How to Tell if a Car Has a Clean Title

titleThere’s always a fair amount of paperwork associated with any vehicle purchase, and we’ve previously discussed the importance of a purchase agreement and how inspections can save you a lot of time and headache. But the most important piece of paperwork that any buyer should check when purchasing a car is the title. A vehicle’s title is considered “clean” if there are no liens held against it, and the car has never had a salvage or damage claim against it. If the title of the vehicle you’re considering is free of those three things, you’re good to go! Here’s how to find out if you’ve got a clean title:

Run a Vehicle History Report
Companies like CarFax and InstaVin do a deep dive on any vehicle’s history. For a small fee, these companies will search any records available to ensure that the vehicle in question is free of any liens. The reports these companies produce will also provide a detailed history of any accidents, flood damage, etc.

Get a Mechanic’s Opinion
If it’s at all possible, take any vehicle to a third party or trusted mechanic for a second opinion. While most sellers will be willing to provide you with some sort of documentation as to the car’s condition, it never hurts to double check – especially if you aren’t well versed in auto repair and maintenance yourself.

Ask For the Original
If everything you’re being told by the seller checks out, simply ask to see a copy of the original title. This is your chance to make an in-person inspection of the title to ensure that there are no liens against the vehicle in question. If the seller is unwilling to show you the original title for one reason or another it should be a giant red flag, and likely a reason to be willing to walk away from the deal entirely. Without ensuring that the vehicle is free of liens you could be on the hook for any additional funds left due to the bank or financing company.

If you’re unsure about the vehicle’s title it may also behoove you to use an online escrow service to secure your purchase funds. Online escrow allows the buyer to rest securely knowing their funds are held with a neutral third party until the vehicle shows up and is as advertised. Seller’s also get the piece of mind in knowing that the purchase funds are verified, removing the risk of non-payment or insufficient funds.



  1. […] For more tips about buying and selling cars online, be sure to see our posts on spotting Craigslist auto scams, the used car buyers checklist, and how to tell if a car has a clean title. […]

  2. […] more tips about paperwork and documentation, see our post on how to tell if a car has a clean title and our DIY guide to vehicle […]

  3. […] more tips on buying and selling used cars, check out our used car buyer’s guide, how to tell if a car has a clean title, and how to create a bill of […]

  4. […] and selling motorcycles and other vehicles online, check out our used car buyer’s checklist, how to tell if a vehicle has a clean title, and buying a used motorcycle […]

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