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Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid



If you buy a used vehicle from a licensed auto dealer, the dealer will take care of licensing and registration of the vehicle. You won't need to do much paperwork. But if you buy from a private individual you'll need to know how to get the vehicle registered.

The seller of the vehicle should give you:

  • the title with the odometer statement on the back or on a separate form,
  • an estimate of the vehicle's fair market value, and
  • the damage disclosure statement.

You need to take these documents to the county treasurer's office. In addition to these documents, you need to give the county treasurer a title and registration application and pay registration fees. You can get a copy of the application and find out the appropriate fees from your county treasurer.

The application will ask for:

  • your address,
  • the make, year, and model of the vehicle,
  • its Vehicle Identification Number (VIN),
  • the name of anyone who has a lien on the vehicle, and
  • the purchase price of the vehicle minus any amount for a trade-in vehicle.

You need to register your vehicle within 30 days of its purchase and renew it each year.

If for some reason the seller of the vehicle doesn't have all the proper title documents, you should be cautious about buying the vehicle. There may be title or damage problems that will cause problems later. But if you're confident you still want to buy the vehicle you can file a bond as a condition for getting the title and registration plates. This is called a bonded certificate of title. You can get an Application for Registration and Bonded Certificate of Title from the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT). IDOT will check to see if an active title record or junking certificate is on file for the vehicle. If IDOT finds an active record, the prior owner will be given ten days to claim ownership of the vehicle. If no right to prior ownership is claimed the IDOT can authorize the county treasurer to issue a title to the vehicle after you've paid a bond of 1 1/2 times the vehicle's value. The bond must be held for three years but after that period, no bond is necessary for you to license and register the vehicle.

Last Review and Update: Jan 27, 2021
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