How to replace a lost or missing vehicle title

By Allstate

Last updated: May 2024

A vehicle title may seem like a simple piece of paper, but it's an important one. If you lose or misplace your vehicle title, you'll likely want to get a replacement title as soon as possible. Here are some tips to help you get started with the process.

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What is a vehicle title?

Simply put, a vehicle title provides proof of ownership for a vehicle, says The Balance. If you own your car outright, the title will list your name as the legal owner of the vehicle. If you took out a loan to purchase the car, the title will likely list the name of the lienholder (the entity that financed the loan) and remain in their possession until the loan is paid off. It's important to replace a lost vehicle title, as you cannot typically sell the vehicle without it.

Common requirements to replace a car title

Typical requirements when replacing a car title vary by state, but they can include the following items, according to Kelly Blue Book (KBB):

Specific details about the car

Relevant details include the car’s year, make and model, as well as the vehicle identification number (VIN) and current license plate.

Odometer (mileage)

You'll likely need to provide the current mileage on the car. This number can usually be found on the dashboard and is a total count of the miles driven since the car was made.

Proof you own the car

Since you don’t have the actual title for the car, you’ll need to provide other documentation showing you own the vehicle. This can include things like the vehicle’s registration form or a notarized bill of sale.

Identification

You'll need valid ID like a driver's license, passport or other government-issued ID to verify your identity. You may also need to show proof of your current address using a utility bill or bank statement.

Title fees

The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) typically charges a processing fee to get a new copy of a title or to transfer a title. Most states charge a flat rate, whereas some states charge based on the car’s weight or value, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Lienholder information

If your car isn’t fully paid off, you’ll need to provide information about the entity that’s financing the vehicle, including contact details. In some states, they may require a signature from the lienholder in order to release a copy of the car’s title.

How to replace a vehicle title

Below are some tips to help you start a replacement request if you've lost or misplaced your title. Remember, the process can vary by state. Be sure to check your local requirements so you have the right information ready.

Replacing a vehicle title that was in your name

If the car is titled in your name, most states offer replacements through a local DMV office, according to Road and Track Magazine. You may need to provide proof of ownership (such as documents for a previous loan on the vehicle) and pay a small fee to obtain the replacement. While requirements differ by state, you may also want to be prepared to provide your car's vehicle identification number (VIN) and some personal information. For example, Wisconsin's Department of Transportation states that you need your driver's license or another form of identification, the last four digits of your Social Security number and an email address, among other information, to apply for a replacement title. Keep in mind that a new title will likely indicate that it is a replacement title..

Replacing a vehicle title that wasn't in your name yet

If you've purchased a vehicle from a private seller, and the title was lost before you transferred it to your name, it may still be possible to obtain a replacement. One solution is to ask the previous owner to submit the replacement request (keep in mind that they'd likely need to pay a replacement title fee), according to Road and Track Magazine. Then, they could sign the duplicate title over to you when it arrives.

If that's not possible, some states may allow you to obtain a title with a court order. To obtain a title this way, you'd first have to appear in court and have a judge award you ownership, says Road and Track Magazine. Applying for a title with a court order is typically successful, as long as the order includes some specific vehicle information (such as the car's VIN and manufacturer), adds Road and Track Magazine. The magazine also states that you may need to a obtain a title through this process when you've inherited a vehicle from an estate and would like to sell it.

How much does replacing a car title cost?

The cost to process a replacement title will vary by state, but many charge between $10 and $50 (based on data from Compare.com). Check with your state’s DMV to find out what the actual cost will be for you. There can also be additional fees, such as a lien fee (if the lienholder needs to process any paperwork) or a fee to expedite the title replacement process.

Methods to apply for a new title

As previously mentioned, you’ll need to go through your local DMV to get a replacement car title. The exact steps may vary where you live, but here is an example of a typical process, according to Credit Karma:

  1. Download the application form for a lost or stolen vehicle title from your state’s DMV (or transportation agency) website.
  2. Fill out the application, sign it and get it notarized (if required in your state).
  3. Submit the completed application online, in-person or by mail (depending on your state’s requirements).
  4. Pay any application fees.

After completing the above steps (and any additional local requirements you may have), the replacement title should be sent to you via mail.

Common mistakes to avoid

Check that you have all the required paperwork and information handy when you’re getting a new/replacement title. Double-check the information on your application and make sure you have the correct VIN, vehicle year, make, model and odometer reading. Be sure your address is current on the application because the title will typically be mailed to you.

Also, if you’re filling out the application by hand – avoid using an eraser or correction fluid, as it can void the document, explains Credit Karma.

What if the owner is deceased

Depending on whether the deceased owner had a will in place, the process of getting a new title could take longer, according to Capital One. This will also vary depending on your specific state’s requirements, so be sure to check with your local DMV.

Generally speaking, if there's a will, the vehicle can directly transfer to the beneficiary, sometimes via transfer-on-death forms that bypass probate court. Without a will, the probate court decides ownership, which can take months. Once ownership is determined, the beneficiary who now owns the car can go to their local DMV and provide the following for a new title:

  • the inheritance letter (provided by the probate court)
  • a valid form of ID
  • the deceased owner’s death certificate
  • state inheritance taxes (only in certain states)

How long does it take to get a new vehicle title?

How quickly you can obtain a replacement title can also vary by state. To minimize fraud, for example, the Illinois Secretary of State does not issue replacement titles requested within 15 days of issuing an original title, or 30 days of issuing a duplicate title. You may also need to wait a few weeks to receive your title in the mail. However, some states (such as Michigan) offer same-day service if you need the new title right away.

Storing your vehicle title in a safe place may help minimize the risk of misplacing it. But if you do happen to lose your car's title, remember to check your state's requirements so you can be prepared when applying for a replacement.