How to replace a lost or missing vehicle title
Last updated: January 1
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.
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.
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, so be sure to check your local requirements so you have the right information ready.
Replacing a vehicle title that was in your name
According to Road and Track Magazine, if the car is titled in your name, most states offer replacements through a local department of motor vehicles office. 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. According to Road and Track Magazine, 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). 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 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.