O'FALLON, Mo. – Imagine having your dream car but you can't drive it because, technically, someone else may own it.
That's the dilemma facing several customers of Driven Auto Sales in O'Fallon, Missouri. Several customers tell the 5 On Your Side I-Team they haven't been able to get titles for the cars they purchased from the dealership.
The I-Team visited the auto dealership to ask about those titles. But as soon as owner Eric Carmack and one of the dealership managers saw us approach, they both jumped in a vehicle and sped away from the lot.
Months before the auto dealership owner drove away from our cameras, he sold Matthew Chatmon his dream car.
"I was watching Jurassic Park. I fell in love with the Jurassic Park jeeps in the movie and I was like 'That's it. I need this Jurassic Park jeep in my life,'" said Chatmon.
Chatmon found a perfect 2004 Jeep Wrangler at Driven Auto Sales in December. He was so enamored with the vehicle, he believed the salesmen when they told him his title would be available in a few days.
"It was about 21 days in. They started telling me they didn't really know you're going to get your title. We don't have the title here, it's at our bank but we'll get back to you," said Chatmon.
Now, two months later: still no title.
And worse? The plates on Chatmon's new car expire in less than 24 hours.
"I can't drive the car I just bought. I spent a lot on it. Saved up my entire Christmas bonus on it. Really, it's going to be illegal to drive. I won't have the title still, so I can't go to the DMV and get it registered," said Chatmon.
But Chatmon isn't alone.
The Better Business Bureau has logged at least six similar complaints from customers of driven auto sales.
The Missouri Attorney General even sued several dealerships back in 2015 for not delivering titles.
"That should be a red flag. The dealer should provide the consumer with a clean title. The consumer should understand they need to have a clean title to that vehicle to make sure there's no liens against the vehicle they're buying," said Chris Thetford, with the Better Business Bureau.
In Missouri, it's part of state law: you should get your title at the time of purchase.
Even though our questions to the dealership went unanswered, some say the owner's response or 'getaway' was telling.
"Consumers should look at that and decide ethically if that's the sort of business they want to deal with. Should they avoid dealing with their responsibilities?" said Thetford.
"It hurts, honestly. I'm a normal guy, working a normal job. I just wanted a cool car to drive. Luckily my brother has a car he doesn't use. So I'll probably drive that...While I make payments on [my car]," said Chatmon.
A spokesperson for the department of revenue could not confirm that the auto dealership is under investigation. But in a statement, they tell the I-Team:
"The Department investigates numerous complaints of individuals who have not received their title at the time of sale. This is the most common complaint against auto dealers. Department investigators assist the individuals with getting their title and the Department does discipline auto dealers who fail to provide titles. Discipline could include any of the following: a warning; a financial assessment; a license suspension; a license revocation. " -Anne Marie Moy, Department of Revenue.
Download complaint form here: http://dor.mo.gov/motorv/complaints.php
BBB offers the following advice for consumers shopping for a used car:
- Research the business and owners carefully before signing a contract or paying any money. Check the company’s BBB Business Review at www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.
- Establish a budget and stick to it. It is suggested that your monthly car payment shouldn’t be more than 20 percent of your monthly after tax income.
- Research the value of any trade-in. Keep in mind that dealerships often give you less money for your vehicle than private parties. Vehicle valuation companies like Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader are good resources to determine the value of your car.
- Check the car’s history. Make sure the vehicle you are buying doesn’t have any unseen problems by checking its history and safety report. Online services such as Carfax can help you detect previous problems.
- If at all possible, have the vehicle inspected by a mechanic you trust before buying it.
- Understand any warranties. Know what is covered and for how long.
- Before closing the deal, make sure the seller transfers the registration and title to your name.