TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — If you buy a car, how long should you have to wait for the title?
Current Florida law requires dealers to apply to transfer the title within 30 days. But if three lawmakers are successful, proposed legislation could change that, doing away with the deadline and the state’s ability to yank a dealer’s license if it fails to fork over titles in time.
Republican State Senator Tom Wright and Republican State Representative David Smith filed the identical bills, SB 1346 and HB 1517. Neither lawmaker has returned repeated calls for comment about why. Now, State Representative Andrew Learned (D-Hillsborough) signed on as a co-sponsor of the House bill.
Learned has also not returned a request from Better Call Behnken to explain why he supports this bill.
Consumer advocates, tax collectors, state officials and even some car dealers told 8 On Your Side the bill would have negative consequences.
“First, if you do not require the dealer to turn a title over to the new owner in their name within a certain amount of time or maybe never, that owner – or that new owner – never truly owned the car.”
After Wright and Smith did not return calls for comment, Consumer investigator Shannon Behnken went to Tallahassee to try to speak with them.
Smith, when approached outside of a committee hearing, said he did not have time to speak and to call his office and set up an appointment.
“It’s unprofessional to come stick a camera in my face and ask me to explain a bill,” he said. “Please make an appointment with my office. I’d be happy to talk to you.”
Behnken followed up with another phone call, but Smith has still not returned the message.
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles sent this statement:
‘The most common complaint the department receives against auto dealers is customers not receiving their motor vehicle tag and title in a timely manner. Considering this, the department has concerns that this legislation, as currently drafted, would erode much-needed consumer protections.”
A spokesman for FHSMV said none of the legislators consulted with the department about the wording of the bills before filing them.
Mark Cannon, a spokesman for Auto Nation, said the company deals in 600,000 used cars a year nationwide and rarely have an issue in transferring title on time.
“We believe consumers should get their titles in a timely fashion, and the current legislation in place is there to protect consumers,” Cannon said. “Any dealer having a problem abiding by the law should refine the system they have in place so these title delays don’t continue.
Cannon said he thinks the law is fine the way it is.
Multiple other auto dealers told Better Call Behnken the same thing, some pointing out that this could trickle down to impact consumers who want to sell their cars to a dealer. If they don’t have title and haven’t been able to register the vehicle, a dealer cannot buy it from them.
There’s another potential issue — car insurance. Some consumers turned to Behnken when their car insurance companies threatened to drop them for failure to register their cars in their own names.
That would mean they couldn’t get a permanent license plate. That’s exactly what an ongoing Better Call Behnken investigation found happening to customers of two online car dealers. State regulators responded on Dec. 17, giving Carvana until the end of January to clear up title issues or face losing its license.
Earlier this month, FHSMV filed an administrative complaint against Texas-based online car dealer, Vroom, alleging in 47 cases, the dealer failed to transfer titles to consumers within 30 days.
Patricia Thomas Bolden, of Pinellas Park, is one of the customer’s title complaints. 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 answers.
After Better Call Behnken reached out to Vroom, Bolden says she received a call from the company. She said their response was puzzling, adding she was told her car was a lease and the leasee was being “uncooperative” and the owner won’t release the title.
Bolden says Vroom offered to take the car back but she denied the offier since she spent thousands customizing the car. She said she was told it would take up to eight more weeks to obtain 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 title, that’s it.”