Carfax Title - How to know if the lien or loan has been cleared (preferably for free)

I looked up a Carfax for a car and while it appears that the title is ok, I don’t see any detail about when the loan or lien was cleared. I tried doing a title check on the DMV website, but I’m not serious enough about the car yet to pay to see if it’s clear.

There is no free lunch, dude. If you’re “not serious enough” to pay the nominal fee to do a lien search on your state’s DMV website, then you’re “not serious enough” for it to matter if there’s a lien or not. When you get to the point that you are “serious enough” then make sure to do the lien search BEFORE any money changes hands.

I would think the selling dealer could answer that question.


+1 to contacting the selling dealer. If they respond via email that the title is clear, then it’s in writing. Maybe if you contact your insurer with the VIN and ask for an insurance quote, you can ask if they can tell whether it has a clear title. I doubt that they would insure it if the title is encumbered.

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Seller will turn over title to you at time of sale. The title will indicate whether or not it is free and clear.

Seller could be in possesion of a title showing no liens that was issued some time ago, and seller could have then recently taken out a title loan.

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wouldn’t the bank want to have the “old” title?

The original point is how to know before buying the vehicle. You offered a way after buying it. The prospective buyer wants to know beforehand, and requires consulting with a disinterested third party that has access to the data.

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Yup, seller could have multiple copies of that clean title

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NEVER trust this if you are considering a private-party sale. A dishonest seller could have taken out an online title loan or owe delinquent child support, criminal fines, restitution, or parking fines. In either case, they could hand you a physical title showing no liens, but the vehicle still has liens which were recorded electronically. The ONLY way to protect yourself in a private-party sale is to do a lien search before purchasing the vehicle.

Now with a dealer, it’s different, because the one thing which a dealer MUST legally warrant is the title, i.e. that they are providing clear title to the vehicle. The vehicle itself might be sold “as-is” and have no warranty, but the dealer is still legally obligated to convey a clean title.


Since the vehicle in question is for sale at a new car dealer, I wouldn’t be nervous about the title. The dealer would need to clear all liens before offering the vehicle for sale.

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Doing a lien search is a new one on me. I’ve never heard of that. If there is a lien on a vehicle I suspect it needs to be recorded at the DMV but I dunno. I think way back the bank might have kept the actual title but for the past decades I’ve just gotten the title with the lien holder listed. Then when it’s paid off you get a satisfaction note from the lender that you attach to the title to get an updated one. It’s been a long time since I bought a car from a private party.

Personally, I’d look at another vehicle.

Thinking back now, I think one time I misplaced my title and paid my $10 for a replacement. I’m pretty sure it came back stamped “duplicate” showing that it was not the original or an updated title. But that’s Minnesota.