What To Do If You Lose Your Car Title
You have looked everywhere. You searched your file cabinets, your dresser, your vehicle’s glove box, your closets…and you cannot seem to locate the darn piece of paper – your car title. Of course, it is much more than just a piece of paper.
You know that, which is why you have spent hours of your time trying to track it down. If you are at a loss and have come to the conclusion that you just need to get a replacement, you have arrived at the right place. This guide will explain how the application process works for obtaining a replacement for a lost car title.
We all lose important documents from time to time, especially if you just moved or reorganized your home. Car titles commonly go missing, which is why every state’s registry of motor vehicles has a process to help you get a new title in a short amount of time. But there is a process involved, and it can be confusing, depending on where you live.
What is a Car Title?
When you own something outright, such as a home, a piece of property, and yes, even a car, you must be able to legally prove that fact. You cannot just say you own it, you must have a certified document that names you as the owner. Car titles do just that for car owners. Car titles are officially issued by the registry of motor vehicles. They contain a number of facts about the car to distinguish it from other similar cars. For instance, the car title will list the vehicle identification number, the manufacturer name, the model and the specific style. It will also list the license plate number it is registered under and the year the car was manufactured.
The car title also contains even more specific information, including the total price when the car was bought new, the details on the power of the engine and the gross vehicle weight. The title also contains personal information of the vehicle owner, including their full name and address and possibly their driver’s license number.
Why is a Car Title Important?
Car titles control all transactions that have to do with the ownership of the vehicle. If you do not change the official name on the official title, the car is still in the original person’s possession, in the eyes of the law at least. For example, when you buy a new or used car, the dealership will go through a title transfer process to put the car officially in your name. There are many other scenarios where you will need your car title to conduct a title transfer. You may decide to donate the car or give it to a relation – you have to change the name on the title to make this transaction official.
You may also go through a divorce, with one person gaining full ownership of the vehicle as a result. The other person’s name must be removed from the car title. Even if you inherit a car from a deceased family member, you will need the car title to make the title transfer official. Car titles are the main method of designating ownership of the vehicle, even between family members.
Does Your Lender Have Your Car Title?
If you do not have possession of your car title, do not panic. When you bought your vehicle, whether new or used, did you finance the purchase through a lender? If you did, then it is likely that your lender is holding onto your car title until you make the final payment. You do not get the benefit of having the title in hand until this transaction is fully financed and processed. Once you finish your payments, the lender will probably send you a notarized letter along with your car title after they conduct the title transfer in your name.
Some lenders will not send the title directly to you, depending on the state’s rules. You may have to go to the local registry of motor vehicles to complete the transaction and get your car title. There are some states that have an exception to this process, such as New York. When you purchase the car and finance part of the amount, you still get your car title in the mail. The only caveat is that it clearly states on the title that you have an outstanding balance with a lienholder, so you cannot transfer ownership without their consent. Once you pay off the car loan, you will get a renewed version of the car title with you as the sole proprietor of the vehicle alone.
Is the Title Lost or Damaged?
Whenever you lose your car title, it is important to take immediate action. If you suspect your title was stolen, it is even more important to immediately contact your local registry of motor vehicles to get the replacement process started. Maybe your title is still in your possession, but it became damaged due to a catastrophe. Water or fire damage could have destroyed a portion of the title. If the document is harmed in any way, you must have it replaced as well. In the future, try to keep your important documents in a water and fireproof safe in a secure area of your home to avoid going to the trouble to replace a damaged or lost car title again – you will thank yourself for doing so.
Each State Has Differing Replacement Car Title Laws
This is the point in the guide where it is difficult to make general statements about replacing a lost car title due to the individuality of each state. One state may direct you through a process involving three steps, while another state makes you take six steps. There are different rules and regulations in place by every state’s department of motor vehicles. You must look up your specific state’s process in order to understand the transaction unique to your situation and location.
In general, almost every state will probably ask you to fill out a form for a replacement for a lost car title. They may call it different names, but many registry of motor vehicles allow residents to download a copy of the form online, print it out and fill in the details to save time instead of waiting until you arrive at the office to complete the paperwork. You may not have car title as a reference, but you will still need to locate the details of the vehicle,
including its vehicle identification number, make, model and year, as well as your name, address and driver’s license number. This information is key to processing a new car title through all registry of motor vehicle systems in any state. You can call your local office for more information on how to proceed or visit their website for downloadable documentation.
Writing an Affidavit
Once you have the replacement request form filled out for your lost car title, you may be required to write an affidavit stating the reason for your need. An affidavit is a written statement describing facts that is confirmed by oath. You will need to include your name and personal information relating to how you came about the ownership of the vehicle. You must explain what happened to the original car title, to the best of your knowledge. You must
have a notary public sign the document to make it official, then submit it to the registry of motor vehicles with any required documentation, such as fragments of your destroyed car title, copies of your vehicle registration or personal identification documents like your license.
Assigning Power of Attorney
Many situations arise in life which might prevent you from visiting the registry of motor vehicles in person to complete the transaction to replace a lost car title. That is understandable. You could be very ill. You could be traveling. You could be working outside the country, such as an active duty military member might during a deployment. In this case, if you are the named owner for the vehicle for which you require a replacement car title, you must complete a separate form that assigns another adult the power of attorney over your affairs in this matter.
Every state has a different process, once again, when it comes to assigning power of attorney. Call your local registry of motor vehicles and request a form that specifically gives someone else the power to pursue a replacement car title in your stead. Make sure you have the correct form, as different forms for power of attorney may be issued for many different matters and you do not want to grant someone undue power over your affairs. You will have to fill out the form in completion and have it notarized. At this point, the adult standing in your place can complete all forms for you as long as they have the power of attorney form accompanying all of their submissions.
Changing Name of Owner and Mileage of Car
In many cases, maybe you aren’t getting a replacement for a lost car title – you are getting a replacement for an incorrect car title. Your current car title may have an ex-spouse listed as the sole owner. You may have had a death in the family and need to rename the owner. To do so, you will have to gather all legal documents that support the change. In the case of a divorce, you will need the original, certified copy of the divorce decree that names one
spouse as the proprietor of the car. In the event of a death, you will need the copy of the official death certificate and a will, if that document names you as the surviving owner of the asset. If you just got married and want to add your spouse to the title, you will have to bring the official marriage certificate and your new spouse will need to provide multiple forms of identification as needed. Sometimes the name on the original car title is simply spelled wrong. You should also issue for a name correction in this case to sidestep any potential complications later on. If the fault for the misspelled name falls on the registry of motor vehicles, they may not ask you to pay a fee.You can also update the mileage of the vehicle when you request a revised title in circumstances such as these.
When you change the name of the vehicle owner on the car title, make sure to also update the changes with your car insurance policy.
Paying Applicable Fees
Every state will have a different fee schedule surrounding the replacement of a lost car title. Some states may charge a few dollars while some will charge over $20. Make sure to check with the registry of motor vehicles before arriving at the office to make sure you have enough funds to cover the cost. Also, ask about what form of payment they will accept. They may only take cash or check or they may require a money order. Whatever the case, you must pay the applicable fees before you can expect them to process your request.
Wait for Your Title to Be Issued
In most cases, you will not get your title right away. You will have to wait for the registry of motor vehicles to process all the paperwork and double check all of the facts
They will either let you come to the office to pick it up when it is ready or you will receive it via certified or regular mail. Now you know what to do if you lose your car title.
Once you get your new car title, you are able to sell the car if you want to a private party or trade it in. You can get a car title loan out on the vehicle. You can now prove you are the owner to anyone that needs the proof for any sort of transaction.