Take a picture, it'll last longer...
January 23, 2011 6:42 AM   Subscribe

We bought a car from a dealer in Massachusetts, but we live in Maine and the car will be registered in Maine. When we picked up the car yesterday, the dealer asked us to do something weird. Have you ever heard of this?

We bought the car last Monday (MLK Day) and then went back to Maine to register it, bring down plates, etc. We picked it up yesterday.

The dealer has requested that we email them a photo of the car (with the Maine plates on it) in front of a Maine "place" (they suggested the "Welcome to Maine" sign or any post office). They told us that this was a MA State requirement to provide proof that our Maine registered car would actually be used in Maine, because there was "a lot of fraud". He specifically cited people "trying to avoid paying sales tax" despite the fact that we have all the paperwork to show that we paid Maine sales tax at the time of registration.

Opening my inbox this morning I find an email from our sales guy, again requesting we send the photo "as soon as possible".

I intend to call MA DMV on Monday, because this sounds crazy. Assuming its not a MA requirement, what other possible purpose could they be intending to use this photo for?
posted by anastasiav to Shopping (23 answers total)
Ignore it.

The last car we bought the dealer, after the sale was completed, contacted us and wanted a copy of my driver's license "for our records". Nope, sorry....not gonna happen.

Ignore it, it's meaningless, it doesn't prove anything, it doesn't even document it is even the same car they sold you.
posted by HuronBob at 6:53 AM on January 23, 2011

Did you pay sales tax? If no it sounds perfectly reasonable. Its to cover their ass in case their sales tax receipts get audited.

If Maine charges sales tax on cars I would guess you will have to pay it when you register it.
posted by JPD at 6:53 AM on January 23, 2011

A private owner who sold me an old Volvo a few years ago asked for a copy of the title after I'd transferred it into my name. Apparently he'd sold another car at some point, and been contacted months later by DEA or Border agents because "his" car had been used in a smuggling operation. The title had never been transferred, so The Man came after him and caused a bit of drama. So it's plausible to me that your dealer is just trying to protect themselves from some unlikely but possible headaches.
posted by jon1270 at 7:04 AM on January 23, 2011

Response by poster: Did you pay sales tax? If no it sounds perfectly reasonable. Its to cover their ass in case their sales tax receipts get audited.

Yes, we've already paid it. We had to pay it when we registered it, and we had to register it and bring plates with us before we could pick it up.
posted by anastasiav at 7:15 AM on January 23, 2011

My guess would be that MA has higher automobile sale (and registration/plate) taxes than ME?

I can see where the dealer would need to "prove up" that they did indeed sell this car to someone from Maine and isn't trying to stiff the Massachusetts tax people out of money they are owed.

I don't know if it is universal, but here in IL, it is fairly common for dealerships to charge buyers for sales tax, plates and registration, and then skip town with the money.

Also, at least here in IL, there is an arrangement between all the various taxing districts (including WI and IN) that dealers charge sales tax on the car based on where the buyer lives, and not where the dealer is located. I believe all that is required here is a copy of the buyer's drivers license to prove it, if that becomes necessary.

So it makes sense that the dealer would like to have some (extra) proof that they sold the car legitimately. The forms are one thing, but a picture of the car in Maine is even better.

I see no reason why not to help them out, if you have a digital camera available. If you don't, just explain that to them.
posted by gjc at 7:16 AM on January 23, 2011

Response by poster: The Maine sales tax receipt should do the job with no photo required. Offer to send them a copy.

I had the sales tax receipt with me when we picked up the car, and offered to give them a copy, but they didn't want it.
posted by anastasiav at 7:16 AM on January 23, 2011

Sounds like they'll use you for advertising in the dealership. "Look, we have people coming from Maine to buy here!"
posted by JohnE at 7:18 AM on January 23, 2011 [10 favorites]

It would seem they are just being prudent. When a seller delivers the car it is a good idea to know that the title has actually been transferred.

But I cannot see why you need to send them a photo. A copy of registration would make more sense. But never underestimate the "needs" of a state DMV.

I would be tempted to call the MA DMV and see if that is a requirement. Surely the dealer in MA can call their own state DMV and confirm that the title has been transferred.
posted by JayRwv at 7:25 AM on January 23, 2011

You could approach it from the - what's the dealer going to do if you don't send them the photo? And the answer is - nothing.....the worst they can do is send you some more emails...just ignore.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:37 AM on January 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

that should have been: ...to do? - angle.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:38 AM on January 23, 2011

I don't know about the legal aspects of it, but what would be the point of lying to you about it ? I don't see any harm in sending them a pic (after checking with MDMV, of course). Will you be getting it serviced there ? If you piss them off, they might drag their feet on scheduling appointments. It can be very subtle like: " Oh gee, were booked up for next 8 days, we'll call you if someone cancels."
posted by lobstah at 8:04 AM on January 23, 2011

I've talked to a lot of dealers in MA who do this. In fact, many will drive the car to the other state, take the picture, and then transfer it. It has to do with the difference in taxes, from what I understand. The photo is just "belt and suspenders" for them in the case of an audit or investigation.

So, yeah, it's pretty common. They're not trying to screw you somehow, or use you as an advertisement. If it's only going to take you a few minutes to do, why not just help the guy out?
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 8:19 AM on January 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have a vintage Vespa that I bought in Texas without a title. Back in the day, there used to be a company that would register vintage bikes like this where the paperwork had long disappeared through the state of Maine, because the requirements for getting a new title and registration in Texas are a loooooong drawn-out process that takes a lot of money and patience with red tapey local government types. Registering in Maine apparently only requires that you mail in a handwritten title and a check for the tag amount. My understanding is that this is a grey market kinda thing, so I eventually bit the bullet and registered my Vespa the "right" way in Texas.

I'm guessing this was the dealer's concern?
posted by Brittanie at 8:47 AM on January 23, 2011

I bought a car from North Dakota 3 years ago and registered it in Minnesota. I had to pay the North Dakota sales tax but later got it refunded after I registered it in Minnesota.
posted by thilmony at 8:47 AM on January 23, 2011

I'm in MA, my brother and sister both have cars purchased here and registered in CT and ME, as they're college students but my parents helped purchase the cars. Neither of them were asked to do this, and it sounds... odd.

It's shady that they didn't tell you this up front before you bought the car. I mean, if I was the salesman, I'd explain up-front about this stupid crazy rule. But salesmen aren't known for their impeccable integrity (sorry, salesd00ds).

I'd just respond with "We are very busy right now and I'm sorry, but taking a picture in front of a post office won't be possible at this time. We were not told of this obligation before our purchase. If necessary, forward us the information of the government entity investigating fraud in the case of our purchase and we will speak to them."
posted by kpht at 9:03 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Go to your state DMV website and ask them if you need to do this. Or call them.

The whole thing sounds weird to me.
posted by freakazoid at 9:05 AM on January 23, 2011

I'm pretty sure a dealer in MA can look it up in the RMV database (which is what they would do if you were trading in a car, to check for insurance coverage and clear title) and see if it's still registered in the state.
posted by SillyShepherd at 9:16 AM on January 23, 2011

Forget the photo. MA RMV has a fraud team to track tax evaders. All they have to do is run the car's VIN to see where it's registered. If your car's VIN shows up in ME, it's not Massachusetts' problem. Any good car salesman would know that.

BTW, good luck trying to get an answer from MA RMV. They are notoriously inaccessible.
posted by birdwatcher at 10:11 AM on January 23, 2011

I've been sent weird stuff I was supposed to do/sign from a dealer "for their records" after the entire process of buying the car was over. I've just tossed it; I don't care about their records. I got the car and title, they got the check. It's their problem. So I agree with HuronBob - just ignore it.
posted by fritley at 10:23 AM on January 23, 2011

I bought a car in Massachusettes in 2006 and registered it in New Hampshire (legally, I was living there), so I didn't pay any taxes on it at all. Like you, I had to register the car before taking possession of it, and once I did I never spoke to the dealership again, they certainly didn't ask me for a picture of the car. So it's not (or wasn't in 2006) something that they were legally required to do. Just ignore it.
posted by brainmouse at 11:16 AM on January 23, 2011

I bought a car in MA and registered in NY without any odd requests. Even if you were trying to pull something, why would it matter to him?
posted by anthropoid at 3:04 PM on January 23, 2011

I see two likely scenarios:

1) Somewhere they have a big map of the everything north east of Scranton PA and your little picture will be pinned to it as part of the Acme Motors Family to let potential customers know that they actually do sell cars.

2) In the past someone wasn't following some sort of documentation policy and they got a strict talking to from an auditor of some sort. Then someone came up with A PLAN (tm) to inconvenience everyone who has been following proper procedure and give people who haven't one more distraction and which would only placate an auditor who had never heard of Photoshop.

One part of me says, "It might by you a skosh of dealership goodwill and is unlikely to hurt anything or ultimately matter." another part of me says, "Blow it off." and then there is the part that says, "You need to take a family vacation to Florida, park in front on a post office with palm trees and stuff, then photoshop the zip code on the front of the post office to match your own and send that in."

(I try to keep that third part distraced during normal business hours for obvious reasons.)
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:53 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

My wife bought a car and registered it in Rhode Island, where the tax is even higher. No such request.

But hey, car salesmen are people, too, so throw the guy a bone and send in the picture. Just snap it while mooning them through the back window, where perhaps they won't see it right away.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:13 PM on January 24, 2011

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