There are three states that are innovating a new kind of vehicle title: the electronic title or e-title. (A vehicle title is proof of ownership of a car, motorcycle, trailer, mobile home, or other "thing" that travels on roads.) An electronic title is different from a paper title only in that it is not printed; the important part - proof of ownership - is still there as you are still the registered owner of the vehicle.
Florida, Ohio, and Virginia all try to keep your title electronic. Their goal in this is to reduce the number of duplicate titles that have to be printed ("I lost my title") and cut down on fraud and theft. This is good for vehicle owners as we no longer have to keep track of that piece of paper.
I recently paid off the loan on my car. In my state (South Carolina) lien information is printed on the title. My lender signed the front of the title and sent the title to me. The lien is released on the face of the title, but not with the DMV. That means, if I didn't already know the process, if I lose the title and try to sell my car...
- I go to the DMV and ask for a duplicate title. They look up my record and tell me there is still a lien on it and that I have to get a title from my lender.
- My lender is still around. Phew. (99 bank failures so far in 2009. Yikes.)
- I pay the duplicate title fee($15 in SC, $75 in FL - holy cow) to my lender. My lender requests a duplicate copy of the title.
- I wait.
- My lender receives the title in the mail, releases the lien (again) and mails me the title.
- I wait.
- I get the title and can sign it over to the new owner.
In Florida, electronic titles are called "Electronically Maintained Titles" or e-titles. More information on them is here: http://www.flhsmv.gov/HTML/emt.htm. Florida is working to improve their processes to eliminate the need for a paper title in any DMV transaction. Florida also has a free title check service so owners can check on their title. Ordering a paper title is simple.
Ohio calls electronic titles "electronic titles" (clever) or "non-printed titles". They have a FAQ with details about titles in general, and also offer a free title check service. You don't need a paper title on a trade-in to a dealer.
Virginia just calls this "electronic titles". They have a short list of instructions on requesting a printed title and picking it up from a customer service center.