How do I get car title when dealership has closed down?

Dear Consumer Ed:

I bought a car five years ago and financed it through the dealership. I made my last payment this month. But I just learned that the dealership has closed down and I can’t get in contact with anyone who worked there. How do I go about getting my title?

Consumer Ed says:

Obtaining your title from the dealership may be challenging. You likely purchased the car from a “Buy Here, Pay Here” dealer where both the vehicle sale and financing are performed by the car dealer.  When you purchase a vehicle from a car dealer in Georgia, the dealer is required by law to handle the title transfer process and submit the application for a new title in your name. If you financed the car, the title goes to the lien holder (the bank or financing company) who financed your purchase until you pay off the loan. Here, because you financed your car through the dealership, the dealer retained your title.  When you paid off the loan, the dealership should have delivered your title to you. 

Since the dealership has closed and you have been unable to get in contact with anyone there, you have several options you may want to consider.  First, determine whether you should obtain a bonded title for your vehicle.  A bonded title may be issued by the Georgia Department of Revenue (DOR) in circumstances where you lack the required proof of ownership documents (such as a copy of your vehicle title) that are needed to obtain a title in your name.  Obtaining the bonded title will require, among other things, that you are a legal Georgia resident and that you purchase a surety bond for the vehicle you are seeking to title.  The surety bond, which can generally be purchased for a fraction of the amount of the actual bond value, ensures that if you are not the rightful owner of the vehicle, DOR can make a claim against the bond for the benefit of those harmed by the issuance of a title to you.  To determine if a bonded title is the best option for you, you might consider contacting an attorney.  If you would like to know whether your particular vehicle purchase qualifies for a bonded title and what steps you will need to take to obtain such a title, contact DOR by calling 855-406-5221 or visiting dor.georgia.gov/bonded-vehicle-title.  

You may also be able to get some monetary relief by making a claim against the dealer’s surety bond, assuming you purchased from a used car dealer.  Used car dealerships are generally required to have a surety bond in place.  This is a different bond than the one that you would purchase to obtain a bonded title, but works in a similar way.  This bond operates to the benefit of certain parties in the event that the dealership engages in certain types of unlawful conduct.  You may be able to file a claim again the bond, and if paid by the surety company, you would receive money related to your specific claim. The amount paid out by the surety company will vary, however, depending on the number of claims made, and the bond can be exhausted if there are multiple large claims.  The Georgia State Board of Registration of Used Motor Vehicle Dealers can provide you with a copy of the dealer’s bond, assuming it is on file with the Board.  Your request for the bond must be accompanied by a copy of the bill of sale and buyer’s guide, or a copy of a court judgment, or a statement of why these items are unavailable for submission.  Submit a request for the dealer’s surety bond information to ucarbonds@sos.ga.gov.  Additionally, you may consider filing a complaint with the Board against the dealership.

You can also file a complaint about the dealer with the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Division at consumer.ga.gov or 404-651-8600.

Submit your own question to Consumer Ed.  Remember…we do not give legal advice. Always consult a lawyer about legal issues.

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