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

18 Comments

  1. 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

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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.

  5. 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?

  6. 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?

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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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

  12. 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

  13. 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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