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What Happens If One Sells a Car & the Owner Does Not Transfer the Title?

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When a vehicle is sold, the protocol for the legal transfer to the new owner starts with the seller signing the certificate of title over to the buyer. The new owner then completes the buyer’s section and submits the certificate and documentation required by the state to the Department of Motor Vehicles, which prints a title showing the transfer of ownership. This process sometimes doesn’t happen because of actions taken by either the seller or buyer. The failure or inability to transfer title can temporarily leave the buyer without proof of ownership and the seller liable for the vehicle.

The Buyer Purposely Doesn’t Transfer Ownership

A buyer who intends to sell the car shortly after making the purchase may elect to leave the original seller on record as the owner of the vehicle to avoid paying the sales tax. This is called “title jumping.” When this happens, the first buyer leaves the new owner’s section blank with the intention of having the next buyer transfer ownership. This practice is used by unlicensed car dealers to avoid having to be licensed as a dealer because of the number of cars they sell in a year. This practice is illegal and leaves the seller liable for the car until ownership is finally transferred.