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Can I sue a dealership for not giving me title to my car?

Let’s say you’ve bought a car at a dealership. You’ve even driven off with it. But months and months go by, and they still haven’t given you the title, and you still can’t register it in your name. That’s not normal, and it’s not OK. Most states have a time limit for how long car dealers have to give you the title to the car you bought, and it’s usually short—30 days or so is typical.

So why wouldn’t the dealer be giving you the title right away? Often it’s a sign of a problem. There may be a loan or lien on the car that hasn’t been paid off. The dealer may not have properly gotten the title in the first place when they sold it to you. Some dealerships engage in outright fraud. Others have borrowed money from people and used the titles to their cars to secure it—and they can’t legally transfer it. They may not have done the right testing if your state has strict environmental emissions testing rules, and might not even be able to get a tag and title. You shouldn’t wait if a dealer isn’t giving you the title.

Our attorneys regularly represent people who can’t get the dealership to just give them the title like they were supposed to. It’s an illegal practice and an unfair one, and most states have laws that give you a right to sue over unfair business practices.

Call us at 657-845-3100 and we can evaluate your claim. There’s no cost for the evaluation, and we represent most clients on contingency, where we don’t charge unless we win.

What are the laws on when a car dealership has to give me the title?

They vary by state, but here are a few examples from states we regularly practice in.

Let’s say you bought your car in Georgia. Georgia Code 40-3-33 requires that the dealer submit a certificate of title application “within 30 days from the date of transfer of the vehicle.” Well, what if they just won’t give it to you? Georgia law has an answer for that, too: they have to pay your attorney’s fees. Under Georgia Code 40-2-32(a), the law says: “If the transferor willfully fails to deliver the properly assigned certificate of title to the transferee, the transferor shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. In addition, the transferor shall be civilly liable to the transferee for all damages, including reasonable attorney’s fees, occasioned by the transferor’s failure to comply with this subsection.”

What does that mean? It means you can sue, and they have to pay for your lawyers, not you. We like to take cases under laws like this because it means we don’t have to charge our clients unless we actually win the case—and then the dealership pays for it.

What about Texas? The Texas Transportation Code at section 501.0234 requires that a dealer “in the time and manner provided by law, apply, in the name of the purchaser of the vehicle, for the registration of the vehicle, if the vehicle is to be registered, and a title for the vehicle and file with the appropriate designated agent each document necessary to transfer title to or register the vehicle….” They have to make the title transfer in a “reasonable period of time.” The Texas Administrative Code at Title 43, Part 10, Chapter 215, Subchapter E, Rule 215.144 defines this period as either 20 working days for a vehicle registered in Texas, or 45 days total if it’s dealer-financed.

And Texas has a strong consumer protection law called the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act which also makes businesses pay attorney’s fees if they engage in unfair practices. If they’ve been waiting five or six months to give you the title, that’s clearly unfair.

Another good example state is California. In California, the dealer has to submit an application to transfer registration within 30 days of sale for a used car and 20 days for a new car under the California Vehicle Code § 4456(a)(2). They have to give you the title no later than 15 days after they receive full payment for the car under California Vehicle Code § 5753(c)(1). What happens if they don’t do that? They have to pay you $25 a day, up to $2500. And if you demand that money and they still won’t pay it, they have to pay triple, up to $7500. And to top it off, that’s an additional form of damages to the kinds you can already get in California, which has some of the strongest consumer protection laws in the country.

Other states will have different laws, but we have partner law firms in a number of states and can handle cases around the country working with our local counsel partners in those states.

If you’ve bought a car and the dealer won’t give you the title, and it’s been a long period of time, we’ll review your case at no cost. Call Kneupper & Covey today at 657-845-3100, or e-mail us at contact@kneuppercovey.com. We may not only be able to get you your title, but get you damages from the dealer for the trouble they’ve caused by not giving it to you when they should have.

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