When you buy a car, and pay in full, you should get the car's title.
But, we found some Valley car buyers are being sold cars that have electronic liens attached to them – liens they didn't know about. They are debts that have to be paid before the title can be transferred to a new owner.
Irvin Mayfield of Phoenix is one of those buyers.
Irvin bought his first car from Easy Auto Sales in Phoenix earlier this year. He took it home and says the car ran well. He paid $2,500 for it.
When he bought the car, he didn't know one important thing: "the previous owner had a lien on it and I would not be able to transfer the title into my name," he said.
But, Irvin says the lien would cost him $4,400 – and he wasn't about to pay it. He has a family and was between jobs, plus, he didn't think he should have to pay it in the first place. It wasn't his debt to be paid.
"It was frustrating, very frustrating," he said.
Without being able to title the car for himself, he decided to go back to the dealer and ask for his money back. But, "he right away started yelling, saying ‘I'm not going to give you your money back,'" he said.
He tried to negotiate with the dealer, but, after a while, he had had enough. He decided to let me know about it.
We went with Irvin to Easy Auto Sales and found the man he had been dealing with. He claimed he also didn't know the car had an unpaid lien on it when he sold it to Irvin.
But, it didn't take long for him to give Irvin his money back. He said he would go right then to get his check, and he took off on his motorcycle.
Less than a half an hour later, he was back, check in hand.
He handed Irvin the check for $2,500 and apologized, saying he was "sorry for the inconvenience."
We followed Irvin to the bank and watched as he cashed the check and got his money back.
The dealer did the right thing.
But, I haven't stopped getting complaints about titles with unpaid liens.
It turns out, some liens are easy to see on a title, but others are not on the printed copy. Those are called electronic liens and they're often court-ordered. But, they're much harder to detect.
The Arizona Department of Transportation sent me this explanation:
"Vehicle loans from financial institutions are recorded electronically and also the lien information will be shown on a printed copy of the vehicle title. Electronic liens which may result from a court-ordered process are recorded electronically but will not be shown on a printed copy."
They say a Motor Vehicle Title Record will have ALL recorded liens listed in the file.
So, protect yourself. Before you buy a used car, make sure the owner gives you a current copy of the title record from the Motor Vehicle Division.
Starting next Monday, all lien information will be printed on titles from that date on. So, you can easily see it.
But, titles printed before that, like Irvin's title, could still have liens on them that you can't see.
The owner is the only one who can get a copy of it. It costs $3.00 and they can obtain a copy at any MVD office or online at ServiceArizona.com.
If you need help or need to warn others about a consumer problem or scam, let me know at email@example.com or by going to my "Let Joe Know" Facebook page.