Misadventures in Selling a Car

The plan

    The plan in August 2014 sounded simple. Arrive in Boston, sell my 2002 Toyota RAV4 and use the money to pay off debts. My sister Liza asked how I would sell the car. I replied that I’ll find a way. The quickest way I thought was to take it CarMax and accept whatever offer comes my way. The car was the last big-ticket item that I had to get rid of before joining the Oblates of the Virgin Mary as a postulant. I couldn’t hold onto it while it drains my meager cash for fuel, insurance, maintenance and registration.

    I discussed my plans with others at the religious house after my arrival. A perfect opportunity opened up. The religious order was looking for a new car. Its old Kia recently succumbed to the Boston roads. My RAV4 would be a perfect fit. I mentioned that I had the title. (Note to myself: Think before I open my mouth.)

    Father Peter, rector of the local community, said the car needed to be inspected. So I took the car to a mechanic that the religious order trusted. I had driven from Corpus Christi to Boston with the Check Engine light on. I had a hunch that I would face a giant repair bill. The mechanic said that the car was good overall, but it had four issues. The first two had to be done or else the car would fail its Massachusetts inspection. The first was replacing the catalytic converter (the reason for the Check Engine light). The second was cracking front tires that need replacing. The last two were replacing the suspension swing arms (the price for driving on terrible Corpus Christi roads for four years).

    As the mechanic tallied the repairs and the costs, I could see my selling price drop with each repair. I wrote down the repairs and brought the list to the religious order with the lowest price I can handle. Fortunately, the mechanic’s price assessment matched my offer. The religious order agreed to take the car off my hands for my selling price. I was given the bill of the sale dated Aug. 26. All I needed was to sign the bill and turn over the title. I filled out and signed all the required documents. All I needed was the document title on the title. I looked through my papers repeatedly for the title. Where was it? In my frustration, I remembered what happened.

The memory

    In April 2010, I arrived at the Nueces County Tax Assessor Office to register my RAV4 and my 2004 Triumph Bonneville. This was the third time I had to register vehicles in a new state. So I knew the procedure: turn over titles from previous state and receive registration and titles from new state.

    I turned over the car title to the clerk. She registered the information. Then she held up the title.

    “You do know that you won’t get a copy of the title,” she said, explaining that it would be stored electronically.

    In a hurry to be done, I nodded in agreement without thinking what that statement meant.

Meanwhile, I was frustrated that I forgot to bring my motorcycle title. But I managed to register the Triumph with my California registration. So I kept the California title. On reflection, that motorcycle registration worked in my favor. I was able to sell the motorcycle with the California title in early August 2014 before leaving Corpus Christi. If I had the same situation with the motorcycle title, I would have been in a bind to get rid of the motorcycle. God was looking out for me that day.

Bureaucratic headache

    When I remembered what happened to the title, I informed the religious order about the title. Father Peter allowed me to keep the car at the house while I waited for the title.

    Once you involve government in a sale, Father Peter said, it will become complicated. In my mind, I disagreed. Oh, how right he would be.

    I quickly applied to the Texas DMV for a copy of the title. A few weeks to wait wouldn’t be so bad, I thought. This would be wrapped up by the end of September.

    A letter for the Texas DMV arrived in mid-September. I eagerly tore open the envelope, expecting the title.

“We are unable to process your request for the following reason(s): Our records indicate a negotiable title was not surrendered at the time of title application. As a result, Texas issued registration only. We cannot issue a CCO because the title was last titled in California. Please contact the State of California,” it said.

    WHAT!? That was impossible. I specifically remembered giving my title to the clerk.

    I applied to the California DMV to retrieve a copy of the title. A week later, this response came: “Our records indicate that the California Certificate of Title was surrendered to the state of Texas 11-20-2010 cannot issue duplicate title.”

    AARGH! I was trapped a no-man’s land between these two states and saw no way out. I researched into companies that help retrieve titles for cars. One service rejected me and another would cost hundreds of dollars. During this wait, nobody at the house could drive it except for me. Occasionally, I would drive my fellow postulants to class and to the retreat house in Milton. Most of the time, it sat in the driveway as a giant anchor on my finances. I had to get a resolution soon before the start of November when the next round of car insurance payments began.


    The end of September was approaching. Leland, a fellow postulant, and I were walking down the main hallway in St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Mass. He spotted a stack of brochures for Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, a favorite devotion of Pope Francis. Leland mentioned that the Undoer of Knots had helped him some years ago.

    “Maybe I should pray to her to help me with my title problem,” I said.

    She is usually sought to help with personal problems, he replied. But it wouldn’t hurt to pray to her.

    So I picked up the brochure, sat in the refectory (dining hall) and prayed to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. “Mary, I need help,” I prayed. “I don’t know what to do.”

    I sat in silence for several minutes.

    An idea came.

    This mess started with Nueces County Tax Assessor Office. Maybe I should call them.

    I called the office a few days and received the same answer that I received from the Texas DMV: I didn’t turn over a title. I countered that I did and that California told me that Texas should give me a title. I was transferred me to the records department. I explained to the woman my dilemma again. She put me on hold while I looked through the records. She came back and said that the microfilm showed that I submitted a title and that I was owed a title. Never was I so grateful for such an old-fashioned technology like that microfilm. The woman said that the county would have to apply with the state and it would take a week for the state to issue the title.

    Finally, I can see an end to this mess.

    The county sent me a receipt in early October that confirmed that it had applied for my title. Texas issued the title on Oct. 6 and arrived in my mailbox on Oct. 12. I was so relieved to see that piece of paper in my mailbox. I turned over the title and bill of sale to the religious order on Oct. 14. The only car I had ever owned was no longer mine.

    A few weeks later, I was given a check for the car. The guys were joking that I could take everyone out for ice cream. But I immediately cut a check to pay off my last debt. A game of phone tag ensued with Geico to end my auto insurance. But I managed to cancel it and receive a refund.

    The RAV4 spent a week at the mechanic for repairs. It returned with new plates. All my stuff in the car was returned to me. Once and a while, I would drive it and feel that I still own it. But it’s just a 12-year-old car, bereft of any personal touches.

Morals of the story

  1. If any clerk says that you won’t receive a copy of the title, demand a copy of the title.
  2. If you feel that you’re in a bind, ask for Mary’s help. She will help you as if you’re her only child because you’re part of Jesus, her only child. (Some might dispute these last words. I’ll save my arguments over that topic for another blog entry.)

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