In the United States, you don't own a vehicle until its title is transferred, or "assigned", to you.
So how is a vehicle's title transferred in the US?
All vehicle titles contain a process for transferring the title to a new owner
In order to transfer a vehicle to a new owner, the owner must complete several steps on the vehicle's title:
Complete the Seller Section
The seller must hand write his name and address and sign the seller's section of the title.
Complete the Lien Section
A vehicle lien is a loan for which the vehicle serves as collateral. The lender's information is printed on the title upon issuance, and the title cannot be transferred until the lien is satisfied.
A lien release satisfies a lien. There is no standard format for a lien release - they must be written on the lender's letterhead, reference the vehicle (by its VIN number), and be signed in ink by an authorized representative of the lender.
Getting a lien release from a lender (such as a bank) generally takes 2-3 weeks.
Complete the Odometer Disclosure Section
US federal law requires sellers of all vehicles less than ten years old to provide the vehicle's true mileage.
Complete the Notary Section
Vehicle titles from Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska, New Hampshire, West Virginia, and Montana require the seller's signature to be notarized.
Once the steps above are carried out, the vehicle's title becomes a negotiable title, or property of the person in possession of the title.
Ensuring a vehicle title transfer to the buyer
Complete the Buyer Section (for private party sales)
When a non-auto dealer buys a vehicle, it usually makes sense to complete the Buyer Section (sometimes called the transferee section). When the Buyer Section is completed, the title becomes assigned, or property of the person named as the buyer (or transferee).
Complete the Dealer Reassignment Section (for dealer sales)
If the vehicle's buyer is a licensed auto dealer, it may re-assign the vehicle's title to a new owner in the future.
This allows dealers to own a vehicle without having to re-register it and wait for a new title to be issued.
Include Power of Attorney documents (when applicable)
A power of attorney (POA) is a legal document in which a principal authorizes an agent to execute a document or contract on behalf of the principal.
POA's are commonly used in transactions that involve an auto dealer - the dealer is usually the agent for the principal that sold the dealership the vehicle.
If a title is signed with a POA, the original signed POA must accompany the title in order for the title to be assigned.