What is a car title?

Just as houses have deeds, cars have titles. Vehicle titles are so important that without having one in hand, your options for legally buying or selling a vehicle are slim to none. An auto title info search should be one of the first things you do when researching a car, whether it’s your own or a potential new ride.

A car title designates the legal owner of a vehicle. If you own the car outright, your name goes on the title. If a vehicle is financed—meaning there's an outstanding loan on it—the lender is noted as the legal owner until it's paid off. Think of a title like a car's passport, with identifying information as well as some potential clues to where it's been along the way. You can expect a title to include:

  • Ownership history
  • The VIN
  • The make, model, year and technical specifications
  • Brands (if applicable)
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Car Title Search

What's included in a car title search?

A vehicle title search may return all of the information displayed on a title, minus the owner's identifying information and address. Beyond standard title information, running a vehicle search on Bumper may return other valuable information, such as the vehicle's market value, accident history, recall status and more. If you're able to run a title search on an individual vehicle, that means you're able to unlock Bumper's vehicle history report capabilities.

Car Title Search

Why is a vehicle title search important?

A car title search is important because if the vehicle is not titled and held by the legal owner, virtually no financial transactions can move forward. If you've inherited or been gifted a vehicle, a title search is vital due diligence before moving to sell or insure it. And if you're buying a car, a title search may offer some peace of mind that the seller is the legal owner and acting in good faith.

Of particular interest for car buyers are any brands on the title. A title is considered "branded" when the vehicle has been written off as a loss at some point in its history. A visual inspection of a car may not reveal its past, but unwittingly purchasing a branded title vehicle could be a huge financial misstep.

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Vehicle Title Search

How to perform a vehicle title search on Bumper

If you have one of two pieces of identifying information on the vehicle, you're a few taps away from a vehicle history report, including the title search. You can run the car title search by using either the VIN or license plate number.

  • To search by VIN, first locate the car's VIN, usually visible through the windshield on the dashboard on the driver's side. VINs are unique to each vehicle. Enter it into the Bumper VIN lookup tool to search for a report.
  • If a VIN is unavailable, run a license plate search instead. Plate numbers are also unique to vehicles within the state in which they're registered.

If you only have a make and model, Bumper may still be able to provide lots of useful information about the vehicle, but you won't be able to run a vehicle history report on an individual car.

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Vehicle title search - frequently asked questions

Can I do a vehicle title search on my own?

Yes. With Bumper's unlimited vehicle history reports, as long as you have a VIN or license plate number you can run a car title search—no expertise required.

Can I look up my car title document online?

A Bumper vehicle history report contains a lot of the information found on a title, but not the title document itself. For that, you'll need to talk to either your lender if you still have a loan on the car, or the DMV if you've misplaced it.

Can I buy/sell a vehicle without a title?

Legally, it's unlikely. In some cases, for example old salvage cars on property you buy or own, you may be able to junk those cars without a title. Generally speaking, if a vehicle is intended for road use, it must have a title to be bought or sold.

How do I search the status of a car title before buying?

Running a vehicle history report with either the VIN or license plate is your best option. A report may reveal any salvage or other brands placed on a vehicle's title.

How do you know if a car title is real?

The first step is to run a vehicle history report, which may provide information such as the make, model, year, technical specifications (e.g., the weight, engine and trim level). If those don't correspond with what's on the title, it may be fake. Finally, you'll want to contact the DMV in the state where the vehicle is registered to further confirm.

How do I make sure a car title is clear?

A "clear" title means the vehicle is owned outright and that there's no debt held against it. To try and find out, you'll need a look at the actual title, which will include the owner's information. If it lists the seller, it's probably clear. If it lists a bank, dealer or other lender, it probably isn't.

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