Buying a Used Car Title in 4 Steps

February 22, 2012

This step-by-step guide to buying a used car title will show you how to research your prospective purchase and avoid getting stuck with a lemon.

Sales Lot For Used Cars

If you're buying a used car title, make sure everything is taken care of as it should be. Running a CARFAX used car history report and using a car VIN decoder can help you make sure your car-to-be has been accurately disclosed. Once you're sure you're pleased with the car, you can purchase the title as described below.

Use a VIN Decoder
VIN decoders are available online and can tell you the specifications of any vehicle for which you have a VIN. Before purchasing a used car, ask the owner or dealer for the VIN, which can be found on the inside of the driver's side windshield or on a sticker on the edge of the driver's door. Enter the VIN into an online decoder to get the specifications. From the VIN, you will be able to tell the year, make, model, trim, MSRP, invoice cost, engine type and size, transmission and whether or not it has 4-wheel drive. Using a VIN decoder may help you determine if the car being sold has been accurately described.

Run a History Check
Go to AutoCheck and enter the VIN to get a history check of the vehicle. AutoCheck will tell you of any significant problems with the vehicle. The report will tell you if it was damaged by a natural disaster or involved in an accident; if the mileage has been changed; the last time the vehicle was inspected; and the number of owners it has had.

Check Kelley Blue Book
Before purchasing a car, you should have a good idea of its fair market value. Kelley Blue Book is a great resource because it can look up the value of both new cars and used cars instantly if you input the year, make and model. For used cars, KBB assumes excellent condition, so detract from the value accordingly if the car is in need of repairs or is otherwise imperfect.

See a Mechanic
Even if AutoCheck doesn't report a problem, it doesn't mean that none exist. Take the used car to a certified mechanic and have them check it out to ensure its condition is as described. It will probably cost you around $60, but this is well worth it to make sure your car is as it ought to be.

Purchase the Car
If everything is to your satisfaction, you can go ahead and purchase the car. If you're buying from a private seller, they may not have the title to sell you if the bank still owns the car. In this case, you need to go to the bank with the seller to purchase the title. Double check to make sure the VIN on the title matches the VIN on the car. Also, make sure you get a bill of sale.

Register Your Car
Once you have the car's title and the bill of sale, get proof of insurance for your car and go to the DMV to register the car in your name. You will need all three of these documents to register your new used car.