While there are some very specific exceptions, vehicle owners that aren’t in possession of a certificate of title cannot register or insure the car. There are, however, steps that can be taken to get either a standard or provisional title that can be used to transfer ownership and get the vehicle registered.
Order a Duplicate Title
If you transferred the title into your name after buying the car but lost the title before registering it, you can file for a duplicate title. This process differs between states, but usually requires a valid identification of the owner, an application, and a fee for the duplicate title. When compared to the other options for getting a title and registering a vehicle, being able to order a duplicate as the recorded owner of the vehicle is the most direct way to get a replacement title.
Present a Bill of Sale
A few states will allow a vehicle to be registered without a title under certain circumstances. For example, the State of Georgia allows vehicles that are over 25 years old to be registered by presenting a bill of sale. Georgia law allows for the bill of sale to be written on a form provided by the state or hand-written by the seller of the vehicle. The bill of sale must be signed by both parties and the buyer must present the original version to transfer ownership and register the car.
Ask the Seller to Order a Duplicate Title
If the sale was executed without the title being present, or the buyer lost the title before transferring ownership, the seller will remain on record as the owner and will be liable for the vehicle. If the buyer is in contact with the seller, transferring the title will benefit both parties, which may be enough motivation for the seller to take the steps necessary to get a replacement title. Once the seller receives the duplicate title it can be signed over to the buyer to transfer ownership. This releases the seller from liability and will enable the buyer to register and insure the vehicle.
Get a Bonded Title
A buyer who doesn’t have a standard certificate of title can apply for a bonded title. To get a bonded title, the owner must gather the necessary paperwork and a valuation of the vehicle from the state DMV or similar office. This documentation, along with a bill of sale, can then be used to apply for a title bond, which provides assurance that damages will be covered if a court of law returns ownership of the vehicle to the previous owner. After being approved, the vehicle owner can present the required documentation and the certificate of the title bond to the DMV to receive a bonded title. This title will allow for the registration of the vehicle in the name of the new owner. In most states, bonded titles can be converted to standard titles after three years.