Tampa Bay area Carvana buyers stuck with cars they can’t drive after dealer fails to fork over titles

Better Call Behnken

Treasure Island man was pulled over twice by law enforcement and says he was told his temporary plate was "not legal"

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The popular online car dealer Carvana saw a boom in business during the pandemic, as more consumers chose “driveway delivery” options as a safe alternative to buying a car at a traditional dealership.

But that convenience came at a big price for some Tampa Bay area buyers. They found they couldn’t legally drive their vehicles, even though they were stuck making payments for the car and for insurance.

“I’m paying every month,” said Michael Johnston of Treasure Island. “But my car is completely useless.”

Johnston turned to Better Call Behnken, fed up that after four months, he still could not register his new Infinity SUV in his name.

The hold up? Carvana had not located and sent the title to the state of Florida.

When Carvana was no longer able to legally issue Johnston another Florida temporary plate, he says the mega car dealer emailed him a copy of an Arizona plate and told him to tape it in his back window. That led to Johnston getting pulled over twice by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.

“When he pulled me over, I gave him all the paperwork. He ran this and said it’s not valid,” Johnston said of one of his traffic stops. “[The deputy] doesn’t even know why they would give this to me. It’s not legal either to have it in Florida if I am a Florida resident.”

Johnston is the latest to turn to Consumer Investigator Shannon Behnken for help figuring out how to get their Carvana cars on the road legally.

We’ve heard from five local consumers, but dug up public records that show many others complaining to the state in other areas of Florida.

Last month, Better Call Behnken told you about Dan Padilla, of Tampa, who couldn’t drive the Subaru he bought from Carvana because the company couldn’t locate his title.

After that report, Carvana swapped out the car for a Volkswagen Jetta. Padilla was happy to get rid of the headache, but the car swap still offered no answer as to the location of the title is for the Subaru he bought in April.

A spokeswoman for Carvana said she would look into the issues and get back with Behnken, but that has not happened.

We reached out to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. In response, the department reached out to Johnston and provided him with a new temporary Florida plate so he can legally drive in Florida for now.

Meanwhile, the FLHSMV is looking into Johnston’s issue. Johnston says that’s not enough.

Florida is not the only state where Carvana customers have complained about similar title issues. We found that North Carolina handled complaints differently. Public records show that the state recently suspended Carvana’s license in one county until the end of January.

A spokeswoman from the North Carolina Department of Justice said one of the reasons is that Carvana issued out-of-state temporary tags and plates and failed to turn over titles the the state DMV.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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