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

49 Comments

  1. It is not good for the owner if the buyer does not register the new car. Perhaps when buying and selling we should be careful with this, make sure the buyer new registration for the car, so it’s good for all. Thanks for your interesting information.

  2. I traded a car the first of the year and just found out its still in my name and who ever has it has a tag on it and driving it around. do I have the right to report it stolen since its in my name still

  3. I just bought a car but the owner got a loan on the car now I can’t register under my name. My question is did this person committee a fraud?

  4. My son had old car. Non-drivable. Just gave it to someone for parts. Signed over title. Now a year later my son got a letter that said that car was abandoned and towed from a home where that guy lived. He has moved out of state and left the vehicle. They are fining my son over $200 as it looks like that guy never transferred the title. What can my son do?

  5. Well i gave my sister son a car sign it over to him well he went to jail he needed 700 hunderd dollars to get out he ask his girlfriend to go pawn it girlfriend said that he have put it in her name to pawn it well he needed to so hego back to work so he put his car in her name for that reason to get the money now she don’t want to sign back over to him what do about that the car in Atlanta

  6. i purcjased a vehicle had it 3 years drove it, but the controlling dude iam w wouldnt let me work and i didnt have 2000 to tranf the 5700.00 vehicle i bought. i signed back of title n all but didnt register in my name i spillled something on bill of sale and the title but you can clearly see the words just smudged now iam wanting to sell the vehicle what should i expect ??

  7. I sold my truck to a man about five months ago. He paid cash there is no sells receipt and I still have possession of it. I also have the title and registration. Is the truck still mine legally?

  8. I just purchased a car that was flipped 3 times in 3 months, auction dealers!! The guy that sold it to me was not at home when I bought it and never signed the title!! His girlfriend took my money. The original person on the title said she will sign it over to me. Will this work????

  9. Hello, I’m looking to buy a used 2005 corolla from a private seller. However, he says he bought it 3 months ago and hasn’t registered it because it turns out he didn’t need it, now he is trying to sell it to me. How can I register the car in my name if the person I bought it from never registered it?

    • I don’t think it’s possible. He technically doesn’t own the car until it’s registered and he has paid sales tax on it. He either has to register the car or return it to the original owner on the title.

      • Hi there,

        When i was 13 years old back in Wisconsin (in 2003) my mom and I purchased a 1947 DeSoto. we moved to Texas in 2008. needless to say, we never transferred the title and now the title is lost. the original owner was an older gentle man in his 70’s at the time and the co owner was his 6-month old grand daughter. Now our neighbors want the car out of the yard and we need ot pay some bills. however, per Texas law we cannot legally sell or donate the car without the lost title. What is our best course of action?

    • I would talk to your local DMV. This happened to me when an elderly lady sold a car to me but it was in her husband’s name who was deceased. I had taken it to the DMV and the clerk was nice enough to transfer it, but she hesitated at first so there must have been an issue with it. I explained it all and the elderly lady had written a note explaining everything thank goodness.

    • I have the same exact issue. The only thing I can think of is to contact the person on title and see if they can sign over to me somehow. I really have no idea how this will work out. It was sold 5 years ago and never registered.

    • You can’t do it. It’s illegal and there’s probably a back story to the car. Be careful. Might be better to keep looking. Sorry.

  10. Does a Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability DMV form do you any good?

    • You need to keep a copy of NoT & RoL because if buyer doesn’t register vehicle everything will still be in your name , any tickets or fines on the vehicle will be sent to you

  11. So i sold my car, it was a 1995 Toyota tercel. When all of a sudden i found out the guy got it towed a couple hours later and he never registered it. I signed the lease of liability saying i sold it to this guy and that he doesn’t want to take responsibility. So then i get a bill for $2500. Saying the car i sold was tolled and i need to pay for it. So i messaged the guy and he said yeah i left it abandoned because i didnt like it. Then i ask him for the title that he was suppose to turn it in also saying meet me at the dmv. He said i threw it away and that i am currently out of the city. So then i went to the dmv and they saw a lease of liability saying that i released my car to this guy and that the car was towed later in that day. So they had me print out the lease of liability and show it to this towing company and saying its not my responsible anymore. He needs to send the bill to this new guy. The owner of the towing company said i don’t care, because in this paper it said i was a registered owner of the car but not the legal owner. So i was the last registered owner before i sold it and no one registered it since then. And so i need to pay for it. I told him its not my responsibility since i signed lease of liability and that the owner needs to pay for it. So he tells me im still coming after you and that you need to take care of it with the collection agency. Please help, im up to my limit with the buyer of the car and the towing company because i could not afford the bill.

    • OMG! i am so sorry. I am really scared to sell my car now. I am sorry, its terrible what happened with you. I am trying to sell my first car i brought after moving to US. May lord have mercy, this world is full of monsters

  12. If someone wants to sell a car they bought and never transferred title. Who ever buys it has the title with the date it was sold to him . He didn’t sign his name anywhere that he bought it. What can be done?

  13. Okay I Sold My GMC 1990 Sierra side step pick up to a private party Back in June of 2017 for $400.00 the rear end was out due to a tow company pulling it up on a flat bed in GEAR. I couldn’t prove it so I couldn’t get the tow company to fix it so I sold it for cheep. 3 months go by an I hadn’t transferred the title an the tabs came up to date. So the Party who bought the truck contacted me an expressed his concerns “No Title, Means No Tab Renewal’ so doing the right thing I got on the D.O.L web site printed out the proper paper work filled it out had a notifier stamp it an mailed it to the new owner. Well another month goes by an I receive a letter in the mail stating that the 1990 GMC has been impounded at Genes Towing in Puyallup. Looks like the new owner never got around to finishing the paper work an getting the Title transferred. The guy seemed too nice of a guy to have had made a mistake like this so I left a message h asking why was the truck in the impound an why my name was still on the Title? Two days later he replied that he was out of town working an this was the first he new of such an that he would take care of it. “Apparentally his son whom he originally bought it for had gotten this truck impounded” He said he will take care of it. I let him know it has been in there for 10 days an they want $800.00 an if he needed help financially maybe we could work something out. He insisted that he would take care of it. So I took his word an left it alone. 3 weeks goes by & I receive another letter from the D.O.L stating once again that this truck is still in the impound lot an has now a outstanding balance of $1,500.00. So I call genes Towing to confirm an ask about the condition. which is something I should have done the first time. It turns out the front end has been smashed into a tree an is totaled. I should have figured but what gets me is that Not only was I the one to notify him about this incident I gave him the opportunity to allow me to help get the truck out when it was only $800.00 An now its still in there we all know why (Smashed Front End) He doent have the decency to tell me hes not gonna be able to get it out instead he F*#%$ me an allows it to accrue more debt an the D.O.L is the one to notify me. Where are people Manners these days? Its hard to find loyal honest decent people these days. So I’m coming to this site to see if anyone has any advice on what I should do next? I haven’t contacted him a second time to let him know that I know. So I’m asking for all options here cruel or true I need to know what others might do in my situation?

    • Tough luck. I would contact the Department Of License Immediately Express your situation, send them a copy of your bill of sale, send them a copy of your paperwork on the title transfer stamped by the notifier, print out any text messages sent between the two of you or save any voice messages, If any just in case you want to pursue in a this guy in a lawsuit later if you have to come out of pocket, contact the tow company, (I assume you dont want the truck since its totaled) an see if you can sign the title over to the tow company “Genes Towing” an Hopefully you will walk away NOT having to pay a Cent.

    • im in the same boat but the tow yrd let his bill (or my bill) rack up to 3 gs and i find out bout it when i get a letter saying im being sued.I sold the car over a yr ago now this.what do i do

  14. Please any answers to the questions where you’ve given the buyer all the documents… signed over title, bill of sale, and lien release…and they’ve yet to register–one month later. I’m still paying the insurance. One caveat .. i filed for a duplicate title, but found the original. NOW, can i have it donated to a charity with the original title since the seller has neglected to register the car??!!

    • You sold the car and now you are planning to steal it out from under them. You got paid for the car and now you want the tax refund too? Shame on you OP Jennifer Cormack.

  15. My neighbor did this horrible thing to someone else and they’re ringing my bell because they can’t catch up with him. It’s so sad

  16. You brought up such a good point about how although most people would want to register a vehicle they purchased that it’s important to be prepared in case they don’t. My mom is selling her extra car since she doesn’t need it and she’s planning to do it privately. She’d be smart to follow your advice, but I also think a great way to handle something like this would be to find a professional that handles title and registration and would be able to transfer a title.

  17. I just bought a car for a couple of months now it has a couple of issues but I was thinking about selling the car since I haven’t even gotten the chance to work on it, however I haven’t registered the car or even put insurance since I wanted to repair everything so it would be road worthy but that’s not happening since I have school, so my questions is if I signed the title can I still sell the car ? Or does this mean I have to register it and then sell it ?

    • I’m currently in the situation you are in. I bought this car in September. I just moved to this state, so I wasn’t able to register it right away without transferring my license over to Kentucky. The tags are still good for the vehicle and the previous owner allowed me to drive it with their tags until I registered it under me. However, I took out an insurance policy for the vehicle under my name. I haven’t registered it yet, and now am moving back to Florida unexpectedly, and don’t want to drive this car there so I just want to sell it. How Can I go about selling it without it being registered yet? Were you able to sell yours?

  18. Was giving a car from cuz sign title over to me but I could not register the car in my name yet until I paid a fine. Now he took it back, back of title is sign over to me so if he does anything in it is it on me.

  19. I am a buyer of a truck that was totaled . It was a non op. The seller reported sell and transferred liability. I spent 11 months restoring the truck. When It was road worthy I parked on the street and was ticketed for no registration. Thus cancelling the non op and incurring 2 years of fees and penalties. Then it was parked and another car hit it . She was insured and her company now wont pay me for my losses because the title is not in my name. Even though I had her signature my signature bill of sale and the reciept from the application to transfer ownership. The past owner never got a ticket. No red light violation. She transferred liability. So as long as she does what is her resposibility she is covered. Now I bought a truck a year passed due totaled ready for the dump. I pay cash for it put $1600 and about 100 hrs. Of labor into it. Im not even driving it and it gets totaled again. And Because the vehicle didnt run I never transferred title. So should the insurance company not pay forvmy loss. My property. Because my name wasnt on the front of a piece of paper. But was on the back as new owner?

  20. 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?

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

  22. 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

    • Did you ever get an answer to your question. I’m going thru the same thing.

    • Yes u can each title has a serial number, if u are the last title name yes u can file for a lost title immediately, rendering the old title trash, due to the resistance of a new serial number on title

  23. 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.

  24. 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?

    • File for Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle in your county. I’m going thru the process now.

      • Any luck on this? I am waiting for someone to register a car I sold, I’m still paying insurance and worried about it being in my name. Please let me.know how your situation turned out. Thank you!

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

  26. 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

  27. 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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