Avoiding the Double Nightmare

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Selling a car isn’t as simple as taking the money and handing over the keys. Make sure you finish the paperwork. Here’s a column I did for the Arizona Republic that showed the potential for disaster:

It only took a moment of Robert Esparza’s time, but it saved him $1,200. 

The saga started when Robert sold his 1994 Thunderbird. The buyer couldn’t pay the full price so Robert agreed to take $800 with the promise of $200 payments for the next six months. Being a trusting guy, Robert signed over the title. 

Robert made three big mistakes that day. He didn’t take the license plate off the car. He didn’t go to the motor vehicle division and have himself listed as a lien holder on the title. And he sold his car to a deadbeat.

The buyer made one $200 payment and then disappeared. Robert couldn’t find him and eventually decided he’d simply lost the other $1,000. It was a lesson learned.

Two weeks ago, the car resurfaced. Robert got a letter from the Motor Vehicle Division saying a towing company had picked up the car in Tempe. Police had the car towed in May after it was found on a city street. The car had been sitting in the impound lot for nearly three months and the towing company filed paperwork to take ownership of an abandoned vehicle.
Robert thought his luck had changed. He rushed down to get his wayward car. The tow company was happy to hand it over, all Robert had to do was pay the $1,200 storage fee.
But the bad news wasn’t over. The towing company wasn’t requesting the money, it was demanding the fee be paid. And it wanted the money from Robert.

You see, not only did the buyer never pay Robert, he also never got a new title for the car using the old plate to avoid getting a ticket. Since Robert was the last owner of record, the towing company held him responsible. 

Fortunately Robert had done one thing very right. The day he sold the car he went on the MVD web site (ServiceArizona.com) and filed a sold notice. It only took a moment, but it should take him off the hook for any potential liability. If a car gets a ticket or is involved in an accident after it’s sold, the old owner shouldn’t have to pay. 

Robert probably won’t get his car back. Somewhere along the line the windows were broken and the tires are now flat. It isn’t worth the storage fee. But at least he doesn’t have to lose money twice on the deal.

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