Fall Car Care
Understanding vehicle titles a necessity
It’s time to sell your car, but do you know where your title is and what’s required to transfer it to a new owner?
Whether you’re a private individual or a dealer, titles can make or break the deal. It’s not just a matter of signing the back of a piece of paper.
“If you buy from an out-of-state dealer, make sure you get a title for any model from 1995 or newer. It used to be vehicles over 10 years old didn’t need one, but the law has changed,” said Jim Burrill, owner of Jim’s Automotive in Mapleton.
When a bank makes a car loan, they keep the document until the loan is paid off.
“The banks keep the title as collateral and have to sign off once the loan is paid,” he said. “The bank sends it to you and you are responsible for it. If there’s no lien against the vehicle, the state will send it directly to you.”
Titles can be a complicated matter, especially in the event of a loved one’s death.
“The general problem, where the public’s concerned, is the average consumer is not familiar with certain terms, such as ‘joint ownership,’” said Mary Raymond, manager of Gary’s Sales and Service in Caribou.
In the event of a death, Raymond said the surviving owner needs to provide a death certificate to the state.
“But if the box isn’t marked as joint owner, the surviving spouse will have to go through probate and shares ownership with surviving family members. It can be quite a complicated matter,” said Raymond.
In the case of an elderly person passing, the surviving party would need any children to sign off, she said.
“This can be a logistical nightmare, especially when children are scattered across the country. That nightmare can be diminished by checking one little box,” Raymond said.
She said another issue is proper transfer of ownership.
“If you have a titled vehicle and want to sell it — for example, if the next door neighbor assigns a vehicle to you, you’d need to acquire a new title from the state. The standard title fee is $33,” said Raymond.
“You can transfer a vehicle one time by signing the back of the title, or use an MVT 16 to transfer,” said Burrill.
Burrill said it’s an additional $10 to rush the title.
“It’s against the law to sell or trade a vehicle (1995 or newer) without a title,” said Burrill. “It takes two to three months to register a request with the state for a title, with the rush request, it’s more like 10-20 days.”
He stressed the importance of knowing where the title’s been placed.
“Keep the title in a safe place and remember where you put it. Let survivors know where it is and tell your caretakers, in the event you pass. The car cannot be sold until survivors sign off and they have to have a death certificate,” said Burrill. “Do not keep it in the glove box or in the car, in case of fire or theft.”
If multiple parties are listed as owners on the title, Burrill said all must sign off in order to sell the vehicle.
“That’s the difference between ‘joint ownership’ and ‘either/or,’” he said.
According to Burrill, titles on vehicles older than 10 years of age no longer need mileage noted.
‘The state calls it ‘exempt,’” said Burrill. Raymond said that’s an issue she doesn’t agree with.
“It’s something the state’s done but I don’t agree with it. You could have a car with very high mileage that’s not worth the price the owner’s asking, or you could have a vehicle that a little old lady only drove to church with very low miles. With this exemption, it’s harder to determine the wear and tear a vehicle’s been through,” said Raymond.
Dealers have certain responsibilities when it comes to handling titles during a sale.
“Dealers must send in titles within 20 days or there’s a penality — one copy goes to the state, one to the lien holder if applicable, one to the customer and one to the seller,” said Burrill, noting, “Most people think if they have the title application copy (blue form) they have the title, but that’s not the case. The official title needs to be the certificate of title.”
Burrill stressed the importance of asking for the title during a private sale.
“If you buy a car through a private sale, be sure to see the original title from the seller. You cannot register a vehicle if you don’t have a title. The car is no good to you without it,” said Burrill.
Raymond said there are “so many different issues, no matter what state you reside in.”
“The one true document to show ownership is the title. If you’re doing a private sale, get the serial number of the vehicle and contact the state to make sure there are no liens on it,” said Raymond. “There’s certain information readily available through the state, it’s just a matter of asking for it.”
For more information on titles, visit the state’s Title Examination and Information Unit at www.maine.gov/sos/bmv/title/.