Consumers’ Guide to Private Vehicle Sales
The following general tips for buying and selling vehicles are based on a guide offered by the Michigan Secretary of State Office. We hope that these guidelines help you make the best possible purchase and sale of your collector car. Be sure to contact your local department of motor vehicles office or secretary of state office for state specific rules, regulations and advice.
(Check with your local Secretary of State of Department of Motor Vehicle office for your state’s specific “buying a vehicle” guidelines and requirements)
- Test drive the vehicle and, if possible, have a reputable mechanic inspect it.
- Check the odometer (mileage indicator on the dashboard) for accuracy. Ask the seller if the mileage shown is actual, not actual (replaced or broken odometer), or exceeds mechanical limits (the mileage is over 99,999 miles but cannot show because of a 5 digit odometer). Be sure the current mileage is recorded properly in the title assignment.
- Match the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the title with the number on the vehicle’s dashboard (usually visible from outside the vehicle through the windshield on the driver’s side).
- Make sure the owner named on the front of the title is the same person signing the title. Never take possession of a vehicle without the title signed by the owner(s) named on the front of the title. NOTE: If an owner is deceased, special papers are required from the owner’s legal representative or heir.
- The seller must enter the vehicle mileage, date, selling price, and sign his or her name. If more than one owner is named on the front of the title, each person must sign.
- As the buyer, print your name and address on the title and sign your name.
- After you have received the title from the seller, you may drive the vehicle home without a license plate using the most direct route. Contact your insurance company to be sure you are covered (Check your state rules). NEVER USE A LICENSE PLATE ON A VEHICLE UNLESS IT IS REGISTERED TO THAT VEHICLE.
TRANSFERRING OWNERSHIP WHEN TITLE IS LOST
(Check with your local Secretary of State of Department of Motor Vehicle office for your state’s specific guidelines and requirements)
If the seller cannot locate the title and the buyer cannot wait for a duplicate title, the vehicle may still be sold if:
- The seller and the buyer appear together at a Secretary of State or Department of Motor Vehicles branch office with proof of the Vehicle Identification Number.
- There are no secured interests (liens) or the seller has a lien termination from the lender.
- A record of the current title is on the computer system.
The seller must title a vehicle in his or her name before the vehicle can be sold.
Michigan Law requires disclosure of the actual odometer reading at the time of transfer or assignment of the vehicle’s title. Further, the seller must indicate if that reading is actual mileage, is not actual mileage, or exceeds the maximum limit of the odometer (usually over 99,999 miles). This disclosure is not required if the vehicle has a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 16,000 pounds, is not self-propelled, or is 10 years old or older. (MCL 257.233a)
Federal Law also requires sellers to state the odometer mileage when transferring ownership. Failure to complete a mileage disclosure or providing false information may make the seller liable for damages and fines and/or imprisonment according to the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act of 1972, Public Law 92-513.
TITLING AND REGISTERING VEHICLES–Contact your local Secretary of State or Department of Motor Vehicles branch office for specific instructions.
(Check with your local Secretary of State of Department of Motor Vehicle office for your state’s “selling a vehicle” guidelines and requirements)
- If possible, meet the buyer at a Secretary of State or Department of Motor Vehicle branch office to complete the title transfer.
- As seller, complete your part on the title by entering:
- The vehicle mileage
- The date the vehicle was sold
- The selling price
- Your signature Note: If there is more than one owner named on the front of the title, each person must sign.
- Check the front of the title. If there is a lien it must be released by the lien holder in the appropriate signature space, or you may attach a lien termination statement from the financial institution.
- Have the buyer enter his or her name, address, and signature on the title.
- Do not make any changes on the title. Any alterations will void it! This includes erasing, scratching out, use of white-out, etc.
- Keep your license plate! Never leave it on the vehicle or let the buyer borrow it. You may be able to use it on your next vehicle.
- The vehicle may be driven home without a license plate, using the most direct route, if the driver is carrying the assigned title from the seller.
- Cancel your insurance coverage on the vehicle sold.