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?


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  1. If I bought an SUV but by the time I got home, I was not happy. I had signed the title when I took the car but am hoping I can just resell as I have not registered the vehicle. Can I use the same title? Just cross out my name?

  2. can i fill for a lost pink-slip and then pick the car up if i the registered owner

  3. If you sell a vehicle and sign the title and they do not register it can you go back and claim it legally with another title from DMV

  4. I bought a car a couple of months ago, but due to the fact I had to start working on parts of it as soon as i got it( didn’t pass smog, blown head gasket, break issues)I never got the time to send the new owner form. My question is I forgot what month/day exactly I bought the car what can I do, it’s had expired tags for about 7 months. I want to send the form asap.

  5. So what do you do if buyer never transfer the title to their name and then passed away and vechile got given to someone else and still not registered and receiving toll bills for it An it’s been a couple of years??? What can you do?

  6. What if I only have the Release of Liability??? The new owner took the signed title with her and never turned it in.

  7. I sold a car and immediately did the title transfer with DMV online. I was not aware that the buyer never registered the car until I started getting toll violation, contacted DMV and they tell me I’m not responsible for anything that happens. 17 mos. later the buyer does a hit and run and I’m being sued. Injured party’s attorney says the buyer is not cooperating and now it’s on me. I can’t find the bill of sale. Any suggestions? Hiring a lawyer will be difficult; retired, fixed income

  8. This has happened to me. Twice. Both times I received notice that my sold vehicle had been towed and impounded. In both cases I was able to provide the DMV with a signed Bill of Sale and was cleared. Seller beware.

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