How to examine a car title

If you suspect that the dealer that sold you a car may have manipulated the title, you can examine the certificate of title for issues. The usual car title has “certificate of title written at the top.” Below that is the VIN, year, make, and model. Below that will be the name and address of the seller, the leinholder’s name and address, a line for the leinholder’s release and the

Bad titles?

If only they were easier to spot

The title generally includes the name of the jurisdiction and the phrase “certificate of title” at the top center of the form. Below that is printed the vehicle identification number, the year and the make, model and body type.

Also listed is the owner’s name and address, the lienholder’s name and address, a line for the lienholder’s release, odometer information at the time the title is issued, and any brands (such as salvage, rebuilt, duplicate title, lease, unknown odometer mileage, lemon buyback, prior taxi). Title brands are often indicated by initials or other codes that vary by each state and may be incomprehensible to most consumers.

To be consistent with federal requirements, titles also contain several assignment blocks which each contain specified language with blank spaces for the transferor to fill out in the future when the current owner assigns the title to another party. Assignments of the title are either found on the front and the back of the title, or just on the back of the title, depending on the state.

When the current owner sells the car, the owner fills out the assignment section, discloses the mileage at the time of that sale, and certifies one of the following statements: that the mileage reading is accurate, that the mileage reading reflects mileage in excess of an odometer’s mechanical limits, or that the mileage reading is inaccurate and should not be relied upon. The current owner then signs the title as transferor and also specifies the date of transfer, her name and current address, and the transferee’s name and current address. The transferee also signs the assignment section. Further assignments of the same title are performed in the same manner. No matter how many times the title is assigned, the above-described information must be recorded for each transfer of ownership, whether evidenced on the title itself or on a separate reassignment document.

Sometimes a review of the title will show that the same dealer executed an earlier assignment on the title both as transferor and transferee. In that situation, the dealer must have obtained a power of attorney from the transferor, and then filled in the title information both for the transferor and for itself as transferee. When that vehicle is then assigned from that dealer to a subsequent purchaser, the subsequent purchaser has the right to see the original power of attorney which authorized the dealer to sign as both transferor and transferee, but only if that purchaser so requests from the dealer.

If a transfer is exempt from federal and state disclosure requirements (for example, because the vehicle is over ten years old or a heavy truck), the part of the disclosure dealing with mileage may be left blank, or the area may be covered by the phrase “exempt” without any indication as to why the vehicle is exempt.