What Happens When a Buyer Never Registers a Car You Sold?

car title transfer

It’s a good rule in life to expect the best but prepare for the worst.

Most humans on Earth are good people who want to live the best life possible, but a few are set on breaking the rules for their own benefit.

Selling a car can be a profitable venture, but it can also provide opportunity for unscrupulous humans to use the seller’s good name in a crime. It’s rare, but it can happen.

When you buy a vehicle from a private seller, you take the transferred title to your local DMV and register the car in your name. All the paperwork is taken care of for you if you buy from a dealer.

Sometimes a private seller will sell his or her car, but the buyer won’t ever register it. Any parking tickets or driving infractions caught on camera will be under the seller’s name. If any crime is committed in the car, it’ll be the seller in the crosshairs of law enforcement.

Here’s how to make sure this doesn’t happen to you.

In many states, a seller is required to sign the back of the existing title along with the date, sale price, and exact odometer reading before handing it over to the buyer. The buyer would then take the title and register it. Short of conducting the sale at a DMV office, a buyer can’t be forced to register the car.

Be sure to make a copy of both sides of the signed title for your records. Also make sure that the odometer reading is exact so it documents the moment ownership transferred from your name. If you round the odometer reading up, and the buyer gets into an accident 5 miles later, he or she could claim you are responsible.

It’s also a good idea to complete a bill of sale. Have both parties sign it, then send the bill of sale to the DMV. If anything happens and the buyer fails to register the car, you’ll have the proof needed to say the car is no longer in your name.

Some states require that the license plates be turned in upon sale, which is an extra step of protection and cancels the registration in the seller’s name.

So what happens if you don’t do any of those things, the buyer never registers the car, and you start getting tickets in the mail? If you simply signed over the title and sent the buyer on his way without letting the DMV know about the sale, you could be on the hook. Contact your DMV right away to avoid future charges and try to work out a solution.

Have you ever had any problems after selling a car?

-tgriffith

Find Used Cars in Your Area at CarGurus

139 Comments

  1. My boyfriend s parents bought him a truck he never had the title out in his name he is now in the hospital dying he wanted to give it to me I filled out the back can I out it in my name in California

    • the truck is not legally his If his name is not on the title so the answer is no

  2. I traded my car for a truck but the guy I traded hadn’t put it in his name. after I failed to register the previous owner came and took the truck. is that legal if I have a title w his signature a d its notorized?

  3. I traded a my car for a truck, the guy I traded did not transfer into his name before he traded me. I failed to change registration and the guy who’s name was on the title I have came and took the truck. is that legal I live in Kentucky

  4. I have an issue also — husband sold car to nephew; signed the title; but nephew never put it in his name. Then just recently (about 1-1/2 year later), nephew lost original title and went to get a new one using a copy of my husbands drivers license. I filed with the DMV a vehicle transfer notification. Are we safe if anything happens to the car

  5. My husband and I sold our truck to my soon to be ex brother in law in 2016. I had him sign a bill of sail and have copies of that, the title he signed the back of, history of payments, a copy of the brother in law’s incomplete application to register it, and I submitted a release of liability the day we sold it to him. He never got it registered apparently, he’s only paid 520$ of the 2,400$ we sold it for, the truck is now inoperable and he abandoned it on the street. Apparently now there is an issue with the court because the tow company is going after my husband and I because it’s “in out name” still. When I called the DMV a year ago when we suspected something like this may happen they had record of my release of liability and assured me if anything happened we were not liable. We also have a written conversation between my husband and brother in law where he admits he still owes us money. So now we have to talk to a lawyer on the base my husband is stationed at to see what we can even do because we are supposed to move to Germany this summer. Do not trust anyone, family or not, to register on their own. When you sell them the vehicle do it at the DMV and make them switch it in front of you because now we have a huge headache.

  6. We sold a truck to my husband’s co-worker, we didn’t have paper title, we did paperwork for paperless title transfer release of liability, she said she would submit it to the DMV. She did not, she sold it to another man without putting it into her name first. We have no idea who this man is or where the truck is, she has lied to us saying she submitted it to the DMV. It has now been 1 year & we received from collections department for registration from California DMV. We payed the collection fee because they were going to garnesh our wages & had no choice at this point. We have filed for transfer & release of liability into her name, that’s what our insurance company had advised us to do. Are there any other actions we need to take to get this situation cleared up? Is there any legal action we should look at? Should we contact our local law enforcement? When I went to the California DMV the truck is still in our name. Please any advise is greatly appreciated.

  7. I traded my old car in to what I thought was a reputable dealership in California! This was back in August of 2018. I was told everything would be taken care of but to mail in a copy of release of liability to Dmv which I did! I just assumed car would go to junk yard as it wasn’t in great shape… anyway 2 weeks ago, Jan 2019, I received 3 bridge toll violations!! The dealer never changed ownership and now saying they don’t know anything since they sent the car to auction! Almost saying not their problem. Huh? How is it my problem to figure out who has the car now?? And the auction company has had and no one has changed ownership?!!! Looks like they wanted to avoid paying registration fees etc. but how could this happen? This is so shady! Who’s ultimately responsible to resolve this? Im really worried this will bite me in the future if I don’t get it resolved!! I called the dmv but wait time 3 hours so need to call again. Just curious if anyone has similar experience!

  8. I was in a rush my wife was pregnant and we have young kids we were traveling because of work I bought an rv I have the title however the previous owner never registered it can I register it with a bill of sale and title

  9. I have recently sold my vehicle to a gentleman back in June of 2017 well we did all the paperwork that needed to be done , signed it over to him but he never put it in his name he left it in are names Inow recently he was in a accdient with the vechicle were he had hit another driver and now the other driver that was hit is sueing us because the car was still in are names with the DMV we sent in what we need to but it got lost somewhere in the process , my parents actually owened the vechicle before it was sold they are now stuck with a high bill they can’t pay what can I do to get them out of this mess

    • I have this same issue and the car was impounded by the sheriffs. The people that bought my car are never going to transfer title. I was scammed. They took the bill of sale to the impound lot and got it out. I have looked into everything in Maryland I can do. There seems to be nothing! I am thinking of filing a small claims replevin case but not sure that would work. The other thing I may do is get a DUPLICATE TITLE which will make null and void the title they have. Then, they maybe be forced to meet me at MVA to transfer title. If I can get my hands on that car I am going to take it! People suck!

  10. I bought a car the guy sold it to the guy I bought it from he never got title in his name but he only signed his name on back over to me now I can’t find him the car is still in the owner name listed on front of the title and he did not give me a bill of sale only the title now they say the title is no good what do r can I do to fix this I try to find the guy that sold me the car but no luck

  11. I was given a car that’s not registered and I haven’t obtained any tickets on the car now the person who gave me the car says he is recieving tickets..which I dont even drive but move it from side to side on street cleaning days ..I’ve never seen a ticket placed on the car so how is it getting anything if it’s not driven nor have I seen any places on the vehicle

    • Hi maybe you can help me with this situation. My Son sold his Truck. The person he sold it to never put the truck in his name, but turn round and sold it to a third party. The third party had an accident, and because my Son name is on the registration, but DMV sent him the paperwork showing that he know longer owns the truck. The third party told them my son was driving. When he doesn’t even know this person. What can he do in regards to his mess?

  12. I sold a trick to a salvage in okc. Vi can’t remember the name of the salvage as it has been 14 months. Now I received a non insured ticket in the mail. What can I do to stop this?

  13. Hi my BF bought a car from his cousin but his cousin has not gaven him the bill of sale that all he has cause his cousin got it from a friend and his cousin never registered it or nothing. I have to do the smog check and get the tags and registration the tags are from 2016 and we are in 2019 how much would I have to pay it’s my first car and I need it soon but I can’t work on it if I don’t have the bill of sale.

  14. I purchased a vehicle with a friend and both names are on my title. I paid cash, have all the paperwork, receipts, ect. She is no longer in my life. How do I remove her from the title and register it in only my name? At this point it’s parked until it can be made legal.

    • What state do you reside? Is she living able to sign a document? Who possesses the title?

  15. Boy do I have myself in a mess, maybe someone can help from experience but I hope no one has ever gone through this. I sold a car 6 months ago, then 2 months later started getting toll tickets. I got online and did the release of ownership and they voided the tickets. The buyer had never gotten it registered, so I also went to the DMV and made it to where they can’t go in an just renew the tags in my name since I knew that they would be expiring soon. I thought it was solved. No. I got a certified letter from a towing company on 12/20/18 from 2 1/2 hours away saying my car had been impounded and the driver was taken to jail. I knew it was Halloween Hellanor in that impound lot. You could tell it had been searched, but I know for sure it had expired registration and no insurance. They told me since the car was still in my name and registered to me i was the ONLY one who could pick it up. Furthermore, if I didn’t, it would go to auction after 45 days and if the price didn’t cover all the lot fees (150 initial tow +20.00 per day x45 days) I would be responsible for that. It’s a 2001 Lincoln LS and worth 1200 on it’s BEST day. I was told I could be sued for the leftover dues. We live right, my husband is a DV, we have a child in theater. We are the most boring 30 year olds ever. So I went and paid the 333.00 to have it released to me. I went and got a new copy of the title, because I signed over the original to the buyer. In the car there was spoons, alcohol wipes and even a container of pee. Yes pee, clean pee I presume for passing drug test. Along with parole papers and Drug meeting documents. The girl we sold they car to has apparently traded the car off (probably for drugs) and now here I am. There was a cellphone in the car so I turned it on and there were messages demanding the car back with threats of reporting it stolen. Good luck to them, it’s in my name and I have the title. Obviously we are not dealing with law abiding citizens, so I am now sleeping with my Ruger and my husband has his shockwave next to him. I am carrying a gun around my own house, and locking all doors during the day. For now the car is locked in our backyard, it had a key when we picked it up but I know there are 2 more sets floating around the drug scene in Dallas. It’s a nightmare, I am going to sell the car to get my money back for us getting it out of impound and the cost of gas for us to tow it back home. Don’t make the mistake I did, meet at the DMV and make sure it’s out of your name! You have no idea the headache it’s caused and now I concerned I’m going to have to protect my family from drug using Hispanics who want the car back. I hope they don’t try to retaliate because my name and address is obviously on the title, they know where I am. Luckily we bought a home in a neighborhood that half of the police department lives in. We literally have one across the street. I hope “Mono” doesn’t send anyone to try and get is car. A 1200 car is not worth anyone getting hurt over.

  16. I gave my car to mechanic when I couldn’t pay for repairs and sent in release of liability but can’t locate that paper. My mechanic suddenly passed away and the estate sold all the cars. I am now getting tickets on this vehicle. I have no idea what to do! Can you please give me help?
    thanks!!
    Gina

  17. I did buy a car and I plan to get ready of it i never put the car my name i drove onces got pull over over a tail light being out now they want me to put my name but I have a van it has insurances what can they do if I tell them I plan get ready of it will they make me still put my name

  18. My dad had sold his van that was paid off to my big sisters friend who’s a mechanic he says he would do take care of the paperwork. But instead he turned around and sold it to a lady and the lady had gotten a parking ticket and now their trying to send my dad to jail for something he did not do. :'( How can I stop this from happening my dad served his country and their framing him for a crime my whole family knows he did not commit and the sad part is we asked my sister to talk to the guy and to see if he can get a hold of the lady that he sold the car to and get her information but she just ignores us and I think she’s involved since she’s mad at my dad it’s her way of getting back at him.

  19. I sold my Car to a corrupt guy who owns a towing in California. This was 2 years ago when i was in financial hardship. He was in a rush at DMV and said he would handle release of liabiliy. He has racked up close to 3k in parking tickets and toll violations all in my name. All information he gave less his telephone were not correct. His yelp online is littered with comments from people who have been did dirty by his business.

  20. Hi my name is tashar i recently sold my car without the tittle to a friend ok i was asking 2500 which of 1500 she have given me on oct 26 2018 ok she suppose to give me 200 dol toward the balance she text and say she cant pay me so i tried to go get my car along with the police and she is hiding it from me stating she wants her money back its still in my name tags she has no paperwork nothing but a key she call herself typing up a agreement which is alk she has so wat steps can i take to recover my car i have no adress on her just her job. please email me tasharaburns3515tb.tb@gmail.com

  21. Can I sell a car that is signed over to me but I never registered it? Can I just complete a new transfer of deed or something?

    • No, you would need a title correction form stating that you are the “incorrect buyer” (because you didn’t put it into your name) and the person you bought it from AND the person you want to sell it to, need to sign it. Buying a vehicle from someone, signing off on the title as the purchaser and not putting it in your name, then trying to sell it to someone else without the correct forms is called title jumping, and it’s illegal.

    • I just brought a car from somebody who never registered it.. Now I’m having trouble trying to register it

  22. I sold a car to my brother. Trusting that he would cover any tickets I left the car in my name until the registration expired. Unfortunately for me he has already let tickets double. What are my options?
    If I can’t get him to willingly pay to switch the title over how can I repo the vehicle?

  23. Can you sell a vehicle if the title isn’t registered in your name on the front, but it’s on the backside of the title?

  24. In my case..SC..he drove it for months…wrecked into four parked cars,ran…I turned in the bill of sale as well as the piece of the title called notice of vehicle sold..I’m now in a big mess!!! My suggestion,make out two original bills..keep one..in this state you no longer have to use a notary public..wish I had anyway. I’ve gotten my license reinstated but am being harassed in the amount of over$25,000 and climbing.

  25. can you sell a car if the title is in your name but you never registered the car and there’s no plates on the car

      • What if you purchased the vehicle but never registered it, no tag either but your name is on the back of the title that shows the purchase but your name isn’t on the front of it? Can I still sell a vehicle?

    • I have a car that I gave to a friends daughter. Signed the title but NEVER gave a bill of sale and gave it to her she never gave it to her daughter nor did she register or insure the car..and has fake plates on it and driving it around.. can you tell me what my options are? I would like to have the car back.

    • A friend sold my cousin a car he snig the back of the title then he gave me the car so he gave me a bill of sale he never had the title put in his name I live in South Carolina they let me get a 45 day but when it ran out they want let you get another one it has to be a mealtal plate so what do I need to do

  26. We were buy a truck from a guy at my husband work and didn’t get a bill of sell or sign the title but pay him a 100 a week i got insurance and got a paper licence plate in my name can he take it from us.

    • If you don’t keep paying he can report it stolen. The title is in his name.

  27. I bought a used motorcycle in 2009 it needed extensive repairs I never registered it how do I register it now that I have finally fixed it up?

  28. My mom was buying a car from a mechanic. He gave her the title to go have it transferred so when he got the work done she could start driving it. At the DMV the made her sign the title. The cost on the repair was 3 times as much as she was told. He said he would give her money back, that has taken a month. but she has to give him the title. What can she tell him when he asked about the title being filed out?

  29. I sold my car. lost the paper work saying to who I sold it to. They never Transfer the title to their name . I got a ticket I don’t know what to do next I went to the dmv they said they can’t do anything. And I can’t reported stolen . Because if they have the paper work still it would be false report Of stolen .

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