With COVID-19 forcing DMV closures, car owners face delays for vehicle titles, registration in some states

With COVID-19 forcing DMV closures, car owners face delays for vehicle titles, registration in some states

Trying to buy or sell a car on your own has become tough for many Americans during the coronavirus.

The reason: The pandemic has forced Departments of Motor Vehicles and similar offices to close or reduce their capacity in many states, making registering and signing a vehicle title more difficult.

In some cases, the disruption will temporarily block some Americans from taking possession of cars and trucks while they navigate bureaucratic hurdles to get the necessary paperwork to complete their transactions.

More than 40 states have made "significant changes" to their standard operating procedures for vehicle registration and titling during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Cox Automotive's Dealertrack Titling Solutions, which provides software to dealers.

“The impact on all motor vehicle administrations’ processes has varied by jurisdiction," said Claire Jeffrey, communications manager for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, in an email. "Many are still processing title work without conducting in-person transactions, while others have paused all activity, and some have continued all in-person services throughout the emergency period."

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With some 300 potential registration and title transactions and 250 unique forms in 51 DMV jurisdictions, according to DealerTrack, handling a vehicle ownership transfer can be confusing in normal times. But it's turned into an even more puzzling task with many states temporarily closing their DMV offices or requiring scheduled appointments to handle the paperwork.

“It really depends on what jurisdiction you’re in,” said Kirk Hanna, director of government relations for the autos division of research firm IHS Markit.

Hanna said IHS had not noticed any effect of the DMV closures on sales of new vehicles. But sales of vehicles from one person to another are not tracked in typical sales metrics.

When you buy a car from a dealership, the dealer typically handles title and registration paperwork, often by filing it electronically. But when you buy a car from another individual, that task falls to you.

Dealers can file registration and title papers electronically in roughly 30 and 24 states, respectively, for both new and used vehicles. In some states, however, new and used vehicle owners need to process paperwork through in-person visits to counties, many of which are not currently offering those services.

In some cases, vehicle owners are being issued temporary registration tags while they await their permanent paperwork. And many states have extended existing registrations.

Problematically, many states still require a physical signature on title documents and odometer certification documents, which could lead to delays due to reduced capacity at DMV facilities, said Sarah Hunsicker, director of government affairs for Dealertrack Titling Solutions.

“In most states where they don’t have a digital solution, you can expect a delay in the issuance of the title because there’s limited staff at the DMV to manually process those documents, Hunsicker said. “While the dealer may be submitting them in a timely manner, it’s unlikely the DMV is able to process those documents in a timely manner.”

A row of vehicles at a car dealership.

To be sure, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last year adopted a final rule allowing states to accept odometer disclosures electronically, but most states have not implemented such procedures.

For vehicle owners and buyers who are trying to complete person-to-person transactions, there's currently no electronic titling capability. That means they may have to wait several weeks to process the paperwork through the mail.

“We’ve already seen interest from many states in accelerating their plans to move toward a more digital environment,” said Kait Gavin, vice president of operations for Dealertrack Titling Solutions. “I think we’ll probably see more states start to mandate these electronic systems.”

But it will take time. And until then, delays may continue. Even after states reopen DMV offices, many are expected to require appointments for an extended period of time to prevent too many people from showing up and violating social distancing standards.

“For many years, jurisdictions have been investing in technology and looking into expanding all types of electronic transactions,” Jeffrey said. “This current crisis further spotlights the benefits of transitioning away from paper documents into electronic and contactless business processes."

Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2020/05/15/dmv-electronic-title-registration-cars-trucks-coronavirus-covid-19/5182830002/

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