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Selling a vehicle? Gephardt reveals common misstep that could leave you in a legal lurch

People sell vehicles all the time: cars, RVs, trucks, and boats but there is an important step a lot of sellers may not know about and if you miss it, it could leave you owing somebody else’s bill. (Tanner Siegworth, KSL TV)


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LAYTON — People sell vehicles all the time: cars, RVs, trucks, and boats. But there is an important step a lot of sellers may not know about and if you miss it, it could leave you owing somebody else's bill.

"My husband and I sold a boat," Jennifer Ericksen told KSL-TV about the old jalopy of a boat that had been gathering dust on the side of her house.

The Ericksens just wanted it gone.

"Basically, giving it away for $1," she said.

It sold quickly and the new owner towed it off. A few months later, Ericksen received a certified letter from a towing company.

"The boat had been impounded and that we would now need to pay the impound fees to get this free boat out," she explained.

She called the tow yard and was told the boat was still registered in her name. The guy who bought it never bothered to get new tags in his name. When Ericksen told the tow yard she had no intention of paying for a boat she had sold, she said the person on the phone threatened to take her to court.

"Essentially, they just told me that they would let the judge decide," she said.

With that, Ericksen decided it was time to call the KSL Investigators.

We reached out to the company that towed her boat. They did not want to talk on camera but told us by phone that they did a job, towing an illegally parked vehicle, and they deserve to be paid for it. The company said it is now going through legal channels to get what is owed to them.

To be clear, the tow company did exactly what it is supposed to do – search the VIN or registration, then contact the last registered owner by a certified letter. That is the law! Could Ericksen be on the hook for a vehicle towed after she sold it off?

Monte Roberts, the division director of Utah's Department of Motor Vehicles, believes since Ericksen has proof — a bill of sale showing she sold the boat — she probably will not ultimately be on the hook for the impound fees. However, a lot of sellers, especially those who make a handshake deal, could be forced to pay.

"I think if you've got documentation to demonstrate that you actually did it (sold the vehicle), you should be fine," said Roberts. "But again, it's just the hassle of having to go through all that work."

Work. As in, having to fight the bill for impound and towing fees. It is a fight that could have been avoided if Ericksen had taken one simple step when she sold the boat. Roberts said she should have reported the boat sold to the DMV and canceled the registration.

"Just by taking the license plate off, I think people think that they've done what they're supposed to," said Roberts. "But technically, the vehicle is still registered in their name."

The DMV does not have exact numbers on how many vehicles are sold but not reregistered, but the agency said Ericksen certainly is not the first victim, nor will she be the last.

As for Ericksen, she is glad to know that she likely will not owe this bill, and she hopes her experience helps KSL-TV viewers avoid a similar headache when they sell an old boat or car taking up space in their driveway.

"I want people to know that this is a problem," she said. "And if they're (buyers) not going to register it, then they can use that vehicle and I have the liability for it. So, I want people to know that when you sell a vehicle or give one away, any kind of watercraft, anything that is registered with the DMV, you absolutely have to call and cancel that registration."

When a vehicle is impounded and nobody claims it, the tow company gets to keep it. They can turn around and sell it to try and recoup the money they are owed for the tow and impound fees.

Photos

Matt Gephardt
Sloan Schrage

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