How to Get a Title for a Car: Step by Step

By: Nathan Chandler  | 
California DMV
The state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is the usual place to obtain a duplicate car title. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Your car title is a critical piece of paperwork – without it, you can't sell your vehicle and transfer ownership to a buyer. You may find that your title is missing or perhaps ruined by coffee stains. Either way, you're likely wondering how to get a title for a car!

The car title is the proof of ownership that you receive once you've paid off your car loan. Until the loan is paid off, the loan lender keeps your title on file at their offices. (There are also salvage titles, but that's a different discussion altogether.) Whether you need a replacement car title for your own records or to complete a vehicle sale, this article covers every step in getting a title for a car.


Where to Apply For Legal Ownership

Every state handles the title duplication process a bit differently, but there are typically three ways to obtain a copy: You can complete the application by mail, online, or in person.

In most cases, you'll contact your state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), but in other states, such as Mississippi and Georgia, you'll go through the Department of Revenue instead. For the examples in this article we'll reference the DMV, though the process is similar in all cases.


How to Get Your Replacement Car Title Online

Here's how to apply online:

  1. Go to your state's Department of Motor Vehicles' website.
  2. Find the "Replacement Certificate of Title" link (or similarly named link) and follow the instructions. In general, if the address on your title is the same as your current mailing address, you own the title you're requesting, and there are no other changes to the information listed on the title, you should be able to complete the form online, as is the case with the Wisconsin DMV.
  3. However, in many states you'll need to have the application notarized, so the process can't be done entirely online.
  4. Assuming you don't need notarization, pay the application fee. The fee is often less than $20. (Given all the fees you likely paid in order to purchase the vehicle, this one should be an afterthought.)
  5. In states where notarization is required, you'll have to mail the application or present it in person at your local DMV office.


How to Get Your Car's Title By Mail

Here's how to apply by mail:

  1. Complete an application for the duplicate certificate of title, which is available online at your state's Department of Motor Vehicles' website or at your local DMV office.
  2. Photocopy your proof of identity. Check with the local DMV to find out what forms of identification are acceptable proofs of identity.
  3. Get your application notarized if necessary.
  4. Make out a check for the fee.
  5. Mail all these items to the address listed on the application form.


Complete Your Duplicate Title Application in Person

Here's how to apply in person:

  1. Go to your local DMV office.
  2. Complete an application for a duplicate title.
  3. Present proof of identification and notarization if necessary.
  4. Pay the fee.

The title will be mailed to you usually within seven to 10 business days, but the time can vary depending on the state you are in. Some states will allow also issue the new title immediately if you apply in person.


Whether you're looking to get a title for insurance purposes or a vehicle title transfer, there are many ways to apply for a title on a new or used car. Whichever method you choose, the car title is a great way to improve your auto insurance policy and prove ownership of your car.


Car Title FAQ

Can I sell my car without the title in hand?
Your car title is proof of ownership as it ties the name of the owner to the vehicle. It is an incredibly important piece of paperwork. Without the car title in hand, you can’t sell your vehicle or transfer its ownership to a buyer or anyone else.
What is a car title?
A car title is a certificate that proves that you legally own the vehicle you have. This certificate is issued and processed by the Department of Motor Vehicles and it contains important information that has to be accurately updated. If you're buying a vehicle using financing, you will not have the title until you have paid off the loan completely and there are no liens left.
Can I sign a title over to someone?
The owner of a vehicle can transfer the title over to someone else. Transferring a car title involves two important steps. First, the seller releases ownership of the car by signing the title. Then, the buyer or receiver takes the signed title to the Department of Motor Vehicles. After this step, the state issues a new registration and title for the new owner.
Who keeps the title to a car?
In most cases, lenders keep the title on file until you have paid off your vehicle loan in full. After the complete payment, they hand over the original title document to the owner of the vehicle.
How long does it take to get your title when you buy a car?
How long it takes to get your title after you buy a car depends mainly on state laws. Generally, paper titles are mailed and electronic titles and liens are issued around 10 business days after it’s paid off. Expect to receive the title by mail in 15 to 30 business days from the date you submitted the title application.