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If I Fix A Car Can I Get The Title?

  • 8 min read

So here’s one of the most common questions that we get—a customer calls up and has a car that they did work on that they fixed up and they want to own the car. Maybe somebody gave it to them and they fixed it up. Maybe they repaired it for somebody and that person didn’t want the car anymore. Maybe they repaired it and fixed it, but the owner didn’t pay the bill. They didn’t want to pay for the repairs and just said to keep the car. Maybe you’re an auto shop that has customers bringing their cars in for repairs, maybe a body shop, and they don’t pay the bill or they don’t want to pay the bill, or an insurance company, and you want to dispose of that car. So the question is if you fix a car, can you keep it and get the title? 

Well if you’re an automotive repair facility and have an automotive repair license it’s pretty straightforward—you can do a mechanics lien. Almost every state has a process that you can go through as a licensed automotive facility to take a customer order that has been placed for repairs and convert it into a title. There’s a step-by-step process for it. Every state does it differently. But what if you’re just a backyard mechanic or maybe just a private person that fixed the car? Can you keep a car just because you fixed it? Well, it’s a little more complicated. 

The short answer is just because you fixed it doesn’t mean you automatically get to keep the car, but there may be ways that you can own the vehicle. First, consider options like a bonded title, court-ordered title, or other title recovery methods. All of those are methods that you can use to get ownership transferred to you for certain reasons. One of the reasons could be that you fix the car, you put money into it you put time into it you put parts into it. If that’s the case, you can use one of those processes. Now keep in mind that just because you fixed it by itself doesn’t mean you automatically get to own the car. You have to go through some steps because if the true legal owner of the vehicle objects to it, then you’re going to have to get somebody to decide who’s right. If you say Hey I fixed your car, and the owner says well it’s still my car. Who wins? That’s not up to you to decide, it’s not up to them to decide, it’s not even up to for the DMV to decide, or the title agency, it’s up to a court to decide. Here’s why that’s important. 

If it was just as easy as saying Hey I fixed this car give me the car for free, anybody could just buy a set of $10 wiper blades put them on a car, and say Hey it’s my car. Right. So there has to be more to it than just I fixed a car. There has to be some decision-making process. Otherwise, no car would be safe. Somebody could see the car in your driveway, put on a new set of hubcaps, and say Hey I fixed it, it’s my car now. Right. Obviously, that’s a ridiculous example, but who’s to say what’s ridiculous and what’s not? Right. If you’re a licensed repair shop you’re going to have a signed repair order and a business license, you’re going to have all the proper documentation. If you’re just a backyard mechanic that fixed the car, look it’s your word against theirs. You say you fixed it you know you did, and the owner probably knows they did too, but who at the DMV is going to give you a free car just based on your say-so? Because if they would, anybody could get any car if they want it. So there has to be more to it than that. The court-ordered title process is the most definitive way to do this. Here’s why. 

The department of motor vehicles or whatever agency in your state gives out titles, they only have a certain authority. They can’t give out titles based on a verbal request. They have to have certain documentation. They have to have either the old title or proper documents from a mechanics lien. If you don’t have that, the DMV can’t do anything. Even if they wanted to even if there was somebody there who liked you it was a nice person that wanted to give you a title,  they can’t push a button and print a title unless they have the right paperwork. So a court order title can override the DMV. The court has authority over the DMV so if you get a paper from the court, boom slap it on the counter at DMV you get a title. So that would be one method that’s very definitive. You cut through all the red tape, you cut through all the bureaucracy of the DMV. It’s not that hard. You file a petition. You file an affidavit saying here look here’s what I did. And you probably have to do some title research. File with the court show up on a certain date that they tell you to with your documents. They’re going to make you raise your right hand under oath that everything’s true. If it seems like it checks out, they’ll give you a judgment of ownership. You walk right across the street to the DMV, and boom, slap it on the counter, you got a title. If you have limited documentation that you were supposed to fix the car, that’s the best way to go.

If you have more clear documentation I mean signed contracts, and paperwork, you might be able to go through the DMV through a bonded title. Now a lot of times people will ask well I have text messages I can show you on my phone. That’s not documentation because anybody could photoshop text messages. You can’t show your phone to the DMV and say this is a contract. Text messages on the phone I mean nothing. So forget about your text messages. If you have signed papers, different story. So if you have a vehicle that you’ve done work on, don’t give up hope. You may have gone to the DMV and tried to get a title and they threw you out, don’t quit. There are things you can do. In 42 out of 50 states, there’s a process called a bonded title, surety bond title, that you can use to get a title in cases like this. I can’t tell you how many times callers call our help desk and the agents there say why don’t you do a bonded title and they knew nothing about it. These are people that have been to the DMV or the title office in their state and their title office has never even told them about a bonded title. Sometimes the DMV doesn’t even know about it. It’s a legal process directly through the DMV. You don’t even have to go to court. 

There are a lot of ways to work around this, but be forewarned don’t file for an abandoned title. An abandoned title and a bonded title sound the same but they’re two very different things. A bonded title is you getting a title, an abandoned vehicle is one that nobody wants, and in most states, most jurisdictions abandoned vehicles are seized by the state and auctioned off. Because abandoned means nobody wants it. Abandoned is not “finders keepers” it’s not whoever has it gets to keep it. It’s nobody knows whose it is, nobody knows where it came from. So the state takes it and they try to contact the owner or try to contact the lienholder. If that fails they auction it off. You don’t get to keep it. So a lot of times we have people that call us up and say Hey look I filed for an abandoned vehicle and they towed the car away, what do I do? Too late. So don’t file for an abandoned vehicle because once you file for it it’s too late. Now it’s in the system as abandoned and you might lose out on it. 

So, be aware of that and be forewarned that you don’t want to file for an abandoned vehicle unless you just want to give it away. There are other methods you can use. If you have any questions put them in the comments.

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