Temp tags forever: Beware used cars with no title

Frustated woman drives on temp tags for 6 months
Posted at 3:18 PM, Oct 10, 2019

There is nothing like the thrill of driving home, in a nice quality used car. Unless, that is, the dealer can't get you the title. One woman has been waiting 6 months to register her new car, and her experience should be a warning for everyone.

Savannah King says she now has her 6th temporary tag, for the Mercury Montego she bought 6 months ago at a used car lot.

"Four months passed, but I still didn't have a title. So I had to keep getting temporary tags on the car," King said.

At one point, she says, the dealer couldn't give her another paper temp, so they gave her a dealer plate for a month, which worked wonderfully until a police officer spotted it one night and pulled her over.

"They asked me 'why are you driving with a dealer tag on your car?'"

She explained what happened, and luckily the officer let her go (in most cases you will be ticketed for driving with dealer tags if you are not a licensed dealer).

Now, she's back to a paper temp tag, but says this latest one expires in a few weeks.

What happened? The dealer told her there was a"delay" in getting the proper title.

So we went to the dealership, where the owner explained the auto auction house never sent them a title for the car, even though the auctioneer had been promising to come up with it week after week.

But the owner promised us they would trade King into a different, legal car immediately.

How to protect yourself

So what if you are past the 30 day point, or even the 60 day point, and the dealer still can't produce a car title?

  • Contact your local BMV or DMV, which in some cases can provide a temporary solution.
  • File a complaint with the State Attorney General, which investigates dealers with car title issues.
  • File a Better Business Bureau complaint as well, if only to have it show up in the dealer's public file.

Laws vary from state to state, but the Better Business Bureau says:

  • A dealer typically has 30 days to get you a clear title (in some states it can be extended up to 60 days).
  • Temporary tags are not renewable in most states, and if they are , only for a one-time extension under special circumstances.
  • If you do not work for a car dealer, it is illegal to drive with dealer plates, except for a test drive.

The worst thing is that you cannot register a car in any state until you or your lender has the title.

If a dealer is struggling to get a title, it can mean the car was never paid off (so that the prior owner's bank still owns it), or that is a salvage or stolen vehicle. In any of those cases, you cannot register and get plates for the car, in any state.

Savannah King is well aware of that. "I can't register it, so basically it is not my car," she said.

So don't let this happen to you: Ask to see the title when buying a car. A legitimate dealership may need 2 to 3 weeks to process it and send it to you, which is normal.

A private seller should have the title in hand, and sign it over to you at the same time you pay.

So ask questions, and don't be afraid to file a complaint, so you don't waste your money.


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