If you need to contact the previous owner of a vehicle to get the title, it can be a bit difficult. Let’s say you bought a car but didn’t receive the title, or perhaps the person who sold it to you wasn’t the actual title owner. You might not even know who the owner is. Now, you need to find previous owner of vehicle without title to be able to get it registered in your name. Usually, only the previous owner, who is the legal owner, can help you to obtain a title.
How to Find Previous Owner of Vehicle Without Title
So, how do you go about this and find the last registered owner of the car?
1. Gather information about the previous owner
You will start at the DMV, however, they won’t just hand over this information due to federal privacy laws that protect vehicle owner details like their name, address, and contact information. The Driver Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) laws require the owner’s permission before such information can be shared. So, if you have the car but don’t know the owner, you can’t simply ask the DMV to tell you who it is.
You’ll likely need to do some detective work. Check under the seats, look for receipts in the glove compartment, or try to remember who you got the car from to see if they know the owner. Do as much as you can on your own before moving to the next step.
2. Submit a DPPA request
This is similar to asking the DMV for public records to disclose certain information. You’ll need to sign an affidavit explaining your purpose and ensure it aligns with an approved reason. Many requests for this information are turned down because the reason given doesn’t meet the approved criteria. Therefore, understand what’s allowed under the DPPA. Do some research on this before you submit your request to make sure it’s in line with permissible uses.
3. Locate their current whereabouts
Suppose you manage to find the name and address of the title owner. There’s still much work to do to find previous owner of vehicle without title, as often, that person no longer resides at that address. The last title record will show their name and address at the time of the title application, which could be as old as 10 years. They might have moved since then. And even if you find them, the information doesn’t include a phone number, just their name and address.
So, the next step is to locate their current whereabouts. You can use social media. Search for the person’s name and try to find a current phone number. Your goal is to figure out where they are now.
4. Get the previous owner to be cooperative
Let’s say you have been able to find the previous owner of the vehicle without a title. Now, what will you say to them? How will you reach out? You might consider using a phone call or social media. The way you deliver your message is what will help you gain their cooperation and a positive response. It’s not enough to just say, ‘Hey, I need a title from you.’ I mean, someone who owned a car a few years ago and doesn’t have it now probably doesn’t care about your title issue, and that’s fair. They haven’t done anything wrong; they just owned the car at one point.
In fact, they might be wary about even speaking to you. They could wonder who you are and why you’re asking about this car. They might suspect it’s a scam or some trick to harm them or steal their money. So, you have to be very careful and thoughtful in how you approach them.
5. Request for their assistance by mail
I will tell you how title agents or investigative agencies handle this situation. They usually start the conversation with a letter sent by mail. I’ll explain this in a moment. In the letter, they first confirm that they are no longer the owner of the vehicle. The agent will emphasize that they are looking out for the previous owner’s interests, and working to transfer the title to a new owner for a car they believe the person once owned. Before proceeding further, the goal is to ensure they no longer own the vehicle. This will help to reassure the previous owner that the agents’ primary concern is their safety and interests.
Once they understand this, they’ll check to make sure the car isn’t in your name. Then, you can start asking for assistance. You might say, ‘This car will eventually be transferred to someone else. It could take several months, maybe 5 to 7, because of legal processes. I’m hoping you could help us speed up and simplify the transfer.’
You can make it easier for the preview owner to assist by preparing the necessary form, filling in all the details, and sending it to them. You can also include a pre-addressed, stamped return envelope in the package. This way, they just need to sign the form, put it in the envelope, and mail it back. If you don’t do this, the previous owner of the vehicle would have to get the form, deal with motor vehicle paperwork, find an envelope, and a stamp. You don’t want something as trivial as a missing stamp to be a barrier to getting your title. So, we make it super simple for them. We find the exact form they need to sign, indicate where they should sign, and provide clear instructions. Now, mail it to them, so there’s no need for a direct conversation, which could be awkward. They might not understand what’s happening. So, you’ll include your contact information in the letter. If they wish to reach out, they can contact you without you intruding on their privacy with an unexpected phone call.
You can make the process easy for them, and ensure they understand it’s not a big task. Clearly state that you’re not asking them to visit the DMV, spend any money, or be on the phone with anyone. You are simply asking them to sign a form and mail it.
6. Notify the previous owner of possible liabilities
In your communication, which is best done through a letter, use both incentives and warnings. The incentive could be that by signing and mailing the form, the previous owner can avoid any future inconvenience. The warning is about potential liabilities. For example, as long as the vehicle is in their name, they could face issues like impound fees, back taxes, or even legal problems if the car is in an accident. Remind them that their name is still on the title, so it’s in their best interest to transfer it quickly.
Don’t forget that the previous seller is doing you a favor, so make this easy and non-threatening for them. You want to be likable so they’ll want to help you. Sometimes, a small gesture like a Starbucks gift card or offering to cover a minor expense can make a difference. But don’t let simple obstacles like not having an envelope or not knowing how to fill out the form stop you from getting the car title. If it’s your car, you have every right to the title.
Read also: How to Report Someone for Title Jumping