Vehicle Services

Buying and Selling Your Vehicle

Purchasing from a Private Seller

A service is available to check for liens and unresolved financial obligations on an Arizona titled vehicle.

Ask to see the title of the vehicle. You, the buyer, should insist that the seller provide a properly signed and notarized title at the time the vehicle is delivered. Do NOT accept other documents, such as a notarized bill of sale, or registration in place of a title.

Arizona is a title-holding state. If you are purchasing the vehicle on payments, the seller should record the lien on the title and then hold the title until you have paid off the loan. Once the loan is paid in full, the seller will endorse the lien release on the front of the title and mail the title to you. When showing proof of ownership, present your completed validated application for title or your annual validated registration renewal. If you attempt to register a vehicle without a title you may be required to purchase a bond from an insurance company, which can be time consuming and require an added expense.

Here are some more valuable tips to keep in mind when purchasing a vehicle from a private seller:

  • Check the front of the title. Does it describe the vehicle you are purchasing? Physically verify that the vehicle identification number (VIN) on the title and the vehicle match. Generally the VIN is located on the driver's side where the dash meets the windshield.
  • Look at the Type, Status or Brand areas on the front of the title. If you see the words "dismantling," "salvage" or "restored salvage," the vehicle may have been dismantled and rebuilt; stolen and recovered with damage; or badly damaged in an accident and repaired. This "branding" is for the buyer's protection. It lets you know that the vehicle has probably been rebuilt in some way. You should take it to a good repair and body shop for a thorough inspection before you purchase the vehicle.
  • If the words "reconstructed," "specially constructed" or "homemade" appears anywhere on the title, the vehicle was rebuilt or built from scratch. Check the VIN on the title. The title might show that a state serial number was issued. This is particularly true on homemade vehicles or trailers and therefore the manufacturer's VIN on the vehicle is no longer a proper VIN. If the state-issued serial number cannot be located on the vehicle, you will likely have problems obtaining a title and registration.
  • Look at the lienholder information on the front of the title to see if there is a lienholder. A lienholder is a person who has a legal interest in the vehicle. The seller must have a notarized paid receipt (lien release) from the lienholder describing the vehicle, the name of the seller, and the date and amount of the lien. The seller must give you the original paid receipt along with the title. Be sure to verify that all the information on the paid receipt matches the information on the title.
  • Look at the "Legal Status" section on the front of the title to see if there is more than one owner. The Legal Status terms "AND" and "AND/OR" require the signatures of all owners. Legal status "OR" by itself requires only one of the owners to sign.
  • Look at the seller's signature on the back of the title. Signatures must be notarized before the title can be transferred. If someone other than the owner signs the title as seller, he or she must have authorization such as a notarized power of attorney or court order. The seller must give you a certified copy or the original document authorizing them to sign the title (and lien release, if applicable).
  • Arizona law requires that the title must be in the seller’s name. If the seller's notarized signature is already on the title and you are purchasing the vehicle from someone other than the seller, you may be purchasing a vehicle from an illegal dealer or "curbstoner." The original owner has already sold the vehicle and probably has notified MVD of the sale. If something goes wrong with the transfer of title, you may not be able to find that middle man or "curbstoner" that you paid for the vehicle, to straighten out any problems.
  • Licensed dealers must have an Off Premises Exhibition Permit/Off Premises Display And Sales Permit in order to sell from locations other than their established business location. If you're buying off a street corner from an individual and the seller claims to be a licensed dealer, notify us at 602.712.6838.
  • Be extremely careful when considering the purchase of a vehicle titled or registered in a foreign country. It must meet federal Department of Transportation (DOT) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. Vehicles that were not manufactured for export to the U.S. (grey market), do not conform to federal DOT and EPA standards unless proper conversions have been made. This would result in title and registration being denied in the U.S. The cost of conversion may be several thousand dollars and must be done at a federally licensed, independent commercial conversion shop.
  • As the new owner of the vehicle, you must apply for a new title at any MVD or Authorized Third Party office within 15 business days from the date of purchase, to avoid penalty charges. 

From the ADOT Blog

Online tool helps buyers do their research before making vehicle purchase

Aug. 1, 2013

Now you can check online (before you buy) to see if a vehicle has a lien. Full story ...