There is this common issue that buyers sometimes face, and it has to do with title transfer not being signed by the seller. So, today, we are going to talk about a car title not signed by seller. It could be that the seller forgot to put their signature or simply left the title open to evade sales taxes. If the latter is the case, the seller may be title jumping on you, which is not legal.
In this article, you are going to learn about how to fix this issue, what an open title means, and the problems it can cause.
Car Title Not Signed by Seller
The signature of the seller on the car title is what legally transfers the ownership of the vehicle to you, the buyer. Without their signature, you do not have legal proof that the vehicle is yours, even if you have paid for it. All you have to do is reach out and request the seller to sign the title. Sometimes, it could have been a simple oversight on their part. Politely remind them that their signature is missing.
If the seller is uncooperative or cannot be contacted, this could be a case of a jumped title. Sometimes, you might even have to contact the previous owner on the title if the seller never put their name in the first place. But first, seek legal advice or contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). I made a detailed guide that can help you to report someone who jumped title.
If the seller is not available to sign the title, you can consider getting a court order to put the title in your name. Unfortunately, a court order is usually a more complicated and time-consuming process but may be necessary in your case. Apart from a court order, you could always buy a bond, so you now have a bonded title, which gives you legal ownership of the car. I explained in my article about getting a bonded title for Texas residents—the steps are actually similar in other states where bonded titles are recognized.
So, if you think the seller played a fast one on you, you likely have an open title with you. We are going to explain what an open title means, as well as the potential problems it comes with.
What is an Open Title?
An open title is a car title that hasn’t been signed or dated by the people involved in the sale. Often, it’s the previous buyer’s or seller’s details that are missing, including their signatures. This issue should be resolved at your local DMV before you buy a car. You won’t be able to transfer a car with an open title, not even with a bill of sale.
But don’t worry, it’s an issue that can be resolved easily, as long as the seller is cooperative. Open title incidents happen in the following ways:
- The seller doesn’t sign the title, either on purpose or by mistake.
- The buyer doesn’t sign the title, either intentionally or accidentally.
- Multiple consecutive buyers don’t sign the title.
When a car is sold with an open title, it allows for unrecorded owners, which leads to tax issues being wrongly attributed to someone. It can create problems if there’s ever an accident. Not signing a title might seem harmless, but it can lead to issues, especially if the same open title is passed along by multiple people.
1. Open Titles Are Illegal
Let’s say a car has had several owners, but none have officially titled it. If the state discovers there is no complete ownership record, it could impose fines and fees on everyone involved. There might even be legal consequences, as these people have evaded taxes and other fees, which is equivalent to stealing from the state. They’ve also unlawfully avoided licensure fees and other assessments. So, selling an open title car is illegal.
2. Open Titles Hide Vehicle History
A car title with a status like ‘Salvage’ or ‘Flood’ doesn’t change on the actual title certificate until it’s transferred again. This allows a seller to sell a salvage vehicle as if it’s clean by using an open title. The buyer might not realize this until it’s too late.
3. Citations Continue to Point to the Previous Owner
Typically, the new owner has to process the title to register the vehicle. If this isn’t done, any citations from traffic cameras or parking tickets will go to the person who is still officially the owner, even if they sold the car. This means unpaid titling fees and property taxes keep accumulating. Eventually, someone in the ownership chain will have to settle these dues.
How Do You Avoid Buying a Car with an Open Titles?
You won’t have to worry that a car title was not signed by seller if they signed it in the first place. When you buy a car, have the seller sign it in your presence. Always end a deal with open titles. Request at least one form of ID from the seller and check if the name matches the one on the title. If there’s a mismatch, find out why.
Yes, it’s okay to walk away. Unless you are after an abandoned or project car, avoid a purchase where the previous title ownership will be left blank. Better deals will come. It could be that the current seller is just trying to get rid of the car. In the worst scenario, it might be a VIN-switched stolen car that they are trying to get rid of.
So, always make sure to research before paying for a car. You can get a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) check to confirm you are not buying a stolen, salvaged, or even car that has a lien on it.
So, we have really covered the important aspects when it comes to a car title not signed by seller. Never allow your emotions to come in when dealing with any seller, especially private sellers on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. If a seller makes excuses or refuses to sign the title, it is a red flag indicating problems with the vehicle’s history. Buy smart and don’t allow your emotions to cloud your sense of judgment.