really need help. i received a car as a gift and had to pay a small amount for it and the cars registration recently expired. i cannot get ahold of the man that is was registered under and it is insured under a different name. i cannot get ahold of the woman to whom it is registered either, and i have no idea who has the pink slip. What can I do?

By anon98796 — On Jul 24, 2010

We just bought a land cruiser from a couple. Only the husband's name was on title but they both signed the back? We cannot get it titled because it was only in his name and they both signed? I could understand if the opposite were true (only she signed and his name on title) but his signature is there. Is this true everywhere or did I just get another uneducated person helping me at the DMV?

By anon95078 — On Jul 11, 2010

My situation is like #18 (tlc56). May I have an answer, please?

By anon94108 — On Jul 07, 2010

Is it possible to get a title in your name without having a drivers license?

By anon92775 — On Jun 30, 2010

I bought a car and put it in my girlfriend's name. now she gets mad because i move out and had the police come get the car. It's my car and i have proof from the last owner and friends. What can i do?

By anon90401 — On Jun 15, 2010

When you sign your title over to a dealership because you traded the vehicle in who owns the vehicle at that point? The dealership? Or you until they sell the vehicle? Really important! Does anyone know?

By anon89474 — On Jun 10, 2010

wow, now that right there is a con man. It's almost beautiful the way he worked it, too.

Well, I'd say the first thing you'd do would be to track him down. Could maybe skip trace him; they always leave something behind. Then there are a few ways to go, each of them none too helpful. Maybe your best bet would be a people's court and hope to hell the judge takes pity.

By anon82658 — On May 06, 2010

I purchased my car from a dealer in LA, I then moved to AL and had to register the car in AL. I then moved back to LA. Once the car was paid off I received the title to the car, but it is from the State of AL, and it has my old AL address on it. If I want to sell my car do I have to transfer the title to LA first or can I use the title as is?

By anon61477 — On Jan 20, 2010

The easiest way to resolve any quiet title issue is by using the Notary Certificate of Default or Dishonor. It produces a good administrative record in order to facilitate the involuntary transfer of a Motor Vehicle Title.

By anon51722 — On Nov 08, 2009

Basically, once you've handed over the title of your car (signed and dated which he asked for), assuming he'd pay you the full amount promised and agreed upon (worst, dumbest, yes, naive, most stupid thing to do because I only received 700 instead of 4000 -was invited to his church and met his wife and kids -totally believed he was good for it and that he'd come through. He said that he'd be receiving his tax refund and the amount of what he'd collect off his Infinity would be given to me, and no less than 200 thereafter), he now legally owns my car outright? He knew it was my first and only car and that I've never sold a car before. He told me he had, and came over one day for the title. I had to go to the bank and ask them for it since I had finished paying off a loan that had my car as the collateral for the loan. I had paid off the car years before that loan, but it was still in great condition and worth over $4000 (Blue Book Value). I needed to sell it because I was moving, paying down school loans, and saving for my wedding. I have yet to buy another car and it's been over a year since the guy drove away with his wife. They've disconnected their cell numbers, home numbers and moved (his mother told me that he may have moved to where his wife's family lives). Is there really nothing more I can do to get my car back or at least get what is owed to me if I've already given up the title? No rude comments or "idiot" remarks please, since I've had time to realize my loss -- and trust me it hurts because I saved and worked hard for my car. I worked hard and paid it off all by myself after years of paying 327.11 per month, unlike those around me at that time in my life trying to support my mom with a dad that walked out on us. I didn't have it easy and for someone to take advantage of other people, it just isn't right. Sorry to vent but thought it wouldn't hurt to ask. One last bit of hope remains -maybe that's what made me ask. Any good advice would be appreciated. Someone suggested small claims court, but I didn't mention that I had already given the pink slip. Would I still be able to do that? Appreciating any help, please.

By anon43388 — On Aug 28, 2009

I work for a company that manufactures auto accessories. In 2005, Nissan provided a new Frontier that my company converted into a show vehicle. It's outlived it's show potential and the company has given me the Frontier tricked out. But since it was a show car from Nissan, there's not a title, nor can I get a Certificate of Origin. It has a valid VIN, but it doesn't appear anywhere when the DMV searches. Does anyone *know* how I can get a "new" title?

By anon36618 — On Jul 13, 2009

I will be purchasing a car from a dealership in TN. will the dealership give me the title after I purchase the car?

By ernstlamour — On May 20, 2009

I bought a Toyota 4Runner from a guy on Ebay. I live in Maryland and he lives in NY. I took the bus to NY, paid him for the car and he handed me the keys to the truck and the title. I later found out after I took the truck to be insured that the name signed on the back of the title is not the name on the title. I was advised to call the seller and ask him for another title. He told me he would go to the DMV to get one. I have waited for a long time and never got the new title from him. I called and talked to him and he said to give him a month. I tried calling him after a month and his number has been changed. I don't know if he still lives in the place. Is there anyway that I can get a title from the Maryland MVA without having a title for the truck?

By anon29474 — On Apr 02, 2009

So as soon as the original owner signs the back of the pink slip saying that they are signing the car over to whomever's name they place. Does that make it official that the car belongs to the new owner? Or it's not complete until they take it to the DMV to have the title switched to another name completely?

By anon28762 — On Mar 21, 2009

I bought a car four weeks ago from a dealer. He said that you can take your title 2 or 3 weeks later. He has completed every procedure, but I didn't get my title yet. What is the reasoning behind this delay? I don't know what can I do.

By anon27981 — On Mar 09, 2009

I lost my car title. What can I do about a new one and how will that play into the value of the car?

By anon27502 — On Mar 01, 2009

I am going to sell my car to a junk car dealer. He would be taking the title from me and giving me a sale deed. Is there anything else that I need to take care of in order to ensure that the car is not misused? Does the notary have to sign the title?

Thanks, mardigras

By tlc56 — On Feb 20, 2009

my brother passed away but did not have a will and i am his oldest blood sibling. he has a truck i have the title. can i sign it or does it go to the state? he was not married and he does not have any children and i live with him. please help thank you

By nlaiii — On Feb 19, 2009

Titles are very important and many people don't understand how important it is to have a title in their name and keep it in a safe place.

I help people with title problems on cars 15 years old and older and have heard almost every story out there, and am still amazed that people have very expensive cars without titles or the title in there name.

I own a company and that is what I spend all day every day doing, is trying to help people get what they need to get the vehicle they own titled in there name. I give advice for free and help when I can. please always get a title when you purchase a car and keep your money until they provide you a title.

Remember, once someone has your money, you have little chance of ever getting a title.

By anon19682 — On Oct 17, 2008

Hello, we are a dealership in Germany and have a customer who claims that there are more than one type of car title in the US. So far we've only seen one kind of car title.

Example would be: one type for retrieved stolen cars and one for oldtimers etc. Are there more than just one? Cheers

By anon18297 — On Sep 18, 2008

If I lost my title where else would the title # be located? I have to apply for a new one and this is the one piece of info I don't have for the application.

By janaa2 — On Sep 07, 2008

My car title states "true mileage unknown" from a few years back though there has never been anything wrong with the odometer. How do I go about correcting the title when I am not the one holding the title at this time - the bank has it.

By vivian — On Jun 27, 2008

I titled my car in my name "or" my son's.

Does this arrangement allow the car to be sold or re-registered by one party alone. And if yes, Can I re-title using the word "and"???

By anon14765 — On Jun 23, 2008

I recently bought a car at an auto salvage yard in ala....if I got the car running, am I able to apply for license(tags) in the state of Illinois?

By anonman — On Jun 21, 2008

my wife bought a car, but the loan is in her name, but i will be the one that will pay the car note every month, and the title is in her name, also. is there a way that i could get my name added to the title? I would hate if we got a divorce, and i put all this money into the car, and she took it. how can i go about showing proof of this, so if anything was to happen, i can show in court that i have paid the payments, and be able to have my car.

By carscars — On Jun 19, 2008

Yes but what if the guy isn't really him and then you go to the police, won't they take your car away and you lose all your money?

By Zero11534 — On Jun 18, 2008

You have two choices at this point since I have been in your shoes when I was 18 years old. Choice one you can call the police and the DMV and report this car as an illegal sale since you have the man's information it should not be hard for them to pick him up. Most likely he will produces a bill of sales to avoid trouble. The police will take it from there.

Or option two you go to the DMV report it as a salvaged auto and re-title it in your name not the best move though!

I would suggest bring all the info to the police document and copy everything! 2 copies!!!!!!!! And get one copy notarized! These criminals get away with a lot these days.

By anon7538 — On Jan 29, 2008

Please need help!

I purchased a used vehicle which the guy claimed to be the owner but his name wasn't in the title, then he gave me the title with a different name, and I asked him who was the person on the title, and he said it was his step -father, so I told him that the title wasn't signed, and he just told me that his step-father was just few minutes from his house, so he went out and I wait outside his home, when he returned he had the title signed by his step-father so he said? So then I say OK, what about a bill of sale?

he then wrote one with his name and signed his name not the title owner's name, just to be caution I asked him to see his driver license and I wrote the # down on the bill of sale.

Anyway I was a bit worried on this transaction but the guy looked to me very honest and the deal was done at his home, now I'm holding a title which supposed to be signed by the person on the title and a bill of sale from the guy who claimed to be a relative to this person.

After calling DMV, they told me the bill of sale must be named and signed by the person on the title, I called the guy who sold the car to me and he's doing the running around excuses when I asked for a new bill of sale with the same person's name and signature on the title, excuses saying to me on the phone like I don't care what the DMV said it's my car and that's it.

My question is I feel that I got robbed by this guy, now I'm stuck with a title and a illegal bill of sale.

What should I do if this person doesn't get me a bill of sale or return my money? Should I go to the police, I do have his address and driver license number with the bill of sale he wrote and signed.

I appreciate any info!

By hrberlot — On Jan 27, 2008

I do not know which state you reside in, and laws do differ from state to state regarding ownership of motor vehicles, but here goes. The car legally belongs to the person or persons that the title has listed on it. If both you and your dad are the listed owners, then it would require both of your signatures to sell or retitle in your name only. If the title only has your dad's name on it, it is his car legally and the law will support his side. It does not matter who has paid for the car in reality and it does not matter that you have an insurance card in your name. In addition, if dad is not a nice person, he can make your life miserable by not transferring the car to you as the sole owner and could go even further by hiding the car from you to thwart your efforts of independence. The police will look at the situation as a domestic problem as if they were dealing with husband and wife. They will ask for the 2 of you to try to resolve the situation on your own peacefully or the matter will have to go to small claims court. If the situation should become violent, then they would take the offender or offenders to jail. Unfortunately you are not in a good position unless you were the sole name listed on the title. Also, If dad were the sole name on the title, you would not have the slightest legal claim to this car. Regardless the police can not order him to surrender the tile no matter who's name it is in. No one can, except you, through reasoning and some negotiation. If it is just a question of getting a title that was in your name, you would only need to apply for a duplicate at your local DMV. I hope this help some.

By neena — On Jan 09, 2008

I will be turning 18 in 17 days and i am planning to move out the day i turn 18. I paid for my car with all of my own money and i am on my own insurance policy. I have paid for everything that has to do with my car. On the car title it says neena "or" Doug, which is my dad. I do not have the title my dad does. What can i do to make him give it to me when i move out? The police will be there to assist me as will my probation officer. I am having an extra set of keys made so i can just leave. can the police order my dad to hand over the title? My dad has threatened me with selling my car and i want to know if he can do that.

By Dayton — On May 26, 2007

I'm not an expert on used car sales, but I would be wary--Without the proper title, how can you be sure that the person selling you the car actually owns it?

If you're confident that the sale is on the up and up, my experience has shown that going to the DMV with the true story is pretty much all you need to get things squared away.

By anon1333 — On May 25, 2007

I recently bought a car from someone that had not yet had it titled in their name. How do we go about signing on the back of title?

By anon329 — On Apr 21, 2007

What is the difference between a salvage and reconstructed title on a used car?

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