I sold my car... sort of. Car sale gone awry... now what?
April 22, 2013 9:04 AM   Subscribe

As one enters one's second half century, one likes to think that one has mastered little things in life -- like selling a car. Apparently not.

OK, I've made a bit of a mess out of a simple car sale. Here's the background:

The car: My old Soobie, broken 4wd linkage, leaks oil, bad shape. Not worth much. I was going to donate it to a charity car thing.

The buyer: A nice fellow appeared at my door asking if I wanted to sell the car. English not so good. Me, being such an expert in gauging people, immediately trusted him. (still do really).

The sale: I told him everything that was wrong with the car and suggested he and his buddy take the car for a few hours to see what it was like. Take it to a mechanic if he wanted etc. He did so, and when he returned -- in another car -- he said he still wanted it, had a brother that could fix it up. I asked where the car was. He said it was at his house. He clearly did not know what was involved in buying a car as he wanted to pay me cash there and be done with it. I told him it was OK to keep the car there for a day while I got the title for the sale.

I told him we had to do the title thing and that I'd need my plates back. A couple days later (they had the car all this time), he and his daughter came back, paid a couple hundred bucks, and I signed the title over (no notary required in CO). Here's where I got even stupiderer: He said the car was to be his brother's, and they would fill in the name. So I sent him off with the signed title, and no bill of sale. I told them I'd need a copy of the signed title and my plates back, along with any stuff left in glove compartment.

That was 3 weeks ago. I still do not have a copy of title or my plates back. I have called them (I have only his daughter's phone # and don't know where they live), and she insisted they have just been "very busy" and would get me the required items.

It has occurred to me that they are "illegals" and are trying to dodge the usual channels of procuring a car. Maybe, maybe not.

I am still insuring the car since I don't have real proof it has been sold, and were it involved in an accident with my plates and an unsigned title, I could be liable.

I'll be calling them again today. Thinking I'll say I must have the required items or I will report the car... stolen? .... plates stolen? I'm not really sure.

Does anyone have recommendations as to how to handle this mess?

Still Naive Over 50
posted by ecorrocio to Law & Government (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It is my understanding that when a car is sold, the plates go along with it. And, when you sell a car, YOU send in the title, indicating that you no longer own the car.

What to do now? I would call your state DMV and explain everything. I am sure that they will do whatever they legally can to get you out of this vehicle.
posted by Danf at 9:10 AM on April 22, 2013

I would get yer butt down to the DMV post-haste and describe what happened. You obviously should have sent the disclaim tab at the bottom of the title off to the DMV yourself, but barring that... yeah, get that sucker out of your name as fast as possible, and the nice folks at the DMV are the best people to do that for you.
posted by straw at 9:11 AM on April 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

It is my understanding that when a car is sold, the plates go along with it. And, when you sell a car, YOU send in the title, indicating that you no longer own the car.

Neither of these is true in Ohio, for whatever that's worth. It might vary from state to state.
posted by jon1270 at 9:18 AM on April 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

Every DMV is different, so get down there, or call, or check out their web page to see what needs to happen.

They'll advise you on what all you should do to make this kosher.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:28 AM on April 22, 2013

In Colorado the seller should keep the plate.

Don't hesitate, OP, just call or visit both the DMV and your insurance company and let them know what's happening. They can probably invalidate the plates somehow? There is a form at the CO DMV web site for "Lost or stolen plates". You could either tick "other" and explain, or you could tell the other party that you need to get the plates back or you will have to declare them stolen.

Please do this now! The last thing you want is a state trooper knocking on your door asking why your car was found halfway through the front facade of a local dry cleaner with a half empty bottle of Night Train in the floorboards.
posted by ftm at 9:28 AM on April 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

For the record, Colorado requires the SELLER to keep the plates.

From what you describe, I doubt their intentions are good... and I doubt you will ever see the car again, get a copy of the title, or get your plates back. You have no legal proof that you sold the car (you have no title or plates), so your registration and insurance will hold YOU liable.

I'd head straight to the DMV and explain to them what happened, and cancel your insurance ASAP.
posted by mrrisotto at 9:29 AM on April 22, 2013

Wait, wait! Don't cancel your insurance until you make sure you aren't responsible for what happens with the car!

I'm not sure exactly how it works but the worst case is you cancel your insurance, they get into a wreck, you're sued because you're still considered the owner of the car and you don't have any insurance to protect you! Don't do anything until you talk to the DMV and find out the next steps. You might also want to talk to the police dept to see if you can get their help to retrieve the plates. DON'T do something foolish like report it stolen or anything...just get their advice on how to proceed....I'm sure they've seen this situation before.

Good luck.
posted by victoriab at 9:35 AM on April 22, 2013

The buyer intends to fix the car so it's barely driveable, then sell it to somebody else. That driver will also not register the car.

And why would they ? It's barely worth the amount of the ticket that they might get. They don't have to pay those tickets, because they are still the registered owner's responsibility.

In Washington, we have a "seller's report of sale" that you detach from the title and send to the Department of Licensing. I have a friend (a cop's son...) who failed even to send that in... his truck lasted a week before it was abandoned by the 'buyers' and he paid $600 to get it out of impound and to the scrapyard.

Reaffirming that you need to talk to the DMV. I strongly recommend against canceling your insurance until the issue is resolved !

If you speak with the 'buyers' again, your principle bargaining chip is to tell them you will report the car stolen if they don't return the plates in two hours. Meet them someplace public !
posted by Kakkerlak at 9:37 AM on April 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

Don't panic. Call the DMV. Do you know where they live? You might end up filing a police report on this situation as well but the DMV can tell you what to do.
posted by amanda at 10:31 AM on April 22, 2013

You're being scammed. The driver will rack up all sorts of parking tickets with the vehicle, which you will be liable for because the saw not executed properly. I know from personal experience.

Call the "buyer" and tell him to return the plates TOMORROW or you will report them stolen.

Then, do it if he doesn't show up.
posted by DWRoelands at 10:35 AM on April 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

1. Call the DMV.

If they can't help you, 2. report the car as stolen (and the DMV may suggest that as well)
posted by zizzle at 10:48 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you have those contractor run DMV offices in CO, the places where things cost more but you don't have to wait in line, try that first instead of the DMV. They tend to be a lot better on the customer service side of things.

along with any stuff left in glove compartment

Are you even sure what was in there? Things that could be used for identity theft, housekeys? Take care of that.
posted by yohko at 11:18 AM on April 22, 2013

I bought a car recently in somewhat similarly sketchy circumstances (including a similar "I'm selling this for my brother who bought it from a friend who..." story). I just brought my butt down to AAA, explained everything, gave them everything I had, and somehow it all turned out OK.

(In California AAA members can do most DMV services at the AAA headquarters. Not sure if this is true in other jurisdictions. Either way I agree with yohko re a "contractor run" place that does DMV services with less bureaucratic nonsense, if that's available to you.)

I nth the "GOTO DMV, tell all, get it fixed by hook or by crook" advice.
posted by Sara C. at 11:35 AM on April 22, 2013

Response by poster: Called the DMV: They told me to provide the VIN (I'm at work, so didn't have it). They will check to see if it has been re-registered (doubt it). I can invalidate the plates as lost or stolen. They informed me I do not have to have a signed copy of the title. I was surprised.

So... this evening I'll be calling the buyer and stipulating I get my plates and info back tomorrow, and if not, it's off to the DMV.

Thanks for advice. I'll update when it's all done.
posted by ecorrocio at 11:59 AM on April 22, 2013

Just nthing - do not remove insurance until you're sure it's re-registered. Not just for liability purposes, but because the insurance company is required to send a notice to the DMV saying that they've stopped insuring. If it doesn't match the registration switch, you could get in trouble for failure to insure.
posted by corb at 2:40 PM on April 22, 2013

Danf: "It is my understanding that when a car is sold, the plates go along with it."


Either the dude is just clueless (possible) or this is insurance fraud. You can't register a car (and thus get plates for it) in most states without proof of insurance. In this case, if I had to guess, I'd say that he isn't planning on getting insurance and is driving around with your plates so he can avoid that expense. It's even possible that he has taken your plates and put them on another car.

Report your plates as stolen/lost to your DMV. There's a link at the bottom of this page:


If something screwy does happen and your plates are associated with the incident, this form is what gets you off the hook. Do it now. Do not wait for the buyer.
posted by Brian Puccio at 5:07 PM on April 22, 2013

Danf: "It is my understanding that when a car is sold, the plates go along with it."


Well, it depends on the state. For Colorado, it appears the seller keeps the plates. In Oregon, the plates can go with the car or not.

For Colorado, here's a handy FAQ for selling/buying a used car.
posted by amanda at 7:08 PM on April 22, 2013

Response by poster: Hi all... for anyone who's still looking:

The DMV canceled my plates, and listed them as "not returned after sale", which unregisters the car to me. The plates are expired anyway, so if the buyer/stealer chooses to use them they will probably get pulled over (unless they forge a new year sticker).

They did not require a copy of the signed title or a bill of sale to do this. If the buyer/stealer decides to register the car they my run into problems for the lack of a bill of sale. I doubt they'll register it tho. Our little Soobie's probably living the underground life now.

I double checked to make sure the car is no longer associated with me. It's not.

My insurance company said the same.

Thanks for all your input!
posted by ecorrocio at 9:05 AM on May 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

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