By Andrew J. Salinas
Under Virginia law, a Board licensed car dealer may provide you with temporary license plates and a certificate of temporary registration after you fully or partially purchase a vehicle. The vehicle registration certificate needs “its date of issuance, the name and address of the purchaser, the identification number of the vehicle, the registration number to be used temporarily on the vehicle, the name of the state in which the vehicle is to be registered, the name and address of the person from whom the dealer acquired the vehicle, and whatever other information may be required by the [DMV]” to be legally valid.
Regardless of whether the dealer does or, through no fault of their own, does not have the original title for the vehicle at the time you buy, it is your responsibility to make sure the temporary registration certificate is recorded by the DMV. Once that happens, you receive a copy of the temporary registration certificate, which allows you to get the vehicle insured and lawfully drive it around on the road while you wait for transfer of title.
When am I entitled to receive title?
Those temporary certificates of registration are only valid until either 30 days after they are issued or until the dealer delivers title to you.
It has been 30 days and I still haven’t received title. What now?
If the dealer fails to deliver the certificate of title or certificate of origin to you or the DMV within the first 30 days, a couple of things can happen.
First, you can get a full refund for what you paid for the vehicle and return it to the dealer.
Second, if you decide to notify the dealer you still want to keep the car, the dealer is required to deliver an application for title, a “copy of the bill of sale, all required fees and a written statement of facts describing the dealer’s efforts to secure the certificate of title or certificate of origin to the vehicle” to the DMV within the first 30 days period. When the DMV receives those documents, the DMV may in its discretion issue a secondary temporary certificate of registration that would be valid for another 30 days.
If after this 60-day period the dealer is still unable to produce your vehicle’s title, the DMV may extend temporary registration for an additional 90-day period.
Okay it has been 150 days and I still don’t have my title, what are my rights?
After the secondary temporary certificate of registration period and the additional period expires, you have a couple of options according to Virginia law:
A. Return the car and get a refund
Your first and most obvious option is to get a full refund. Virginia law dictates that you have a right to a full refund of all the payments you made towards the vehicle as long as you give the dealer notice that you’re returning the car before a title is issued. But, one court has ruled that this also means that you are not entitled to a refund while any of the temporary registration periods are running. Also keep in mind that any damage incurred to the vehicle while you had the keys and any accrued mileage after you return it will come out of your refund.
B. File a complaint about the dealer with the DMV Commissioner
Another option you can take is to report the dealer to the DMV Commissioner. If you really feel slighted by the dealer and think getting a refund isn’t enough, you can bring a complaint to the DMV Commissioner who after conducting a hearing can outright suspend the dealer’s ability to issue temporary certificates of registration. Doing so won’t net you any monetary benefit, but it can send a message to the car dealer to never sell a vehicle without possessing title again. If you do choose to go this route, remember to have any paperwork, emails, or text messages relating to the sale and the dealer’s failure to provide you with title ready for the hearing.
Keep in mind that these two options only apply to licensed car dealers who are unable to deliver title because it was lost or in another’s possession. If you fail to pick up the title of certificate from the dealer after the first 30 days, one court has ruled that you’re out of luck on getting a refund on the car or collecting damages from the dealer if your car is impounded. Likewise, Virginia law considers title transferred if you drive the car off the lot and the dealer has already filled out the paperwork, even if it has not delivered the paperwork to the DMV yet. As of this writing, it is an open question whether you can sue a licensed dealer specifically for failing to provide title after providing a buyer with a temporary certificate of registration under Virginia Code § 46.2-1542. A federal court in Virginia ruled in 2001 that a private right of action may exist from this part of the state code.
What if the dealer never had the title to the car in the first place? What can I do then?
A. Virginia Consumer Protection Act
The Virginia Consumer Protection Act (VCPA) establishes a private right of action for a customer aggrieved by a fraudulent or deceptive consumer transaction within the Commonwealth of Virginia. A “consumer transaction” includes the sale or offering for sale of “goods or services to be used primarily for personal, family, or household purposes.” This section applies to car sales. The VCPA also prohibits misrepresenting goods for having certain characteristics and using any form of deception in connection with a consumer transaction.
If you sue a car dealer under the VCPA and win, you would be entitled to recover actual damages as a result of your lack of title (e.g. impound and other registration costs). If a court finds that the dealer willfully deceived you into thinking they had title, it may award you up to three times the actual damages you incurred. You could also be entitled to reasonable attorneys’ fees – see our prior blog post about this here.
B. Common Law Breach of Contract and Fraud Claims
Under the Virginia common law, a plaintiff asserting a claim for breach of contract must prove the following elements:
1. There exists a legally enforceable obligation of a defendant to a plaintiff;
2. The defendant’s violation or breach of that obligation; and
3. Injury or damage to the plaintiff caused by the breach of obligation.
Virginia common law also provides a private right of action for fraud when a plaintiff can prove by clear and convincing evidence that:
1. The seller intentionally and knowingly;
2. Made a false representation;
3. Of a material fact;
4. That was relied upon by the plaintiff buyer; and that
5. Resulted in damaged to the party misled.
Under these common law claims you could be entitled to receive any costs associated with the non-transfer of title and potentially punitive damages that punish the dealer for their deceptive conduct. Keep in mind that if you are awarded damages under the VCPA, you are barred from recovery based on state common law.
C. Civil Penalties
Virginia law also states that it is a Class 3 misdemeanor to sell, trade, exchange, or barter a motor vehicle, trailer, or semitrailer without first having secured title for it or without legally having in their possession a certificate of title for the vehicle. This means the dealer could potentially receive a fine of up to $500.00 if you chose to report them to the Virginia Attorney General’s Office.
Remember that VCPA and state common law claims have a two-year statute of limitations that accrue either when you discover the fraud or reasonably should have discovered the fraud. If you have experienced a title issue from a licensed or unlicensed car dealer, contact Steven Krieger, PLLC for a consultation.
 Motor Vehicle Dealer Board (§ 46.2-1503; 46.2-1542(A)).
 § 46.2-1542(A).
 § 46.2-1542(A)-(B); Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-630.
 § 46.2-1542(A).
 § 46.2-1542(B).
 § 46.2-1542(D).
 § 46.2-1542(B).
 Rolander v. Luxury Auto Sales of Dumfries, 77 Va. Cir. 114, 2008 Va. Cir. LEXIS 129 (Prince William 9/17/2008).
 § 46.2-1542(B).
 § 46.2-1542(E). See also Lewis v. Commonwealth, 28 Va. App. 164, 170 (1998)(Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-1542 provides that the issuance of a temporary certificate of ownership pursuant to § 46.2-1542 shall have the effect of vesting ownership to the vehicle in the purchaser for the period that the certificate remains effective.)
 § 46.2-1542(E)
 Nigh v. Koons Buick Pontiac GMC, Inc., 143 F. Supp. 2d 535, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5374 at *9 (E.D. Va. 2001), aff’d, 319 F.3d 119 (4th Cir. 2003)(ruling that § 46.2-1542’s provisions did not apply to car dealership who had possession of vehicle’s title when it sold the vehicle to plaintiff).
 Rolander, 77 Va. Cir. at 115-15, 118.
 Wicker v. Nat’l Sur. Corp., 330 F.2d 1009, 1012-13 (4th Cir. 1964).
 Nigh, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5374 at *2-*3 (E.D. Va. 2001), aff’d, 319 F.3d 119 (4th Cir. 2003) (holding that § 46.2-1542 only applies to licensed vehicle dealers and that, despite much of Title 46.2 only creating administrative remedies, a private right of action may spring from this statute).
 Va. Code. § 59.1-200.
 Va. Code. § 59.1-198.
 Alexander v. Southeastern Wholesale Corp., 978 F.Supp.2d 615, 621-22 (E.D. Va. 2013).
 Va. Code § 59.1-200(A)(5), (14).
 Va. Code § 59.1-204(A).
 Va. Code § 59.1-204(B).
 Sunrise Continuing Care, LLC v. Wright, 277 Va. 148, 671 S.E.2d 132, 135 (Va. 2009) (quoting Filak v. George, 267 Va. 612, 594 S.E.2d 610, 614 (Va. 2004)).
 State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Remley, 270 Va. 209, 218, 618 S.E.2d 316 (2005)(quoting Prospect Development Co. v. Bershader, 258 Va. 75, 85, 515 S.E.2d 291 (1999)).
 Va. Code § 59.1-204(A).
 Va. Code § 46.2-617.
 Va. Code § 18.2-11.
To file a complaint, visit the Attorney General Office’s website at: https://www.oag.state.va.us/consumer-protection/index.php/file-a-complaint.
 Va. Code §§ 59.1-204.1; 8.01-248.