DMV will not give you any information over the phone and it is doubtful that they would give you much info, even if you show up at DMV, as titling info is a private matter, to which access is restricted to the registered owners, licensed car dealers, law enforcement, and attorneys who complete the proper forms. If this person has the Certification of Title (commonly known as the pink slip), signed by the legal owners, no lien holder, and the VIN matches the vehicle that is also in his possession, then most likely this person has the right to sell it.
You should take precautions that have been given by Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety ("C.A.R.S") and Consumer Reports (see links below) on buying a used car from a private party, though it does appear that his person may sell enough vehicles per year to be considered a car dealer who should be licensed by the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Included in the precautions should be getting the vehicle thoroughly checked by a licensed mechanic for prior accident damage, concerns with the drive train, A/C, air bags, etc, and condition of wear items, such as tires and belts. Get a written report. Below are links to those good sources. Perhaps your mechanic can also check the DMV data base for the status of ownership to confirm what the Title shows.
Robert Stempler (please see DISCLAIMER below)
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You do NOT want to do this. He must be licensed in CA to buy and sell cars (more than 5 a year AND he must provide a smog certificate from the prior 90 days. This and generally doing buisness with a neighbor is a BAD idea.
My colleagues have provided you with very good recommendations. This does not sound like a good deal for you. BEWARE!
Mr. Crosner is licensed to practice law in California and has been practicing law in California since 1978. The response herein is general legal and business analysis.. It is not intended nor construed to be "legal advice" but rather it is analysis, and different lawyers may analyze this matter differently, especially if there are additional facts not reflected in the question. Oftentimes the question does not include significant and important facts and timelines that, if known, could significantly change the reply and make it unsuitable. I am not your attorney until retained by a written retainer agreement signed by both of us. See also avvo.com terms and conditions item 9, incorporated as if it was reprinted here.