A motor vehicle purchase, even for a used model, is a significant investment. To ensure that you are making a sound purchasing decision and protect your rights if the vehicle turns out to be defective, you need three important types of paperwork:
- The car title
- Repair orders/service records
- Buyer’s Guide (for used cars)
While an honest business will gladly provide this paperwork voluntarily or on request, dishonest dealerships or repair shops intentionally fail to do so in order to protect themselves from a future claim.
- Car Titles
Under Missouri law, all dealerships and vehicle sellers must provide the title to the buyer on the day of the sale. Even if you are financing the purchase, the seller cannot retain the title. Failing to provide it is a misdemeanor that can lead to civil liability on the part of the seller, and until you have the title signed over to you, you do not legally own the car and cannot register it at the DMV or obtain insurance.
If the dealer you are working with is not able to immediately provide you with a clean title, it’s a red flag. Possible reasons include:
- Undisclosed liens against the vehicle.
- The dealer borrowed money to purchase the car and has not repaid it yet, so the lender holds the title.
- The car was totaled in a prior accident, in which case the title will reveal that it is a “salvage” vehicle. While these cars can be restored to good working order, they will typically sell for a lower price, and a dishonest dealer may be trying to sell you a salvaged vehicle for a mint condition price.
If you are contemplating a purchase and the dealer says they will send the title in the mail, shop elsewhere. Until you actually see the title, there is no way of confirming that the dealership even owns the car and can legally sell it to you.
- Repair Orders
State consumer laws prohibit deceptive and unfair practices in auto repair. Any mechanic that attempts to deceive, mislead, or make representations to a customer can be subjected to penalties under the Merchandising Practices Act.
If you have to bring your vehicle for repairs, ask for copies of all repair orders, invoices, and receipts. You will need this information in the event of a future claim for breach of contract or warranty or, in the case of a new car, a lemon law proceeding. These documents will also indicate what work was done on the vehicle, and allow you to confirm that the shop did the work they claimed to do. If they fail to provide it and/or refuse to produce it on request, fraud may be an issue, and you should contact a Missouri consumer protection attorney.
- Buyer’s Guide
The Used Car Rule by the Federal Trade Commission requires dealerships to post a buyer’s guide in every used car they sell unless they sell less than six cars per year. This guide must provide you with the following information:
- Whether the car is being sold with a warranty or as-is
- The dealer’s percentage of repair costs under the warranty
- To get all promises in writing, as verbal ones can be difficult to enforce
- To retain the guide for reference
- An overview of the car’s mechanical and electrical systems
Your Buyer’s Guide is an essential part of a used car sale because it becomes part of the contract and overrides all other provisions. If the dealership does not provide one or says they will send it later, walk away.
If a Missouri dealership or repair shop does not provide you with the paperwork you need to prove your ownership of a vehicle, confirm what type of repairs were carried out, or advise you on your rights when buying a used car, contact Bell Law. Attorney Bryce Bell will help you ensure that unethical or negligent business actions do not leave you in a financially precarious position.