If you’re buying a used car, checking the status of the vehicle title is one of the most important steps you should take.
Alternatively, if you are unsure about the status of the title for a car you own, you can check its status easily.
Learn how to check the status of a car title and what to look for when buying a used car.
Plus, check out some tips on spotting a fake car title to avoid getting scammed!
How to Check the Status of a Car Title
Not only does the car title serve as the legal ownership document for the vehicle, it also provides some details about its history.
Checking the title before you commit to buying a used car can protect you from a lot of problems down the road, such as:
- Knowing if there have been major damages or repairs to the vehicle.
- Finding out if the ownership history or mileage is sketchy.
- Checking whether or not you’ll be able to transfer the title and register the vehicle in your name.
There’s only one thing you’ll need to check a car’s title: the 17-digit vehicle identification number (VIN).
(Where to find the VIN)
If you don’t know the VIN, you can use our free license plate lookup to try to find it.
With the car’s VIN, you’ll be able to run a variety of different reports to learn about the vehicle’s history and check on its title status. Some reports are free, while others cost anywhere from $3 to $30.
You can get started right here at VINvaquero.com to start learning more about a vehicle’s history and title:
Alternatively, you can visit the following websites for more title information about a particular vehicle:
- 3rd party vehicle history reports.
- The official DMV website for your state.
To check the status of the title, you’ll need to enter the VIN into a report with data from the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System and/or the state DMV.
The main things you’ll want to look for when checking title status include:
- Title brands (salvage, rebuilt, gray market, totaled, junk, flood damage, etc.).
- Odometer flags.
- Ownership history.
Check your Title Status with the DMV
If you need to check the status of your own vehicle’s title, you can typically do so through your state Department of Motor Vehicles.
Many states have the option to check your car’s title status online or with a simple mail-in application.
Sometimes this service is free, while others may charge a small fee of $2 to $10 per lookup.
A DMV title check for your own vehicle can provide you with information such as:
- Any lienholder information on the title.
- Current listed names of owners.
- Current listed address on the title.
- Date of issue.
- Title number.
If you’ve recently transferred a title or removed a lien, you can also contact the DMV to check the mailing status or processing status for your title.
What is a clean title on a car?
When buying a used car, a clean title status is what you’ll be looking for.
A clean title indicates that the vehicle:
- Has never been deemed a total loss by the insurance companies.
- Has never been salvaged, junked, or rebuilt.
- Has a clean ownership history.
- Has no odometer issues.
- Has not been designated as a lemon law vehicle.
However, you should know that a clean title does not guarantee there are no issues with the vehicle.
When buying a used car, you should still take the time to inspect and evaluate the vehicle to make sure you’re getting a good deal and the car is in good shape.
How to Spot a Fake Car Title
Fake or fraudulent titles are sometimes used by criminals to sell stolen or worthless vehicles.
You’ll want to be on the lookout for some of the common signs of title fraud.
First, if the title seems fishy, it may very well be. If the title is damaged or hard to read, there’s a good chance the seller may be trying to defraud you.
If they really are the true owner and vehicle is what they claim it is, they should have no problem requesting a duplicate title that is legible and clear.
Another type of title fraud takes the form of odometer rollback fraud. This can happen in older vehicles that are exempt from odometer disclosure laws.
In this case, the actual mileage will be much higher than what the seller claims it is.
Finally, title washing is another form of title fraud used to mask branded titles. In this case, the branded title is transferred to another state that doesn’t use the same title brands.
Failing to disclose a vehicle’s title history is illegal.
Checking the VIN and ordering a vehicle history report is one way you can protect yourself.