Is your new car on the road illegally?

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Time to buy a car? We have a warning for you to make sure you aren’t at financial and legal risk.

Viewers contacted KXAN after getting nowhere with their Central Texas dealership for a year.

Married five years, with two kids, James and Christina Holder say they thought they found the perfect family vehicle; a van at the DriveTime dealership in Round Rock.

“I was super excited. I was like oh, my first minivan, I’m so excited!” Christina Holder says, “When we were there, we filled out all the paperwork we’re supposed to, signed the title and they were like we’re going to get you your permanent tags in and we’ll give you a call when that happens.”

But after two months, the couple says their perfect vehicle was missing something important from the dealer, the title — the paperwork that shows they legally own the car.

“I called them and they were like there’s been a problem with the title,” Christina Holder said.

As it turns out, DriveTime didn’t have a clear title for the car. Holder says an employee went on to say, “We’re having some trouble getting it processed but we’ll get you some new temporary tags and get you on the road again.”

That was a year ago.

Those temp tags expire after 60 days, so the couple has had to keep going back, over and over, to get new ones.

Title Troubles by the numbers

  • TxDMV received 552 total complaints about title or license plates
  • 272 of the complaints were confirmed and enforced
  • 75 of the complaints are still open investigations
  • 32 of those complaints were referred to other agencies

SOURCE: KXAN analysis of all complaints 2009-2013 within KXAN viewing area.

Bill Harbeson, the director of the enforcement division at the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, says each year, they get around 6,000 complaints against car dealers all over the state and a big chunk of those are directly related to the title.

“The documents you’ve shown me here today is over an extended period of time and this would be a serious and bad case for us,” Harbeson said.

“It is not legal for a dealer to sell a car without a clear title,” he explained. “The dealer should not be selling such a vehicle.”

And while Harbeson says the dealer is breaking the law, he says the Holders could be, too if they don’t keep renewing those temporary tags. If police stop them, they could get a ticket up to $200.

“I’m scared I’m going to get pulled over constantly,” Holder told KXAN.

“I try to keep me and my family…hold them to higher standards when it comes to being on the road and I can’t get a title and my wife could get pulled over with my kids?” Christina’s husband James Holder asked.

KXAN discovered in the last two years alone, the state has investigated more than 2,500 complaints against car dealers for not transferring titles within 60 days.

A hundred of those were for selling a vehicle without a clear title; the same problem dragging out for the Holders.

So we called DriveTime to ask about the hold up.

Two weeks’ worth of messages and no one called back.

So we went to the dealership. KXAN investigator Lindsay Bramson said, “I’m trying to get some information on a buyer who’s having trouble getting their license plates and title.”

No one would talk to us but an employee contacted their corporate office and asked us to leave. And soon, we had a statement saying: “The issue has been resolved and we have been attempting to contact (the Holders) to complete the final paperwork. While an unusual situation, this does not meet the level of service we consistently exceed and strive to achieve for our customers.”

A week later, DriveTime finally provided the Holders with their permanent license plates.

“I’m so thankful…so so thankful it’s all resolved and KXAN has been so wonderful in helping me through all of this,” Christina said.

We’ve reached out to DriveTime again and they have yet to tell us ‘why’ this problem happened. But what if if this happens to you? The Texas DMV says to file a complaint with them right away.

What is the punishment for selling a car without a title? The Texas DMV says a dealership could be fined hundreds of dollars.

The state could also shut the dealership down.

Now, you can protect yourself by using Title Check on the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles website, There is a small fee but this will connect you to the national motor vehicle database.

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