How do I refute ownership of an abandoned vehicle I previously sold?
August 20, 2015 11:56 AM   Subscribe

I do have a bill of sale -- is it as simple as showing proof at the local SOS branch? Located in Michigan.

I sold my old, but running car on Craigslist in April. I have a written Bill of Sale that I crafted based on the information on this SOS page. I do not have a copy of the transferred title or image of the buyer's license (but their number or a number is on the bill of sale. I have no idea if the info they provided is accurate and this is as much proof as I have (dumb first time seller anxiously forgot the title scan in the moment-- ugh!).

Today I got a letter from SOS saying the car has been removed as abandoned in the next county over and I'm the last registered owner. The procedures in the letter are about either re-claiming the car and paying fees, or letting the state have it and then paying remainder fees if storage / removal costs are not recouped at auction.

There's no Not My Car, Not My Problem option. I'm not down for taking any responsibility for this car after April 14th. Can I take this to a local branch and show proof of non-ownership? If not that, then what?
posted by rawralphadawg to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total)
According to the Michigan DMV, you should have taken your plates with you (and if you were not transfering those plates to another vehicle you own, surrendering them), and filed for a transfer of registration.

I would just call the DMV ASAP and ask them how to handle it. They've most certainly dealt with this before.
posted by furnace.heart at 12:12 PM on August 20, 2015

You can email the SOS office and ask them directly how to show them your proof of sale. It may not be as easy as going into any SOS branch.

This page says as the owner you won't be liable as long as you "(b) Maintain a record of the sale for not less than 18 months. As used in this subdivision, "record of the sale" means either a photocopy of the reassigned title or a form or document that includes the name, address, driver license number, and signature of the person to whom the vehicle is sold and the purchase price and date of sale of the vehicle." (that's under the "I sold the vehicle; how do I get the title out of my name?" question) It sounds like your Bill of Sale should be enough to prove that you sold it, but that will be up them.
posted by soelo at 12:14 PM on August 20, 2015

In washington, we have something called a release of interest for exactly this situation. When you sell a car, you can file one of those(and get a bill of sale) to essentially show "i sold this thing then, if they didn't re-register it that's not my problem and it's on them".

Unfortunately, it looks like there's nothing like that for michigan which is really stupid.

I'm assuming from reading that, that you kept the plate? The problem with that system to me always seemed to be that they'd look with a suspicious eye even then because someone could take the plates off a car and abandon it and go "but i sold it!".

I think you're going to have to go into the actual DMV/registration office and ask them about this. I have a sneaking suspicion that this might turn into a stupid situation where the burden of proof is on you to show you really sold it though. You might want to bring a bank statement, or money order tear-off, or something. Expect them to find some issue with the bill of sale not being quite perfect, or something.
posted by emptythought at 12:15 PM on August 20, 2015

I did keep the plate, yes! Aaaaand, sale was in cash unfortunately. Under $1k. I do have the canceled insurance policy statement as additional "proof."
posted by rawralphadawg at 12:18 PM on August 20, 2015

I would also print out a copy of the CL ad, your correspondence with the purchaser, and the bank statement that shows that you deposited that amount of cash (more or less) shortly after the date of the sale.
posted by brianogilvie at 2:57 PM on August 20, 2015

I would just call the DMV ASAP and ask them how to handle it. They've most certainly dealt with this before.

Once when I lived in Michigan, I sold an old car to a stranger. I warned them that they might want to tow it, as it had a noisey valve that may portend a blown engine. They decided to drive it off anyway, and I let them keep the license plate to get it home. I may have asked them to mail the plate back to me, but in any case I never heard from them again.

Six months later I got a letter much like yours: to recover your $100 car, go through much travail and pay $500 in towing and storage fees. Apparently, the buyer never finished transferring the title before abandoning the vehicle; the engine may even have blown on the way home from my house. As far as the state of Michigan was concerned, the title was in my name and the plate on the car was in my name.

Here's what I did: I checked the [X] Not My Car, Not My Problem box in my own mind and ignored the letter.

Nobody contacted me in any way about the vehicle, the title, the plates, letter, or the fees ever again.

This was sometime before 1990 and I live in a different state now. Possibly, MI SoS may handle this differently these days. Asking them seems like good advice if you're worried, but as you see, they have indeed dealt with this scenario before.
posted by Herodios at 8:31 AM on August 21, 2015

Non-resolution update: I'm trying to be too proactive, and it looks like my only option at this point is literally do nothing. My actual options are reclaiming the car by paying all fees; or reclaiming the car, paying all fees, AND going to court over the abandonment and/or the "reasonableness of fees." The car is worthless (worth less than the fees already accrued) so I don't want it back.

I'm still worried about the "fees after auction" responsibility bit, and I'm really just hoping for the same resolution as Herodios: never hear anything about this again.

I talked to several people at the SOS, the court, and the towing/storage company. Everyone believes me, but no one can actually correct the record of ownership (SOS can't change the registration I guess (?) and the court and storage place are working off that record). The court clerk literally told me "if you don't care about the car, don't do anything. The court will not come after you" ... which isn't exactly quotable legal advice and she didn't have an answer if someone billed me for the fees after auction as stated in the official letter I received. The storage place really wanted me to pay their fees now so they made it sound like I would still be on the hook for all that, but they didn't definitively say it either.

I'll fight whatever bill comes by forcing my proof upon them at that point I guess.
posted by rawralphadawg at 3:43 PM on August 31, 2015

« Older Help my friend not get screwed over by lawyer in...   |   What would you want in your gift bag? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.