Selling a car? Make sure the buyer registers it or you are still responsible for it

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HONOLULU (KHON2) When you sell your vehicle, the buyer is supposed to register it in their name. But one man learned the hard way that doesn’t always happen.

He asked not to be identified, but said selling his car more than two years ago has turned into a nightmare.

“So far there are two citations given for four offenses– two late registration and two late safety checks,” he explained.

He sold his car to a friend of a friend in July 2017 and has the notice of transfer to prove it.

He thought everything was fine until he got a letter regarding a ticket earlier this year.

“I actually didn’t think anything of it because the vehicle no longer belongs to me so I kind of ignored it. They sent me to collections at which point I realized that it was something real.”

He found out collections put a stop on his license.

“I work in a position where my license is very important to my employment and I could be terminated for not having a license in good standing.”

So he paid the $170 fine and went down to court and the DMV to find out what happened.

He found out the hard way that the person he sold his car to never registered it in their name. And that his car was even sold a second time.

“At some point in time, the car was towed and sold at auction because it went unclaimed.”

After it was auctioned, a second notice of transfer was dated December 2018.

Yet the tickets were still sent to him because the person who bought the car at the auction didn’t register it yet either.

“I was confused. I was shocked and angry. Probably a little bit more angry because I actually paid for somebody else’s ticket,” he said.

Although he is working toward resolving the issue, he wanted to warn people because when he sold the car he had no idea anything like this would happen.

“I think it’s important for other people to know how to absolve themselves before it becomes a problem.”

According to Sheri Kajiwara, the Honolulu Director of Customer Services the registered owner is liable.

“The way the law reads is that the last owner on record is considered the legal owner of the vehicle until the new person who bought the vehicle registers it under their name. If there are any citations, any legal or liability issues having to do with the vehicle, it will go to the last owner on record,” explained Kajiwara.

She said the buyer could be fined if they don’t register the car, but enforcement is difficult.

The good news is the seller does have rights.

“If he did do a notice of transfer, we would support his position with any court system since he has done his due diligence. Normally when the citations go in front of the court it is the judge, his position as to how to handle it. But we would support this person who has sold the car if he notified us, he did submit the proper notification of the transfer of ownership,” Kajiwara said.

Kajiwara said the seller needs to make sure the information on the notice of transfer is correct and legible.

“I recommend that you get a copy of the drivers license of the buyer can you take that information right off of that…many times what is submitted to us is a scribble, a nickname or somebody else’s name,” said Kajiwara.

If the buyers name is wrong or the address is incorrect, there is know way of finding that person.

Kajiwara said it’s an ongoing problem that happens more often than you’d think.

The seller’s best option? Be proactive.

“The seller needs to protect themselves that the task is done so that your name can be removed from the record…What I do, because I’ve sold a car before, is buyer and seller go down and do the transfer together. That is the best way. then you know it’s completed and that you’re off the hook. I would highly recommend that,” said Kajiwara.

On the flip side Kajiwara said buyers should also do their homework.

“Registration fees follow the vehicle. If you buy a vehicle, you have to make sure that there are no back fees. Otherwise you’re liable for those back fees whether it’s one year, five years, 10 years, 20 years. They can rack up in the thousands. So buyer beware.”

She said the city is working on ways to improve the process of selling vehicles to protect both buyers and sellers.

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