Pink Slip in Limbo? Another craigslist deal gone bad...what should I do?
July 2, 2012 10:59 PM   Subscribe

So I was interested in this old Mercedes posted on craigslist and called the guy. He said it had just been crashed into in his driveway by his cousin and his insurance was "totaling" it; however it was really just cosmetic damage and there was a buyback option. The car would have "salvaged" on the title, but since he was getting paid by the insurance company, he would just let me have the car for whatever the buyback cost was. Called a few days later and he said that cost was $1000 less than the price he had originally advertised the car at, so I figured I might as well go look at it. Read on for the whole story...

The most convenient place to meet was at his work, which was ~1 hour drive from where I live.

The guy turned out to be a kid, 20 years old, and he was the general helper / car washer at some kind of somewhat sketchy factory / repair place. His dad, who was a mechanic, kept yelling at him to get back to work, while he was trying to sell it to me. Anyway, it seemed like a reasonable deal for a fixer-upper, certainly the damage (smashed but functioning headlights and smashed grillplate) could be restored for far less than $1000, and it was mechanically sound. The kid talked a good game, and the test drive seemed fine. He didn't have the pink slip on him; it was at his grandma's restaurant, but his dad was heading over there, so his dad picked it up for me and we signed it over along with a homemade bill-of-sale. I paid him cash. However, he told me that because of the insurance deal and salvaging, etc., he was going to receive a new pink slip in the mail and I shouldn't register the car with that old pink slip. He would deliver the new pink slip along with some hubcabs for me when the pink slip arrived in the mail.

At that point his dad was fed up and sent him back to work, it was up to me for some reason to clean out the car of his possessions, which included a gun wrapped in a sheet in the trunk, some old playboy magazines, an incredible number of lip balms of various kinds, and a huge amount of gross trash. Well, I was getting a good deal, so...all right.

Cut to the chase: the kid never sent me the revised pink slip. I called and txted him and turned out his phone number had been canceled by Verizon. It's now been almost a month.

I'm worried that the five day grace period for submitting the pink slip has passed, as well as by some other paperwork I found in the car suggesting that there were other issues between this kid and the DMV.

One other note: about ~1 week in to my ownership of the car, the super-friendly kid turned sour on me when I called and told him my mechanic thought the (new, installed by the kid) starter was defective...I asked him to send along a receipt for it along with the pink slip. The Kid went off on a text-tirade berating my mechanic and bragging about his dad's mechanical achievements and experience, etc. Haven't heard from him since.

I do have his driver's license number and an old address, which I mailed a letter to. No response. I don't think it's the correct address since it's in a different town than where the craigslist ad said he was living. I could also try to track him down at his work or call his workplace. Dad was non-too friendly so I don't know how that would go and am a bit wary for some reason.

Should I: a) attempt to wade into the California DMV registration process with a somewhat deficient certificate of title, b) track the guy down at work and ask him what's up, or c) some other option?
posted by wavejumper to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
C). Call police and have them check the VIN to see if the car is stolen.
posted by benzenedream at 11:23 PM on July 2, 2012 [19 favorites]

What person in their right mind would leave THEIR GUN in the car for the new owner to find/steal? Oh, right, a car thief who doesn't know it is there.
posted by acidic at 11:34 PM on July 2, 2012 [10 favorites]

So the problem is that basically he signed over the old title to you while a new one was in transit, so DMV is likely to question the provenance of the car because the old title is invalid and you don't have control of the new one? Yeah, I would (make an appointment and) talk to the people at DMV first.

While you have the problem that you don't have title to the car (and so you might not be able to register or insure it), he has the problem that he retains liability for it. So between that and the bill of sale, you do have some leverage (and the bill of sale does provide some evidence in case he goes completely off the rails and accuses you of theft.)

But if he stole the car and just forged the name on the title, you are in big trouble. I assume you saw his driver's license and checked to be sure the name matched the one on the title?
posted by gingerest at 11:37 PM on July 2, 2012

Have you gone back to talk to, or find, the father?

A possibility for the car is this was some kind of insurance scam, but that they did own the car. They got paid off by insurance, then sold the car anyway. Money in hand, they have no reason to take any trouble to send you the salvage title - if there is one. Just a possibility. Get the VIN checked.
posted by caclwmr4 at 11:44 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

  1. Find out if the car is stolen. Do that tomorrow.
  2. Find out if the people you dealt with gave you their real honest-to-goodness identity. If they did, report them to the police and press charges.
  3. Take them to small claims court to collect your money back.
  4. Donate this lemon to a charity and collect a tax-write off.
  5. Never buy a "salvage" car ever again unless you're a mechanic. So many people get screwed like this, I'm frankly surprised there hasn't been an initiative on the ballet to fix it. You're better off getting a crappier car with a square title than going through all this bullshit. Now you know.

posted by phoebus at 12:36 AM on July 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

If nothing else, please talk to the police about the gun and turn it over to them (unless it's just a bb gun or air rifle, which seems like it might more reasonably have been forgotten.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:41 AM on July 3, 2012

You have a bill of sale and a pink slip. So you have evidence.

Your first stop is the local police station to see if you bought a stolen car.

Now you can go register your car with your bill of sale and pink slip. You possess both of those things, correct? If there's a problem with the title/pink slip, then you have recourse. You can sue, since a car without a title isn't a car. If you can't register it, they can't sell it. Perhaps I'll see you on Judge Judy or People's Court.

You can sell the parts, or sell the car for parts. You'll at least get your dough back.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:45 AM on July 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Sounds pretty normal for buying a sketchy used car from sketchy people. So far I've always had it turn out to be just disorganization and lack of caring (kind of the same reasons they are usually selling a sketchy car in the first place) rather than crime, and the DMV has always been able to figure out the paperwork issues.

I agree that the first step is to doublecheck with the police that your car is legit. I'd suggest that the second step is to show up at the DMV with your existing paperwork and your story, and ask them (politely! those people have serious power...) if the paperwork you have is enough to get the process started, and if not, what would they need?
posted by Forktine at 5:49 AM on July 3, 2012 [7 favorites]

Calm down. No need to get all scared and talk to a defense attorney.

Pop into the DMV with what you have and take it from there.
posted by zombieApoc at 7:10 AM on July 3, 2012

Pop into the DMV with what you have and take it from there.

I really recommend going to the police first. The reason is that when people discover through some other means that you are in possession of a car that you don't have title to and the VIN is registered to someone else, you immediately get treated as if you, personally, may have stolen the car. I think it will be a lot better for you not to discover the car's status at the DMV while you're trying to register a potentially stolen car. Start with the police. If it's all legit, I'm sure there's a process for getting the car registered outside the 5-day period, and there's probably some tedious fee and form-filling, but I doubt it will be a big deal.
posted by Miko at 7:22 AM on July 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

p.s. I learned that the hard way.
posted by Miko at 7:22 AM on July 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

I agree that I'd check the VIN with the Police. Carfax might have interesting information as well. If it is clean then I'd simply proceed as if you have a car without a title which is a common enough thing. You have the bill of sale. Usually (I don't know about California) you have to post some sort of insurance/bond thing and then they give you a new, bonded title. It costs, I don't know, 5 percent of the Kelley for the car.

This is assuming there are no lienholders, and the car is not stolen.
posted by dirtdirt at 7:30 AM on July 3, 2012

If it's all legit, I'm sure there's a process for getting the car registered outside the 5-day period, and there's probably some tedious fee and form-filling, but I doubt it will be a big deal.

FWIW, in MN, the remedy here is that the title transfer costs a buck or two more.
posted by chazlarson at 9:07 AM on July 3, 2012

Response by poster: Police say car was not stolen. I'll go to the DMV and work it out. Thanks, all.
posted by wavejumper at 10:34 AM on July 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

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