Navigating Car Trade-Ins Without a Title

August 2, 2023

Team ACV




Navigating Car Trade-Ins Without a Title

ACV facts & figures

No items found.
A customer hands over the key to a used car he plans to trade in.

Accepting trade-ins is one of the best ways to increase car sales and your used car inventory. However, it can be challenging when a client doesn't have their car title. While you're required to verify their ownership of the vehicle, losing out on a trade can affect your bottom line. 

Read on to learn how to ask the right questions when getting trade-ins without a title to ensure compliance and protect your car dealership’s interests. 

Steps to Take When a Trade-In Doesn’t Have a Car Title

Not every customer is going to walk into your dealership with a title for their trade-in. A customer may not have their car title for many reasons, ranging from incomplete paperwork to missing or stolen documents. Or they might still owe money on the loan they took out for the car they are planning on trading in. If a customer doesn’t have their title handy for a trade-in, it’s best to ask some key questions and guide them on the process of getting a replacement title. 

1. Verify Ownership

Before proceeding with any trade-in client, you need to be sure they are the legal owners of the vehicle. Since the title is not available, ask the customer for other documents to prove ownership of the vehicle. It might vary from each state, but examples may include state vehicle registration, bill of sale, manufacturer certificate of origin, and a Lien Release

2. Find Out If the Vehicle Is Still Financed

One of the main reasons a client may not have the title is that they purchased the vehicle through financing. When this happens, the lender keeps the title as security for payment. 

If that’s the case, you can reach out to the lender and iron out the transfer details. Keep in mind that you will need to pay the remaining balance on the client's loan for the lender  to release the title. Once you do, you can remit the remaining amount to the customer to finalize the trade-in.1

3. Ask the Customer to Apply for a Duplicate/Replacement Title From the State DMV 

If the vehicle is not financed and the title is not available, the customer will likely need to head to their local DMV office or Secretary of State to get a duplicate or replacement title. Since most consumers do  not know how to go about it and the amount of time it takes, give them all the information they need to expedite the process.

In Texas, the client should apply for a replacement title using a VTR 34 form at the DMV office. Depending on the state, your client may need to provide the following and possibly other documents to the state to get a replacement title including: a driver’s license, Social Security Number, and Vehicle Identification Number. After completing the application process, your client may receive the replacement title in a few days to weeks.

What If the Customer Isn’t Listed on an Available Title?

A customer's name might not be on the title if they inherited the car or are going through a divorce and weren’t originally listed on the title. These special cases are more complicated and typically require the customer to get a Title Transfer.2

  • Divorce: This process may vary depending on the state but typically the customer will need an attorney to  transfer the title to them during the divorce proceedings.  Alternatively the titleholder can take the title and divorce decree to the DMV to transfer ownership.²  
  • Death: If the customer’s name isn’t listed on the title, it will likely involve a title transfer.² 

Get It Right From the Start

The bottom line is that  your customers will need a title to trade in a car. But  you can navigate these situations with confidence by asking the right questions to ultimately score the trade-in.  If you are looking for used car inventory without the hassle some consumer trade-ins bring, consider sourcing more inventory from ACV Auctions.  We have a dedicated team that handles the title process, and on our condition reports indicate when a vehicle doesn't have a title present.  It’s free to sign up with ACV with a  dealer's license, so you can start building your watch list and bidding on new additions to your inventory. 


1. Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. “Get a Copy of Your Vehicle Title“,

2. Auto Credit Express. “Trading in a Car Without a Title” Auto Credit Express blog.,a%20title%20in%20most%20states