Consumer alert: Hundreds of Illinois car buyers report missing titles each year

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Tuesday, October 2, 2018
Consumer alert: Hundreds of Illinois car buyers report missing titles each year
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The I-Team found that there are hundreds of cases every year in Illinois where car dealers leave buyers hunting for a missing title.

MELROSE PARK, Ill. (WLS) -- The I-Team found that there are hundreds of cases every year in Illinois where car dealers leave buyers hunting for a missing title.

"It's been somewhat of a rollercoaster ride," said Daniel Ramos.

Ramos and his girlfriend Heather Searing said that roller coaster ride is over his recent car purchase.

"They never showed me a title directly, we just went there, signed some paperwork, and he said he would ship the plates out to us when they arrive," Ramos said.

They bought the 2006 Nissan Pathfinder from O'Hare Motorcars in northwest suburban Melrose Park. Shortly after the sale, they discovered they were unable to obtain a certificate of title.

"A nightmare, just dealing with everything just trying to get a title, that's all we really want. Or if we can't get the title then they should've never sold us the vehicle in the first place

Without a title, drivers may be unable to resell the vehicle, they could face an insurance claim denial if the car is totaled, and authorities said they may run into problems after temporary plates expire.

"Because they can't get registration for that vehicle, so they're really unable to drive the vehicle on the street," said Elmer L. Garza, deputy director at Illinois Secretary of State Police.

On average, the Secretary of State's police investigators says they get 700 to 800 "failure to transfer" title cases every year.

"First I called the Secretary of State because, well, they wanted to call them first but they told us we have to go back to the dealership. So then we started with the dealership and we would leave messages, we got the owner's email address, his cell phone number, and it's just been round and round with the dealership," Searing said.

So they called the I-Team and shortly after the I-Team's calls to the Secretary of State's office Garza said they took enforcement action against the dealership.

Garza said the owner of O'Hare Motor Cars was cited with failure to transfer the title within 20 days of the sale. Then the dealership transferred the title to Ramos.

The car dealer said he got the car at an auction and there were issues with the previous dealer applying for a new title.

"A duplicate title was issued in New Mexico and subsequently issued to Colorado and that was the current title, so there was a hold up with what title was current for that vehicle," Garza said.

The owner of O'Hare Motor Cars told the I-Team he had been working "hard with the Secretary of State's office" on a resolution, and that the "...previous dealer who I bought the car from through auction has finally applied for the new title...I will rush it to transfer it in Daniel Ramos' name."

The owner added that he had been doing business for 25 years, that this has never happened to him before and that "'s not even my fault."

The Secretary of State's office said it has received only one other recent, similar complaint about O'Hare Motor Cars, but the warning for buyers is about all of those dealerships, statewide.

"We have dealers, especially dealers that go out of business, where the dealership goes to default, where they may have 100 to 200 failure to transfers at one dealership," said Garza.

So what do consumers need to know to avoid this to make sure they have a title?

"The biggest thing is when they go in to purchase a vehicle from a dealership, they need to look at the paperwork for the dealership and make sure the title is in hand, and the car dealership has a title for that vehicle. They can even go a step further and make sure the VIN for that title, Vehicle Identification Number for that title, matches the vehicle identification number on the title," Garza said.

The Secretary of State's office said this problem is more common at used car dealerships who may be reselling cars from other states or auctions. Sometimes dealerships are trying to move cars off the lot, before they have the proper documentation. Executive Editor, Joe Wiesenfelder, told the I -Team "I'd recommend against buying a car without a title in hand." He offered these tips for avoiding fraud when purchasing a car.

This could also be an issue when buying a new car if you're paying in full. But if you are financing any car, your lender would have the title until the loan is paid off.