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What Is A Car Title: Definition & Different Types

What Is A Car Title: Definition & Different Types

When you purchase a car, you will receive an important document known as a car title. This document legally proves that you are the current owner of the vehicle and are required to register your car with the local Department of Motor Vehicles.

No matter the nature of the purchase, whether from a new or used car dealership or even a private citizen, the seller is legally obligated to provide you with a valid car title. There are several key pieces of information on the document and various types of car titles you may receive.

What Information Is On A Car Title?

A car title will have a variety of personal, technical, and financial information pertaining to you and your vehicle. This makes the documents fairly sensitive, and you should take care to store the title safely and appropriately.

Each car title will feature numerous important details, including:

  • VIN number: A VIN, or vehicle identification number, helps identify your specific vehicle. A VIN contains 17 characters, usually a mixture of digits and letters. Think of it like your car's unique fingerprint; no two cars (within a several-decade registration range) can have the same VIN.
  • Make, model, and year: The make, model, and year are identifying details related to how your car was manufactured. The make is whatever car brand manufactures that vehicle; the model is the name of the car itself and usually relates to a range of products; the year is simply the year that vehicle was manufactured.
  • License Plate number: Your license plate is a way to show your car is legally registered with the state you reside within. The license plate number displayed on your car title can be used for identification purposes and can be used to find you in your region's vehicle register.
  • Lienholder information: If your vehicle has a lien placed against it, the details of the lien holder will be on your car title. The reason this information is on your title is to ensure that the debt is paid prior to the vehicle's sale.
  • Technical Information: Your car's title will contain several details relating to both the vehicle itself and the sale. This can include, among other data, its motive power, purchase price when new, and gross vehicle weight.
  • Name and address: As the registered owner or purchaser of the vehicle, your name will be printed on the title. That way, if someone else is in possession of the car, you'll be able to prove you are the legal owner.
  • Information specific to title type: While the above details are generally included with most car titles, different title types will contain varied information. This can consist of indications of damage, insurance ratings, repairs, and more.

What Are The Different Types Of Car Title Brands?

While there are more than 65 types of car car title brands, these ten are the most common:

  • Clean
  • Junk
  • Salvage
  • Reconstructed
  • Bonded
  • Rebuilt
  • Affidavit
  • Odometer Rollback
  • Water Damage
  • Dismantled


The best possible option you can have is a clean car title. These titles make it easy to get a car loan and indicate that the car has never been deemed a total loss by insurance or salvaged. In addition, vehicles with a clean title generally command a higher resale value.


A car with a junk title is destined for the scrapheap; these documents indicate that the vehicle has been sold to a junkyard and will likely be disassembled and sold for parts and scrap. In some jurisdictions, junk and salvage titles are one and the same.



If a vehicle decreases in value by a significant amount (generally more than 75% of what it was worth originally) due to an accident or damage, it's given a salvage title. Usually salvage vehicles may not be driven legally on the roads. They can be used for parts however.


When a vehicle is modified or repaired significantly, it's given a reconstructed title. This title can be issued by the body shop, collision center, vehicle rebuilder who completed work on the car, or an insurance company. Much like a salvage vehicle, a reconstructed car can be legally driven as long as the vehicle passes a road safety inspection.


Similar to reconstructed, a rebuilt title means that the car has been revamped to a certain degree. This document can be issued by the place where the vehicle was rebuilt or by an insurance company. As with a reconstructed car, a rebuilt car is legal to drive if it passes an inspection for road safety.


If your vehicle is missing certain ownership documents like the original title, you will be given a bonded title. Also known as a certificate of title surety bond, this document establishes you as the owner of the car despite lacking a way to legally prove you had the original title. To get this title, you have to purchase a surety bond.

Odometer Rollback

An odometer rollback title, also known as a TMU brand, is given when a vehicle has probably been tampered with via odometer rollback. Odometer rollback is an action scammers will take to artificially reduce the vehicle's mileage. Due to this, it's impossible to tell the true value of the vehicle, and the DMV will give it a TMU title to indicate this fact. Cars with this title are next to impossible to insure and often far harder to sell.

Odometer Rollback

Water Damage

If a vehicle sustains damage due to flooding, hurricanes, or an accident resulting in the car being submerged, it will likely get a water damage title. Also known as a flood title, once a vehicle sustains a certain level of water damage (usually enough to fill the engine compartment), it will receive this designation. Therefore, cars with water titles need to be carefully inspected before purchase, as they could be severely damaged.


In the same family as the junk and salvage titles, a dismantled title is given to cars that have been heavily damaged. Usually, if the total cost of parts would be more than the current car value, the owner will get a dismantled title'; this allows them to sell the remaining functioning car parts.

Car Title Frequently Asked Questions

What Is A Car Title?

A car title is a legal form establishing that you or a business are the legal owner of a vehicle. They are issued by the state the car was purchased in, usually by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or Department of Licensing (DOL).

How Much Does A Car Title Cost?

The only fees associated with a car title are incurred when that title is transferred. If you, or a dealership, sell a vehicle, they need to pay a fee and transfer the vehicle within a certain amount of time after filing. These fees can range from $15 to $150, and fines can be incurred if the transfers are not completed within the allotted time. For example, Washington gives sellers ten days to transfer the vehicle before they incur a $50 failure to transfer fine.

What Does A Car Title Look Like ?

Often referred to as a pink slip, the car title no longer has the pink color they were once associated with. Your car title will likely be in a light blue or green, and include the name of your state at the top. It will then say "certificate of title for a vehicle, and have all the relevant information relating to the vehicle below.

How Do I Get A Title For A Car?

You as the buyer and the seller (likely a dealership) must both submit paperwork to the DMV or DOL within five days of the sale's finalization. The dealership will sign a title over to you, and after submission, the DMV or DOL will issue your new title in the mail.

How Do I Transfer A Car Title For A Family Member?

In a similar process to the initial sale, transferring ownership of a vehicle to a family member involves similar documentation, signing, and submission of associated materials. The family member in question must apply at the DMV, pay the fee, and wait for the title to be mailed.

How Do I Get A New Title For My Car?

Getting a new title involves finding the proper forms on your local DMV website, completing and possibly notarizing the forms, then turning them in. You'll likely have to wait several weeks to get the new title in the mail.

What Is The Difference Between A Title and Registration?

While a car title establishes you as the legal owner of your new vehicle, a car registration shows you've paid all necessary fees with the state, passed a vehicle safety and emissions inspection, and the car has been deemed legal to drive.

When you purchase a new or used car, the dealership may provide you with a temporary registration. These documents are usually valid for up to 30 days, and you'll get a paper tag to display in your vehicle. A car's registration has to be renewed every couple of years, while a title only changes when the owner of the vehicle changes.

How Should I Store My Car Title?

Treat your car title like you would social security cards, passports, and birth certificates. Take extra care when storing this document, and if possible, don't keep it in your car like you would with a registration. If your state has the option, try to get a digital copy of your title. This way you don't have to worry about the physical document being damaged or lost. You can find information on electronic car titles through your local DMV branch.

What Happens If I Lose My Car Title?

While the procedures to replace a lost title vary from state to state, the first step is to visit your state's Department of Licensing (DOL) or Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). They will guide you through the process of title replacement. This process usually involves:

  • Filling out an Affidavit of loss/release of interest form.
  • Having the registered owner (most likely you) sign the form and getting the form notarized.
  • Mail the completed form or bring it in personally to a DOL or DMV office.

You will likely have to pay a replacement fee to receive your new document and then wait a set period of time. But, again, both the fee and waiting period vary depending on the state your vehicle is registered in. In Washington, for example, the title replacement fee is $35.50, and the replacement title will take 8 to 10 weeks to reach you.

Where Can I Find More Information About My New Vehicle?

Your car title will contain valuable information about your new vehicle, but it doesn't have everything. If you want to find a complete vehicle history report, comprehensive recall list, or complete a VIN lookup, you'll need to use a vehicle research tool. At GoodCar, we collect vast amounts of data for verifiable and relevant information about your vehicle. You should have the same information a dealership has when dealing with a new or used vehicle, and we want to help. Try our service today!