Car Title Problems

When a vehicle is sold in Minnesota, the seller must transfer title to the buyer.

Transfer the Title at the Time of Sale

When a vehicle is sold in Minnesota, the seller must transfer the title to the buyer. To learn how to transfer the title, read about Vehicle Title Transfers on the website for the MN Department of Public Safety. NOTE: In Minnesota, license plates belong to and stay with the vehicle. They do not belong to a person.

The buyer and seller can transfer the title by:

  • filling in the blanks with details of the sale on the vehicle's "Certificate of Title" form,
  • attaching a lien release, if the title shows there is a lien in favor of a bank or lender,
  • signing the certificate, and
  • mailing them to Driver & Vehicle Services (DVS) within a certain time-frame. DVS then mails a new Certificate of Title to the buyer showing that the buyer is the owner.
TIP: To avoid title problems, complete the sale of a vehicle and the title transfer at a Driver & Vehicle Services (DVS) location. The DVS agent can review the title and see whether there are any liens on it. The buyer and seller can avoid problems with the forms, getting signatures, and mailing documents to DVS.

Possible Title Problems for a Buyer:

  • The seller may still owe money for the vehicle (called a lien), and the bank or person who is owed money can try to collect it from the buyer, or can try to repossess the vehicle from the buyer.
  • Only the title holder ("owner" on the title) can get insurance on the vehicle, which is required by Minnesota law.
  • If the title has not been properly transferred, the buyer will not be able to re-sell the vehicle to someone else in the future.
  • If the seller has a record of drinking and driving and the title is still in his or her name, the vehicle could be impounded and sold by the state.
NOTE: If the seller was a licensed dealership that has gone out of business and the buyer is having problems getting the title, the buyer can call the DVS Dealer Unit (651) 201-7800 for information about the dealership.

Possible Title Problems for a Seller:

  • If the buyer gets in an accident in the vehicle, the seller could be sued as the "owner" of the vehicle. This can be a very costly risk for the seller who does not properly transfer the title.
  • If the vehicle is impounded, the government may require the seller to pay the charges of towing and/or storage of the vehicle.
  • If the buyer does not have a valid driver's license, the vehicle cannot be put in his or her name. This can lead to the problems described above.

NOTE: The seller must report the sale to DVS online, by mail, or in person.

Transfer Title by Court Order

If the transfer of title cannot be completed using the Certificate of Title document, the buyer may ask for a court order to transfer the title. This takes time and effort and costs money, but the title can eventually be transferred. Click on the other tabs in this topic to see how to ask the court for an order to transfer a title.

If a seller wants to report the sale, he or she must complete the process at the Driver & Vehicle Services Division.

How Do I Ask for an Order to Transfer a Car Title?

In Minnesota, vehicle titles and registrations are managed by the Driver & Vehicle Services Division (DVS) at the MN Department of Public Safety. Dealing with titles can be confusing, but there is useful information about Vehicle Title Transfers on the DVS website.

If you buy a vehicle in Minnesota and the seller has not given you the title or other documents of ownership as part of the sale, you must first try to correct the title problem by following the options listed in the DVS "No Proof of Ownership" procedures BEFORE you can ask for a court order to transfer a title. (TIP: Be sure to click on the "Policies & Procedures" link on the DVS webpage.) If the options do not apply to your situation (e.g., DVS does have an ownership record for the vehicle or the buyer is aware that the title was issued in another state) or the vehicle does not qualify for the "Defective Title Bond" option, then you may file a motion in a district court asking for an Order to Transfer Title.

How Do I File a "Motion" with the Court?

A "Motion" is the court process to ask a judge to issue an order. The county where you live determines the district court where you file your motion. To make a motion to the court, you need to complete and file certain legal documents, usually called:
  • Notice of Motion and Motion;
  • Affidavit in Support of Motion; and
  • Affidavit of Service.
Usually, there is also a hearing where you tell the judge your request. After you have followed all of the steps for making a motion, the court will issue an order with its decision about the title.

Please visit the Motor Vehicles Forms.

If you are representing yourself in a car title case, you are responsible for following the same laws and rules as an attorney. See Rights and Duties of Self-Represented Parties

The following is a list of some of the laws and rules that deal with car title transfers by court order in Minnesota. See also Laws, Rules & Legal Research. You can get more help with your legal research at a Law Library, which is open to the public. We encourage you to talk with a lawyer to get advice on how the laws and rules may affect your case.