Please help me reclaim my car.
February 20, 2009 7:53 PM   Subscribe

How do I get my car back? It's still in my ex'es name. I've been giving her $$ for insurance and have been making the payments on it since 2003. I live across the country now and she ignores all my requests to do anything about transferring the title/policy, etc.

Here's the situation:
Back in 2003, my then girlfriend leased a 2003 Honda Civic for me (this is in CT). The car was in her name because my credit was really bad. This car is and was always intended to be mine (it's a manual; she doesn't even know how to drive stick). I drove the car for several years and I always made the lease payments, as well as the maintenance and insurance payments (which is in her name; I am listed on her plan). When we broke up, around 2005, we never really officially talked about what would happen with the car. I continued to make the payments, sending Honda checks to Honda, and insurance checks to my ex. I have the account numbers, but no access to the account information.

When we knew the lease was about to expire, my ex offered to 'purchase' the car in her name, but I would continue to own/use/pay for it. It had really low miles and seemed like a good deal. We went down and filled out the paperwork, which I have. The insurance policy remained the same; in her name, but I am listed on it.

Six months later, in 2008, I moved across the country, to California. I quickly settled in with a good job and girlfriend. I drive 100 miles/day for work. I never intended to drive this much, but all is good otherwise. However, my car is not registered in CA (it is current in CT). I also do not technically own this car. Nor do I even know how much I owe on it. I am still on good terms with the ex, but she blatantly ignores any and all attempts to get information about the car, or do what it takes to transfer ownership. To be honest, I don't even know what needs to be done, or what my best course of action is. Additionally, this situation has caused a lot of stress and worry between my girlfriend and I over the last year.

What do I need to do to get my car in my name, legally, in California?
posted by otis24 to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total)
You need to get your hands on the title, with it signed over to you as the sole owner. With that in your hands, getting it registered in California--and retitled in your name--is a trivial bit of bureaucracy. Your local DMV will be able to do this with a minimum of paperwork.

That, however, involves getting your ex to play ball, as the car is currently owned by her and you technically have no legal interest in it that can be proved without a lawsuit. The fact that the car is titled in your ex's name means that legally, it's hers. Your having paid for it is not irrelevant, but absent actually suing her for the title, there's nothing you can do unless she agrees to sign things over to you or you file suit against her in something like a quiet title action.

I'm afraid I don't have any advice as far as getting her give you the title, but this is what needs to happen.
posted by valkyryn at 8:10 PM on February 20, 2009

You need to get the Connecticut title signed over to you, take it to the California DMV, and have them issue you a California title in your name. And registration, etc.

If your ex really did "purchase" the car at the end of the lease, then either she has the title free & clear, or she took out a loan to buy the car, and has the title with the name of the lender listed as a lienholder. Or, if you're unreasonably lucky, the "paperwork" you have includes the title, which is probably in her name. You still need to get her to sign it over to you (plus make sure that any lienholders listed are willing to release their claim).

Whatever the case, if you don't have the title, then you are basically indistinguishable from a car thief, and could have a Really Unpleasant Weekend (or longer) if the cops take an interest in you. Keep in mind that California residents are required to register their cars in-state within a short time (maybe a few months? I don't recall). So the longer you drive a car around with Connecticut plates, the more unpleasant will be your eventual attempts to register the car after you sort things out.

Also, if you are not paying insurance premiums directly to an insurance company who has your name on the policy, then you would be wise to consider yourself uninsured (with all the annoying and/or financially devastating consequences attendant thereto).

posted by spacewrench at 8:15 PM on February 20, 2009

Do you have any documentation from her that acknowledges that you are the owner?

If not, I think you do not have much chance of getting title.

You should not be driving in CA without registration. You are an accident away from possible disaster.

I would write off the experience. Park the car someplace. Tell her where it is. Stop making payments (if the loan is in her name only).

Buy a clunker and register it properly.
posted by JayRwv at 8:59 PM on February 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ask for the title signed over to you. If she refuses, explain to her that you cannot make payments on a car that is not yours. You will stop making those payments next month. The problem as I see it, is that the car loan is in her name. She will have issues turning over the title as there is probably a lien on it from whoever loaned "her" the money to buy it. She is in a bad place. She owes money on a car she does not have in her possession. Maybe she can register the car in Ca. using your address?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:24 PM on February 20, 2009

It's possible that she just thinks that it will be a bureaucratic hassle for her to transfer the car to you and doesn't feel like dealing with it.

Try starting out by explaining to her that all she needs to do is sign the title and give it to you. (If the above answer is true, that is. I'm not sure, there may have to be a notary involved.)
posted by qvtqht at 9:31 PM on February 20, 2009

IANAL, but I totally agree with the advice and warnings above, especially the comments by JohnnyGunn. If it were me, I would send her a certified and/or return receipt letter to her explaining your current situation (as you described above) and the steps you have taken to remedy it (including your outreach efforts to her thus far). I would then state in the letter in very clear terms (and in bold) that starting on date X I will no longer be making payments on the car and insurance since you have no legal interest in it and cannot register and insure it legally in your own name. Let her know where the car will be parked and where she can procure the keys. I think she has to know that you are very serious - you don't have to be rude about it, but I think you have to be direct and to the point.

If the car is truly in her name, then she is responsible for paying on it and insuring it. You are doing her a great favor, it seems to me, by being so agreeable here. I know it benefits you as well, but she should recognize how good she really has it and cooperate with you. It makes little sense for her not to work it out.

Ultimately the car is her responsibility and her problem. I would not allow myself to stay very long in a situation like this. You don't need the liability or any other trouble!

Good luck!
posted by karizma at 9:52 PM on February 20, 2009

This is a major hassle for her, and she can't be bothered. Plus, there is obviously a lot of hurt feelings on her part, whether you have noticed or not. The car she helped you get is an emotional trigger for her, and reminds her of how much she did for you only to see you drive off and replace her with "a good job and girlfriend", as you so charmingly put it.

What do you mean when you say that the lease expired and the car was "purchased" but you don't know how much money you owe? Did she buy it outright or is this car now on a loan in her name?

If she owns it clear, then the title paperwork is easy, but she will expect to be paid in full at the exchange.

However, if it's a loan in her name, the process of changing the terms of a loan are a major bureaucratic pain in the ass, and I'm not surprised she's been avoiding it. The only way to push that through is to make it as easy as possible for her.
posted by w0mbat at 11:36 AM on February 21, 2009

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