Seller refuses to give me title of purchased car. What can I do?

Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “I bought a car from another person. I paid them cash for the car and took possession of the car. They said they would transfer the title to me, but they refuse to do so. What should I do to get clear title of the car?”

While it sounds like you may have had a written or verbal contract to purchase a car and you fulfilled your end of the contractual arrangement by paying for the car, the final step to ensure the car is now in your legal possession- transferring the title to you- has not been completed.

To complete this step you will need to complete all of the legal requirements identified by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in your state. Unfortunately, without taking these steps the state does not recognize your legal right of car ownership.

How to Transfer Car Title in Texas

Although most of the title transfer steps are completed by you, the buyer, you do need a few things from the seller. First, you need a copy of the car’s title with the signature of the seller, the date of sale, the price of the sale, and the odometer reading. The buyer should have also provided you with the most recent registration receipt and given you information about completing the Application for Texas Title (130-U) form.

If you had received all of the information above from the seller at the time of purchase, you would then have simply gone to the County Tax Assessor’s Office and transferred the title. (Items you would have needed to complete the title transfer would have included the Application for Texas Title, proof of insurance, and money to pay the title transfer fees. In some cases, the seller may have also removed the license plates from the car. If this was the case, you would have had to purchase new license plates).

What if seller refuses to give me title to purchased car?

Obviously, hindsight is 20/20, but you should have taken the necessary steps to transfer the title at the time of the car sale- before any money transferred hands. This would have ensured you had clear title and there were no liens against the car. Specifically, you should have gone to the county tax office with the seller and ensured that the transfer of title was made per the requirement of the state prior to the sale.

But you can rest assured; you are not the only one who has purchased a car only to have the seller refuse to later hand over the title. This may occur for a variety of reasons, but regardless of why it happened, you do have legal recourse against the seller.

First, try to contact them again. Let them know that you need the title and you intend to file a case against them in court. In some cases, this might be sufficient to get what you need.

If it is not, you have several options. If the car was NOT owned by the seller free and clear this could be considered fraud. This is a criminal case which can be investigated by the police. Another option is to file a civil case against him in small claims court, depending on the value of the car.

Small claims court is the easiest type of case to file, but in many states there is a $5,000- $10,000 limit for cases filed.

The good news, however, is that you have a strong case. You have possession of the car, you have evidence you paid for the car, and you have evidence that the seller had a written or oral agreement with you to sell you the car. Proving they breached their contractual obligations to give you sole possession of the car should be fairly easy to do.

Bottom Line:

You failed to take the right steps at the time of the car sale. You made a mistake; it happens to everyone at one time or another. Unfortunately, your mistake will cost you some time and hassle to get what you are owed. The good news is the law is on your side, and you have evidence of a breach of contract- at the least- and potentially a criminal case if the seller committed fraud.

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