What happens if the car’s owner signed the title in the wrong place? What if as a seller, you signed your car’s title over to a buyer and they backed out? What if as a buyer, you find someone else’s name is already signed in the buyer’s position? What do you do if the person named on the title isn’t the person selling you the car?
A damaged title is one that has errors or problems. And just like the car you're buying, a damaged title can be repaired with a little time and effort.
These are common problems people face when buying and selling cars. All of them make a title null and void, but luckily these problems have easy solutions.
The Title is Damaged And You're the Seller
A seller can void a car title by accident or as the result of an unfortunate circumstance. It is always best to deliver a flawless title to the next owner whenever possible. If as a seller you encounter a problem with a title, fix it before selling the car.
These are the most common ways a seller could end up with a damaged title.
You made a mistake filling out the title
Mistakes happen! Don’t use white-out or scratch anything out.
Solution: Take the title to the DMV and explain what happened. Usually you will be asked to pay a nominal fee or complete a form asking the DMV to correct the mistake.
The wrong buyer signed the title
In this situation, perhaps the buyer signed the title and later the sale didn’t go through. Maybe you decided not to sell to them, or maybe they backed out. Whatever the case, a buyer’s name is now written on the title.
Solution: Correct the issue at the DMV as explained above. A nominal fee and brief paperwork may be involved.
You bought a car with a damaged title
If you bought a car in one of the buyer’s scenarios listed below, it will be more difficult to fix the title yourself than it would have been for the seller before the sale happened. Everything can be fixed, though! Keep reading to learn more.
Your name isn’t on the title
This issue is more serious than the others. The title was never transferred into your name; maybe you forgot to title it in your name or maybe you intentionally avoided doing so. While this scenario is common for a variety of reasons, it’s technically against the law either way. It’s called Title Jumping and while it might seem harmless, it could have unforeseeable effects down the road.
Solution: The best course of action is to correct your mistake before selling the car. Send the title off, have it returned in your name, and resume the sale with a good title.
The Title is Damaged And You're the Buyer
If a car’s title was already signed before you bought it, that’s not good. If a car title has someone else’s name listed as the buyer, that’s even worse. But it’s all fixable! If at all possible, ask the seller to correct the issue before the sale is finalized. Here are the most common reasons a buyer will encounter a damaged title and how to fix them.
A mistake was made on the title
Mistakes happen! Just don’t use white-out or scratch anything out.
Solution: If a mistake was made while filling out a car title, make sure it’s acknowledged on your bill of sale. Take the title and bill of sale to the DMV and explain what happened. You may be asked to pay a nominal fee or fill out a form asking the DMV to correct the mistake. It is possible to fix this issue after buying the car.
Another buyer signed the title
It is much harder to fix this problem after the sale.
Solution: Ask the owner of the vehicle to correct the issue at the DMV before the sale is finalized. If the sale has already been finalized, explain the situation to the DMV with your bill of sale in hand - but know that a bill of sale won't work miracles.
The Seller’s Name Isn’t Right
This issue is more serious than the others. If the seller’s name on the title is not the seller you’re dealing with, you’ve encountered an illegal practice called Title Jumping. This is commonly done by mistake but also for a variety of nefarious reasons.
Always have your guard up for scammers, schemes, and shysters. The seller could be passing off a serious issue as a minor problem, especially if they’re involved in title jumping. If the seller's name isn't the name on the title:
The seller has avoided paying taxes
In many states this will result in the next buyer (you) paying incorrect taxes when they title the car.
That person is not legally tied to the car
If there’s a problem down the road, the seller you're buying from is not on the hook. The fallout of this can be devastating - ask us how we know.
The title could be false or illegal
The car could be stolen, the seller could be lying about their identity, the title could belong to another car, or any number of things could be happening.
Solution: Vet the vehicle and the seller to the best of your abilities.
- Run the VIN (we’ll do it for under $10)
- Inspect the car for any signs that it’s stolen
- Ensure the title doesn’t have any active liens
- Ask the seller to send off for a new title
Read our articles on How to Tell if Your Vehicle is Stolen or Has a Lien and The Dangers of Title Washing to be fully prepared to deal with title jumping.
Or, they could have made an honest mistake
Assuming positive intent, the seller may have simply forgotten to title the car in their name.
Solution: Before you buy the car, ask the seller to correct the issue by sending off for a new title. There could be back taxes owed on the car, something you shouldn’t be responsible for – but you would be after the sale.
We’re seasoned professionals in the world of car titles. Ask us anything related to titling a vehicle! Contact us by phone or email if you have any questions about a car you’re buying, selling, or considering. And always remember, if you have any doubt about a buyer or seller for any reason, walk away. It's that easy.