5 July 2005

Where to Keep Important Documents

Your car’s title is like its birth certificate, and it’s really all you have to prove ownership. In most cases you can’t register, insure or finance your car without a title, not to mention the fact that, sans title, your car’s value is greatly diminished.

Because of that, over 60 percent of survey participants keep their title in either a safety deposit box or in a home safe. About 33 percent keep it in a file cabinet, which is a well-organized, if not completely secure alternative (the best cabinet is a flame-retardant one). However, about 2 percent of respondents keep their title in the least desirable spot of all – their glove box.

If you keep your title here, you’re essentially making it easy for a thief to steal your car. Forget taking it to a chop shop or altering the VIN, all a thief would have to do is get a hold of your title, forge your signature and possibly a bill of sale that makes it look like he or she purchased it, head to the local Secretary of State or Department of Motor Vehicles and, voila! Your car is now registered in the thief’s name.

It’s also for this reason that it’s really not the best idea to keep your registration in your glove box, either, but in your wallet. Thieves should not be able to get their hands on any of your car’s paperwork – it just makes their job that much easier.

If you want to make your job easier when it comes to selling your car, or increasing its value for insurance purposes, you’ll want to make sure to keep all of your car’s supporting documents safe and organized. This includes all original paperwork, bills of sale, owner’s manuals, shop manuals, parts books, maintenance and restoration records, receipts, awards – anything relevant to your car’s history and value. This type of documentation will give you much firmer ground to stand on when establishing a fair price for your vehicle.

It’s also for this reason that you should be reluctant to purchase any vehicle if its seller is not forthcoming with any of the above documents, especially the title, for inspection prior to a sale. You should examine all documents to verify that the seller has the exact VIN of the car you’re considering. You should also verify that the seller’s name appears on the title. If it doesn’t, he/she should be able to provide a good reason why not. Maybe the person is a broker acting on behalf of the seller, or it’s possible that they never registered the car. If that’s the case, he/she should be able to provide you with a well-established chain of ownership that clearly proves he/she is the rightful owner.

Remember that a car’s value is not much without a title; so if there isn’t one, don’t feel bad about walking away from the deal. If the title is lost, it’s much easier for the seller to apply for one than the buyer, because they have current ownership.

Titles have not always been such an important part of the car-buying process, however. In fact, they didn’t exist for any car until the late ‘50s or early ‘60s, and ownership was proven merely by a bill of sale. Each state now has its own rules that apply to titles; most require them for the most recent 30 years or so. If this is the case with a car you’re looking to purchase, look to the other supporting documents for peace of mind.

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