By Jacalyn Sticha
Minnesota State Patrol
When you purchase a used vehicle from a private party, you should: see the title, verify the vehicle is titled in their name(s), and verify that the VIN (vehicle identification number) is accurate. Read the title carefully, making sure there is no lien on the vehicle and that it is being filled out properly by the titled owners; including signatures, date of sale, and odometer when applicable. If a lien is recorded on the title, be sure that a proper lien release is attached. If possible, immediately, take the title to your local Driver and Vehicle Services [DVS] to complete the transfer; a buyer has 10 days to notify DVS of title change.
A used car dealership may not have the vehicle in their name, but you still should request to see the title. After you have completed the paperwork, the licensed dealership should handle the title transfer process for you. Do not leave without a Purchase Agreement stating: what you purchased, when, from whom and where, purchase price, if it was paid in full, and the agreement signed by both parties.
A Purchase Agreement is a prudent safeguard when buying from a private party, also. There are templates online, but even one written on a sheet of notebook paper will suffice, if complete.
A seller cannot hold a title for ransom if you are making payments informally. The title should be transferred into your name, and the seller recorded as the secured party.
If you still cannot obtain the title after exhausting all routes, generally, it becomes a civil matter. To remedy your situation you need to petition the court of the county in which you made the purchase. When appearing in court, producing the documentation of the sale, a judge, upon seeing sufficient evidence, may grant an order that will force a title transfer.
There also may be an option to secure a bond on the vehicle in certain cases. This information is available from the deputy registrar office, or on the website below. This option may eliminate the need for an order from a court.
The Department of Driver and Vehicle Services has invaluable information on their website with great advice on how to avoid most common problems: https://dps.mn.gov/