lientitles logo

Difference Between Mechanics Lien & Civil Lien – Vehicle Titling

  • 8 min read

The difference between a Mechanics Lien and a Civil Lien for getting a title for a vehicle.

If you have a vehicle that is missing a title, maybe it’s been somewhat abandoned or left on a property, maybe you did some work on it, maybe you repaired the vehicle, maybe you towed the vehicle, and you need to get a title because the owner is not coming forward with the proper payment, or maybe the owner is just MIA.

You have a couple of options. You could do a Mechanics lien or a Civil lien.

Mechanics lien uses your authority as a licensed automotive business. So in most cases, almost all 50 states, you have to be a licensed automotive type business, a repair shop, a body shop, a towing company. And in almost every state, those types of businesses have a very specific type of license. It’s not just a business license, it’s an automotive license. And that license gives you a lot of privilege to do a mechanic’s lien. If you don’t have that type of license, a civil lean might work, but we’ll look at both of them because some of the aspects of a mechanic’s lien are important to know about for a civil lien.

Mechanic’s lien clears all bank lanes. So if somebody brings a car in for service and they don’t pay their bill, but they owe $10,000 to Bank of America, a mechanic’s lien will wipe that lien off the title if done correctly. And it gives you the money to pay the repair bills that were not paid. What are the disadvantages? Well, as we said, it requires an automotive license in almost all 50 states. It must be done within a certain time period, meaning that the state law that allows you to do a mechanics lien, requires that you start it within a certain period of time after the bill is due. Every state has a requirement that you start it within a certain period of time to protect the interests of that customer.

So if you don’t start it within that period of time, you may find that all the work and effort you do on that paperwork is wasted because it’s rejected once you send it in. In most cases, you must have a signed repair order from the vehicle owner. You can’t just have a verbal statement saying, Yeah, fix my car. You have to have a repair order or what’s called an RO from that customer signing to say, I authorize you to do work on this vehicle. Because if you don’t have that, anybody could just make up a mechanics lien and it doesn’t protect the interests of the owner. Requires proper notice to the lien holder.

If you’re doing a mechanics lien?

First thing you need to do is send a very specific type of notice to the owner of the vehicle and the lien holder advising them that you’re intending to lien their vehicle and to take ownership of their vehicle or sell it. Out, that notice has to go to a certain location address for the owner and the lien holder. You can’t just use the address you have on your repair order or what you found in the glove compartment.

You have to send it to a certain location and document it so that when you send in all your forms to get a title, they can verify you sent that notice properly. That requires the vehicle to be offered at a public auction. You have to allow the general public to bid on the vehicle before you take the title to it.

Now, in most cases, the general public, nobody shows up to bid on it. Even if they do, normally, you can just bid on it yourself because the money is really not going to anybody but you. That may not be as big of a deal, but just keep in mind it does have to be presented to the public. It may not cover all storage fees. You also normally cannot start storage fees until you start the mechanics lien process. You can’t just rack up three months of storage fees and then do the mechanics lien.

These mechanics liens can be rejected if you didn’t adhere to the license requirements. Things like getting a signed repair order, things like having the vehicle remain on the premises. There’s many other things in your automotive license that you have to abide by. And if you didn’t abide by them, it could be rejected.

Is it common to be Rejected?

The answer is yes, because the DMV or the titling authority knows that a lot of these mechanics lanes are done improperly. Sometimes they’re even done fraudulently. Automotive businesses who have a mechanics license have a privilege, and a lot of times they’ll abuse that privilege. They’ll tell their buddy, Look, I got this license. If you need the title for a car, give me the VIN number and I’ll file a mechanics lien on it. So a lot of these are scrutinized more and you might get rejected.


Civil Lien can be filed by consumers and non-licensed businesses. So if you are an apartment complex, if you clean out properties for foreclosures, if you maybe gave somebody some money for repairs or you stored it on your property, you don’t have to be a licensed automotive facility to file a civil lien.

That’s why it’s called Civil, because civil is like a civilian type of authority. It overrides DMV requirements. That’s an advantage because a mechanics lien goes through the DMV. So you have to abide by Department of Motor Vehicles requirements. Whatever licensing titling authority in your state has certain rules. The authority you get can bypass all those requirements. It also bypasses the document requirement. So you don’t have to fill out any certain forms or notifications. On the mechanics lien, there’s usually five or six forms you have to fill out. Official DMV forms have to be done the right way and be notarized. Civil lien, you don’t have to file those forms unless the clerk tells you do. It could be done in your local county.

In every state, there’s a main office for the DMV. So you can do a civil lien in your local jurisdiction, in your local county office where the clerk is. There are also no filing deadlines, meaning that if this happened two or three years earlier, there’s no immediate rejection of that because you didn’t meet the filing deadlines. There’s no formal notices or prerequisites involved. You don’t have to have a signed repair order. You don’t have to send out notices to the owner. Now, the magistrate who signs off on this civil lien, they might require some of this, but it’s not by default a requirement of filing this civil lien.

What is the downside? Well, it might require that you go in person to the courthouse. Sometimes you can’t do it by mail. Sometimes you have to bring the documents to the courthouse or appear in the courthouse in person. It also could take longer. The court calendar could be weeks of delay. Although a mechanics lane, you have to wait usually 45 to 60 days after the notices anyway.

When you file it, they’ll tell you the date that you have to have everything in by. Or if you have to appear in person, it’ll tell you that date too. The other downside is this, this is the big one. There are no pre-formatted documents to fill in. When you go to DMV, they have a certain form with blanks. Well, at Civil Lien, there are no fill in the blank forms. Start with a blank sheet of paper with nothing on it and type up that civil lien, what’s called a petition. It can be a little tricky, but there’s ways to make that easier. But that’s definitely a downside to a civil lien. It definitely starts with a less user-friendly documentation process.

What are the steps of a Civil Lien?

Well, first you make that petition, you type up that petition. It’s called a petition or a complaint depending upon your jurisdiction.

You file it with the clerk in your county. It’ll be stamped of a date, stamped of a time, and it’ll be put on the docket. You’re going to get a notice maybe immediately, maybe within a week of when your deadline is. On that deadline, you have to either bring documents in, mail documents in, or appear.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *