How to Sell a Car That's Unregistered: Guidelines for a Legal Sale

January 27, 2012

If you wish to sell a car that is unregistered, you will have to follow the guidelines for the state you reside in. If you have misplaced the title you do have a few options if you wish to proceed with a legal sale. All states require vehicles to be registered, so you could be committing an offense if you have an unregistered vehicle.  


In a number of states you can simply obtain a copy title and transfer of ownership. This is completed concurrently so you don't need to apply for a duplicate and then the transfer. Your seller won't have to wait for weeks for the paperwork to be finished, before they can take possession of the vehicle. Not every state uses this scheme, so be sure and verify everything with your local DMV, depending on your own state. Follow the law as described. If you fail to spot anything important you could still be liable for anything that happens to the vehicle. If you either buy or sell, car laws must be adhered to.

Loans and Liens

If another party has a claim on the car title, you can't sell the vehicle unless the lien holder gives you release. This will have to be passed over to the buyer. It will also have to be filed when the copy of the title and the transfer forms are filed. It must accompany a letter signed by lien holder releasing the car. Again, confirm with the DMV. If you're buying an unregistered car, do your own searches and vehicle checks.

Out-of-State Sales

For any car relinquished to a person from outside the state, you will need to obtain a copy of the title before selling the car. Selling without the registration documents applies only to sales inside the state. If the buyer comes from a different state, they will have to meet their legal obligations. Be clear that your obligations have been met as legally expected. In a few states it is not illegal to sell a car without the title record, so long as you own a previous bill of sale or receipt proving that the car was in fact sold to you. Check with the DMV to see if that is applicable in your state.


A very important thing to do is to make certain that you complete any guidelines for the state you live in. If you are unclear about your own rights, verify with the appropriate state Department of Motor Vehicles. If you expect to sell the car, remember that many states have Lemon Aid Laws to protect people from buying worthless cars. For your own state DMV office, do an Internet search for a list of state DMVs.

State DMV

Every State has individual laws that govern selling and buying autos. State DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) offices can be found on the Internet, using a search for the state you are in.

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