TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — If you’re buying a car, how long should you wait for the title?
Current Florida law requires dealers to request transfer of title within 30 days. But if three lawmakers are successful, the proposed legislation could change that, removing the time limit and the state’s ability to snatch a dealer’s license if it fails to shell out the titles on time.
Republican State Sen. Tom Wright and Republican State Rep. David Smith introduced the same bills, SB 1346 and HB 1517. Neither lawmaker returned repeated calls to explain why. Now, State Representative Andrew Learned (D-Hillsborough) has signed on as a co-sponsor of the House bill.
Learned also did not return a request from Better Call Behnken as to why it supports this bill.
Consumer advocates, tax collectors, state officials and even some car dealerships told 8 On Your Side that the bill would have negative consequences.
“One, if you don’t require the dealership to deliver a title to the new owner on their behalf within a certain time frame or perhaps ever, that owner – or new owner – never actually owned the car.”
After Wright and Smith didn’t return calls for comment, consumer investigator Shannon Behnken traveled to Tallahassee to try to talk to them.
Smith, when approached outside of a committee hearing, said he did not have time to speak and call his office and set up an appointment.
“It’s unprofessional to come and stick a camera in my face and ask me to explain a bill,” he said. “Please make an appointment with my office. I would be happy to talk to you.
Behnken followed up with another phone call, but Smith still hasn’t returned the message.
The Florida Department of Highway and Motor Vehicle Safety sent this statement:
“The most common complaint the department receives against car dealerships is that customers do not receive their motor vehicle tag and title in a timely manner. Given this, the department is concerned that this legislation, as currently drafted, will erode much-needed consumer protections.
A FHSMV spokesman said none of the lawmakers consulted with the ministry on the wording of the bills before tabling them.
Mark Cannon, a spokesman for Auto Nation, said the company markets 600,000 used cars a year nationwide and rarely has problems transferring the title on time.
“We believe consumers should get their credentials in a timely manner, and the current legislation in place is there to protect consumers,” Cannon said. “Any dealer having a problem complying with the law should refine the system they have in place so that these title delays do not continue.
Cannon said he thinks the law is fine the way it is.
Several other car dealerships told Better Call Behnken the same, with some pointing out that it could impact consumers who want to sell their cars to a dealership. If they don’t have a title and couldn’t register the vehicle, a dealer can’t buy it from them.
There is another potential problem: car insurance. Some consumers turned to Behnken when their car insurance companies threatened to drop them for not registering their cars in their own name.
That would mean they couldn’t get a permanent license plate. That’s exactly what an ongoing survey by Better Call Behnken revealed about customers of two online car dealerships. State regulators responded on December 17, giving Carvana until the end of January to resolve title issues or risk losing its license.
Earlier this month, FHSMV filed an administrative complaint against Texas-based online car dealership Vroom, alleging that in 47 cases the dealership failed to transfer titles to consumers within 30 days.
One of the client’s title complaints is Patricia Thomas Bolden of Pinellas Park. She said she bought a 2019 Kia Stinger in September but can’t drive the car now because Vroom hasn’t sent the title to the state of Florida.
“It’s beautiful,” she said. “It’s a huge ornament in my driveway. I love it but I can’t drive it.
After complaining to the state, she says Vroom offered a Chevy Malibu rental car, but no response.
After Better Call Behnken contacted Vroom, Bolden says he received a call from the company. She said their response was confusing, adding that she had been told her car was on lease and the lessee was “uncooperative” and the landlord would not release the title.
Bolden says Vroom offered to take the car back, but she turned the officer down because she spent thousands to customize the car. She said she was told it would take up to eight more weeks to get the title.
“I want my car,” she said. “I love this car. I don’t want to give it back. I just want my tag and my title, that’s all.