Dealer Can't Register Car, Woman Wants Refund


Dori Hess sums up her situation in a made-for-TV sound bite.

“I bought a car I can’t drive,” she said.

Mechanically speaking, her new car is perfect. But legally, it’s not drivable.

Hess bought a 2011 Acura TSX for about $18,000 in September.

“I paid for it in full,” she said.

And yet, the car is still unregistered.

What’s the hold up? The dealer.

Hess says AutoNation Acura of Stevens Creek agreed to title and register the TSX for her. Her paperwork even lists a $29 service fee. But the dealer hasn’t titled or registered the car. The expired plate is proof.

The state of California doesn't give gives drivers long to register a newly-purchased car.

"The DMV allows applicants (dealer or non-dealer) 20 days for an initial registration and 30 days for a transfer," the DMV said. "The 'Report of Sale' can serve as an operating permit for up to 90 days or when the new plates/registration are received, whichever comes first."

So, Hess's Acura is screaming for a ticket.

“The DMV investigator told me I could be pulled over, and the car could be towed,” Hess said.

Hess said the dealer didn’t offer an explanation; it was stalling.

“Put off,” she said. “Called the manager, called the sales manager. Never got through to anybody.”

Hess got so frustrated, she started driving a rental. And hired attorney Scott Kaufman.

“It’s pretty simple: you sell a vehicle, you give that person the title,” he said.

But even getting a lawyer involved didn’t bring a solution immediately.

 “Not yet,” Kaufman said. “Not yet.”

That’s when Hess spoke with us.

We contacted AutoNation, and a spokesman said waiting almost nine months for a title is “unusual.”

Rosemary Shahan, the consumer advocate who leads Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, is lobbying the Legislature to give drivers a break when dealers are careless with paperwork.

 “You get penalized if they don’t do their job,” she said.

Shahan says titles easily get tangled up several ways: when there’s a lien from the previous owner’s loan; when a transfer from another state doesn’t take; or if the car was reported totaled or stolen.

Shahan said a bill that is currently on the governor’s desk addresses temporary registrations, but does nothing to help consumers like Hess.

Until state law swings in consumers’ favor, Shahan offers a simple solution for anyone who is about to buy a car: Demand to see the title.

“Make the dealer show you the title to the car,” Shahan said. “Don’t buy the car unless they can show you the title to it.”

Hess wishes she had known to ask.

“I just want the car not to be here and me to have money back.”

Fast forward: 15 days after Hess went on camera and we contacted AutoNation abouse her case, she grabbed the keys for one final drive -- to finally hand them over.

“I’m excited,” she said.

Hess says AutoNation had her sign a non-disclosure agreement. So, the closest we got to the conclusion was following her to the dealer and watching her turn into the driveway.

In a statement AutoNation said:

After working for months to resolve the title issue on behalf of the customer to no avail we offered to take back the vehicle. The customer agreed. We are glad that this issue could be resolved and it was unfortunate that the title had become such an issue.”

Hess says she’s happy it’s over. She’s also glad she got tough, hiring a lawyer and alerting NBC Bay Area Responds.

“It was like a snowball rolling down a hill,” she said. “And finally we’re at the end.”

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