A car's title is proof of ownership while a registration is proof that you have registered the vehicle in your state. These documents are provided with most legally owned vehicles in the United States and you will need them when selling that vehicle to a private buyer, car dealership, or junkyard.
But there are exceptions, and it's not the end of the world if you have the car but don't have the title or the registration.
Why Might an Owner Be Missing a Car Title?
If a car was purchased with financing, the lender will hold onto the car title until the loan has been paid in full. At this point, the car can be legally driven by the borrower but they will not be in possession of the title. This is one of the most common reasons for a driver to be without a title, but of course, you can't sell a car that you don't own.
So, how can someone who fully and legally owns a vehicle be without a title?
The main reason is that the title was misplaced. It's just a document, after all, and documents get lost.
The car could also be really old and purchased from a junkyard or dealer who didn't initially acquire a title.
In many states, cars that are over 25 years old (drops to 15 years in some areas) are title exempt. If your car is title exempt, it's much easier to sell it than if you have lost or damaged your title.
Can You Sell a Car Without a Title?
Although it is possible to sell a car without a title, it's much better if you have one. You'll also get more money.
Your first step, therefore, should be to acquire a replacement title. You can apply for a replacement title at your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The process is relatively straightforward (in DMV terms, at least) and will ensure that you have the title and can sell your car without issue.
If getting a replacement car title is out of the question, you may be able to sell your car with proof of ownership. For this, you will need to find your bill of sale or other documents that are accepted as proof of purchase/ownership within your state.
This should be enough to sell a car without a title in most states, although the rules change from state to state.
If you are selling to a junkyard, car dealership, or another professional car buyer, they will tell you what you need. If you're selling to a private buyer, you will need to check with your local state laws.
In most cases, it is illegal to sell a car without a vehicle title so it's important to follow this process to the letter and make sure you understand what is required of you.
Can You Sell a Car Without a Registration?
If you don't have a registration, you can sell a car by drafting a bill of sale and getting the necessary papers from your local DMV. You can then conduct a title transfer.
As with the car title problems outlined above, selling a car without a registration is largely about proving that you are the legal owner and making sure you have or create the documents.
Car Title Problems: Where to Sell
It's much easier to sell a car without a title to a dealership or junkyard, as they are specialists and will have purchased hundreds if not thousands of vehicles like yours over the years. They might give you a little less money, but they promise a hassle-free process and usually just ask to see a driver's license, a bill of sale (if you have one), and any other documents that serve as proof of ownership.