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

98 Comments

  1. 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

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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?

  5. 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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