What do to with a car with no title
April 29, 2009 11:37 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend doesn't have the title to his car. BMV says there's no way he can get the title short of legal action. What can he do with this car?

(asked anonymously just in case he decides to get a lawyer involved)

My boyfriend, before I met him a year ago, bought a car from a friend. Friend said he would send him the title, and he never did. My boyfriend called his friend to get it but he never returned his calls.

We did a Carfax and VIN number lookup and it turns out the guy he bought the car from never owned it in the first place. Not only that, but the last official owner couldn't even have technically sold it because there's a lien on the car.

My BF applied for a court ordered title but was denied because the car has a lien on it.

I called our Clerk of Courts and they said they can't override a judge's decision on the title. I called our BMV and they said the same thing. The person I talked to suggested we contact the judge who made the decision and ask him what to do with the car.

I've looked up the name of the woman who owns the car and called the two numbers available but they were disconnected.

The car is a '96 and would be worth about $6000 if in excellent condition, which it isn't.

The history of the car shows a previously issued damaged title, rebuilt title and a salvage title.

So, after all of that, I basically have three questions:

-- Should my boyfriend sue the guy who sold him the car?
-- What can he do with a car that he doesn't have the papers to? Can he junk it/sell it for parts/donate it to charity without those papers?

The car's never been reported as stolen or abandoned, by the way. I would assume the owner who has a lien on this car doesn't want anything to do with it anymore.

(Yes, I realize my boyfriend probably shouldn't have bought this car in the first place, so practical answers as to what to do now are most appreciated. Thank you.)

Throwaway email: notitleanon@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I know you're looking to be anonymous, but this kind of question all but requires that we know the state or at the very least the country you're in; is it possible to email a mod and have them add that to this thread?
posted by koeselitz at 11:54 AM on April 29, 2009

Depending on your state, you may want to check into the bonded title process. But from the sounds of it, with a lien even this approach will have little chance of success. Basically, you are in possession of stolen property.
posted by torquemaniac at 11:57 AM on April 29, 2009

Well, based on the usage of BMV vs DMV we can narrow down the state to ME OH IN. Still though it would be helpful to know the exact state.
posted by mikepop at 12:31 PM on April 29, 2009

I am not your lawyer. The laws of your sovereign may vary and that may completely nullify everything said here.

Without the title, your boyfriend is pretty much hosed. He probably won't be able to dispose of the car in any legal way, and he might not even legally be allowed to drive it.

It would seem that one remedy - perhaps the only one - is for your boyfriend to sue the seller of the vehicle based on the broken promise to provide good title. Your boyfriend's damages are probably what he paid for the car, minus some amount for the use he's gotten out of it since.

And then he gets to give the car back to the seller when he gets his money.

It might not be worth the cost of doing this, especially if the seller is no longer easily found or has no money.
posted by mikewas at 12:46 PM on April 29, 2009

The shortest path here is probably to pursue a return to and refund from the "friend" (who doesn't return calls), using small-claims (or bigger, depending on how much he paid) if necessary. The car was not legally his to sell.
posted by rhizome at 12:49 PM on April 29, 2009

Is Friend still a friend? If so Friend should take the car back and refund the money. If not, Boyfriend should sue. By the way, how much is the lien? If it is not large perhaps the original car owner will agree to transfer the title if Boyfriend settles the lien. For a car with this kind of history though it probably is not worth it.
posted by caddis at 12:50 PM on April 29, 2009

Look, just get a lawyer. There isn't any way to resolve this situation without one, at least not based on the information you've shared here. You might not need to actually file a lawsuit--negotiation works, people--but you're going to need someone with professional working knowledge of vehicle titles in your jurisdiction to get anything done here.

This will probably cost you at least a couple of hundred bucks. There may be a possibility of recovering some of that from various parties, but that will involve going to court.

Again: get a lawyer. This is a mess.
posted by valkyryn at 12:52 PM on April 29, 2009

lawyer. explain the situation to the lawyer, explain the maximum value of the car and the lawyer will tell you whether it's an economical decision.
posted by Happydaz at 1:00 PM on April 29, 2009

follow up from the OP: We're in Ohio.
posted by jessamyn at 1:00 PM on April 29, 2009

it turns out the guy he bought the car from never owned it in the first place

Sure sounds like your boyfriend bought a stolen car from his "friend".
posted by Nelson at 1:16 PM on April 29, 2009

I'm guessing this car has not been insured all along. Not good. Not good to continue driving it without liability insurance either.

If you can find the "friend" sue in small claims.

If not, walk away... it ain't your car, so you can't get in trouble for that (maybe). If you've got a mean streak, park it in a hot ticket area. It'll get towed, and they'll look for the title holder.
posted by ecorrocio at 1:23 PM on April 29, 2009

Sto-len. Law-yer. U-p.
posted by davejay at 1:24 PM on April 29, 2009

Actually, I'll be more helpful than a me-too.

What can he do with this car?

First: with the help of a lawyer, find out if he can legally keep the car (even if it cannot be legally titled.)

Once done, pick one:

- Part it out through eBay, Craigslist and car enthusiast sites.
- Buy a helmet, tow it to track day/autocrossing events, and have fun.
- Add necessary safety equipment and take it racing properly, either something like the 24 Hours of LeMons (if it's a crap car for racing) or SCCA/NASA racing (if it's halfway decent and fits the classes available.)
posted by davejay at 1:27 PM on April 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm not a lawyer but the way that I understand it the first party that you need to talk to is the lien holder. If the original purchaser of the car didn't fulfill their contract with the lien holder, then they own the car.
posted by jefeweiss at 1:51 PM on April 29, 2009

The problem is not that you don't have the title. Your problem is that you can't get the title until the lien has been removed from it. Your goal here should be to get the lien removed... the title will follow from there.

Contact the lienholder (BMV should give you this information, if you don't already have it). Chances are good that while there was still a loan against the car, it was wrecked. In that case, the insurance company pays off the lienholder, and the car is sent out for scrap. It's possible that the lienholder didn't file the paperwork to remove the lien, because they were not aware that the car would ever be rebuilt or put back on the road.

While there are a bunch of "stolen" comments upthread, this could just as easily be an administrative mistake, that should've been worked out when the car was rebuilt, and re-titled as a salvage, but wasn't. If the car happened to change states between wreck and rebuild, the likelihood of a clerical error increases many many times over.

Of course, it's also possible that someone still owes money on this car, and the lienholder won't release it until they're paid off. If that's the case, you're probably screwed.
posted by toxic at 3:45 PM on April 29, 2009

IANYL. Agree - contact the lienholder. If you can, have a lawyer contact the lien holder for you. They may be able / willing to remove the lien from the car, and go after the original owner and your boyfriend's friend for the cash paid for the car instead. Of course, if they think you are somehow involved with the original owner, they may try going after your boyfriend instead. It's a sticky situtation, and depends on a lot of contingencies.

I don't think the car is necessarily stolen. Could be a clerical error, as toxic indicated. I think it more likely that the person who originally owned the car is shady, and was just trying to get rid of the car (as was your boyfriend's "friend") in order to avoid payment on a judgment. People do all sorts of stupid things to avoid paying off their debts.

The lienholder could be the bank that financed the vehicle, and they want the car back for nonpayment. Or a third party - like a credit card company - seeking to collect on outstanding credit card debt. Could also be the IRS or the Ohio DOT. Or missed spousal support payments. A whole bevy of things, some of which may allow be more (or less) willing to release the lien on the car.

Good luck.
posted by jabberjaw at 4:16 PM on April 29, 2009

Just out of curiosity, in a situation like this if the car has insurance and gets a parking ticket, who's responsible for paying? The owner or the insurer?
posted by barc0001 at 4:20 PM on April 29, 2009

^ If I'm understanding your question correctly, either/both. But I'm fairly certain the ticket will be mailed to the name and address that the car is registered to (that's what they do in CA).
posted by jabberjaw at 4:35 PM on April 29, 2009

The car is a '96 and would be worth about $6000 if in excellent condition, which it isn't.

The history of the car shows a previously issued damaged title, rebuilt title and a salvage title.

The car is basically a totalled wreck which has been rebuilt; its worth may be so low that it is not worth putting a lot of effort into straightening this out. In cases like this two possibilities about the lien spring to mind-the original owner may have walked away from the car loan after wrecking it, or the insurance company may still have claim to the salvage rights. Evidently your situation is common enough in Ohio that some lawyers have devoted a web page to it. I have no idea if those particular lawyers are any good, but if the friend won't undo the deal, a lawyer is the only one who can tell you your options.
posted by TedW at 5:18 PM on April 29, 2009

Having dealt with a similar problem, I have to say that I sincerely doubt the common contention here that the car is stolen. Specifically, stolen cars don't generally have liens against them or multiple damage/rebuild/salvage titles. If by chance this actually is a stolen car, it was probably stolen ten years ago; it would be very, very difficult to create that much red tape around a car you'd just swiped, although I guess I've never tried. What's more, you wouldn't want to; you'd want to (a) unload it to someone who didn't seem to care or (b) tear it down quickly enough that nobody would check for a title.

It sounds more to me like this car has been in a couple of major accidents and has been sold by skeezy and/or broke people who didn't want to go to the trouble at sale of doing things that you're supposed to do at sale (i.e. clear liens, get a clean title, etc.)
posted by koeselitz at 11:54 PM on April 29, 2009

Anecdotal evidence, since that's all I can offer:

I did this in New Mexico, not Ohio. New Mexico has the distinction of being a state where 'fuzzy' paperwork often flies for the real thing, so you may have different results.

In any case: this precise thing happened to me. The guy who I bought a '74 Porsche 914 (awesome car, though it looked like shit) for $200 gave me a hinky story about liens and having to clear them and previous owners. It turned out that, like in your case, the previous owner was actually two owners previous.

You want to find out as much as you can about the lien—it may actually have been released, there's just not data about that available. But it may be that it was not, and there's no way to get the car; for me, it was as easy as going around to various government buildings getting it settled, but I don't know about you.

The way to strip a car like that for parts is by getting a salvage title. This is usually difficult unless you have the liens cleared first, so you're right back where you started.

You don't need to 'lawyer up,' however, and I imagine anything but a paralegal will laugh at this kind of case, since it's extremely tiny, and since there's no way you'd get it into civil court anyhow. You want to go the small claims route (as long as the amount you're talking about is less than $3000, which it sounds like it is.) You don't need a lawyer to take someone to small claims court - just read up here and follow any directions they give you.
posted by koeselitz at 12:05 AM on April 30, 2009

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