How to Buy, Title & Register a Vehicle in Tennessee

We’ve already written up guides for how to buy a used vehicle, how to buy a used vehicle with bad or no credit, and what to do after buying a car. But since there are a lot of specifics unique to each state, today we’re discussing what you need to know about buying, titling, and registering a vehicle in Tennessee.

How to Buy a Vehicle in Tennessee

If you are purchasing a vehicle in Tennessee, you will need to know some specific information for the proper transfer of ownership into your name.

Instructions for buying a vehicle in Tennessee differ depending on if you are purchasing from a dealership or a private seller.

While it can be more expensive to buy a car from a dealership, it is a much safer and easier process. It can also be cheaper to purchase from a dealership depending on the private seller and common private seller scams. Still, there are many steps to take before you sign the final papers. Read our Car Buyer’s Guide and do your homework first.

Purchasing from a Dealership

If you are purchasing a vehicle from a dealership, here is what you’ll need to successfully transfer ownership in one go:

  • Government issued photo ID, such as a valid driver’s license.
  • Proof of income, proof of residence, and proof of insurance. Contact the dealership before you go for specific requirements.
  • If a trade-in is in order, don’t forget your vehicle’s title (or payoff information), valid and current vehicle registration, and all keys/remotes. Learn more about selling or trading in your used vehicle to a dealership.

The dealership will provide you with:

  • A Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin (MCO), only if the vehicle hasn’t yet been titled in Tennessee. This won’t apply if you are purchasing a used vehicle.
  • Current title, only if the vehicle is used and has already been titled.
  • Invoice from the dealer that shows the total purchase price, which is used to determine sales tax.

Buying a used vehicle from a dealership is a lot easier and less time-consuming than purchasing from a private seller. When you deal with a dealership such as Auto Simple, we will handle all of the DMV-related paperwork including title transfers, registration, and any related fees.

After all questions are answered and the paperwork is signed, you will receive the keys and copies of all the documents. You simply drive away in your new certified pre-owned vehicle, with all the important documents in the glove box.

Purchasing from a Private Seller 

Before you think about purchasing a car from a private seller, make sure you are aware of all the risks.

You will need certain documents and assurances from the private seller before you can properly transfer ownership.

Here are the TN Department of Revenue (DOR) requirements for titling and registering your vehicle after purchase:

Never purchase a vehicle from a private seller if they don’t have a title. If they don’t have a title, they must apply for a new title by completing a Duplicate Title Application (Form RV-F1321801).

For more information on transferring title information, read the DMV Guide to Title Transfer in Tennessee.

How to Transfer a Title in Tennessee

Here are the steps for transferring a title from a private seller (via DMV.org):

If you are new to the state of Tennessee, you will need to title and register your car with the Vehicle Services Division (DVS) at your local county clerk’s office.

Make sure you bring:

  • Current out-of-state registration.
  • Out-of-state title certificate.
    • If you are making payments on your car, and have a lien hold, you must provide your lender’s name and address.
  • Emissions test certificate (if applicable).
  • Proof of identification and residency.
  • Payment for the title transfer fee (varies by county).

How to Register a Vehicle in Tennessee

Registering your vehicle is necessary whenever you purchase a vehicle or move to a new state, such as Tennessee. If you are purchasing from a dealership, they should be able to title and register your car for you.

Requirements for registering a new vehicle:

  • Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin.
  • Your new car’s invoice.
  • Copy of your current registration (if you are transferring license plates from your previous car).
  • Proof of identification.
  • Proof of residency.
  • Payment for your titling fees (vary by county).

Requirements for registering a used vehicle:

  • Title
  • Proof of identity and residency
  • Odometer Disclosure Statement (if purchased from a private seller)
  • Payment for registration fees
  • Some counties require an emissions inspection BEFORE registration

If you are transferring a vehicle title from a private Tennessee seller, visit your local county clerk with the following information:

Note: If you are purchasing your vehicle from a private seller and the vehicle is up for registration renewal, then you will want to have the car inspected and give the paperwork to the buyer before purchase. Or have them get the car inspected themselves.

Don’t Buy a Lemon!

Never purchase a vehicle from a private seller or used car dealership without obtaining a vehicle history report (CarFax) first. This document will tell you all the information you need to make sure the car isn’t a clunker.

How to Renew Your Vehicle’s Registration

Residents of Tennessee who already have a registration should check out the registration renewal page.

Visit DMV.org for more information on title transfers and registrations in Tennessee.

You May Not Have to Leave Home!

You may be able to complete many of these tasks without leaving the comfort of your home. Visit the Tennessee DOS online services page for more information.

Remember, the Tennessee Department of Revenue (DOR) is the place to go to complete most processes that involve your car, truck, or motorcycle:

Looking to sell your used vehicle? Check out our guide for selling your used vehicle to a dealership.

If you have any questions about the requirements for titles, registration, license plates, and more, contact the Tennessee Department of Safety and Tennessee Department of Revenue:

TN DOS Contact Info

Main Office: (615) 251-5166

Mailing address:

Tennessee Department of Safety
P.O. Box 945
Nashville, TN 37202

TN DOR Contact Info:

  • State-wide, toll free: (888) 871-3171
  • Nashville area and out-of-state: (615) 741-3101

Mailing address:

Department of Revenue
Vehicle Services Division
44 Vantage Way, Suite 160
Nashville, TN 37243


Auto Simple makes it easy to buy, title, and register your new Certified Pre-Owned Vehicle in Tennessee (and a new location in Dalton, GA).

We carry a large selection of hand-picked used vehicles, all of which come with a 6 month/6,000-mile powertrain warranty. We also own a private track for test driving!

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to speak with one of our Online Specialists or give us a call:

Chattanooga, TN – (423) 551-3600

Cleveland, TN – (423) 476-4600

Dayton, TN – (423) 775-4600

Dalton, GA – (706) 217-CARS (2277)

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