Judge Rules that disgruntled ex-wife can sell husband’s rare 1968 Camaro

October 26, 2015 · Posted in News, Uncategorized · Comments Off on Judge Rules that disgruntled ex-wife can sell husband’s rare 1968 Camaro 

Pottsville, Pennsylvania – Vintage Car Law and Bryan W. Shook, Esquire where recently successful in defending and proving the title to a rare 1968 Chevrolet Camaro Rally Sport.  Bryan W. Shook, Esquire acted as lead trial counsel to the buyer of the rare 1968 Camaro.  The buyer purchased the Camaro from the ex-wife of the last titled owner.  When the husband found out his Camaro had been sold he sought to get the car back.  Attorney Shook petitioned the Court of Common Pleas of Schuylkill County for an order declaring that his client was the sole lawful owner of the Camaro and to extinguish any claim the husband may have to the car.  The court ruled that the wife had the power to sell the car even though she did not have the Certificate of Title in her name.  The Court’s Opinion can be found here – Judge Rules that disgruntled ex-wife can sell husband’s 1968 Camaro.

Bryan W. Shook, Esquire is the principal of Vintage Car Law  Attorney Bryan Shook has helped hundreds of Pennsylvania residents properly title their antique and collector cars through petitioning the Courts.  If you would like information on how Attorney Shook can help you get a title to your antique or collector car please email him at bshook@shooklegal.com.

Insist upon viewing the dossier when considering an antique or collector car

April 16, 2014 · Posted in News · Comments Off on Insist upon viewing the dossier when considering an antique or collector car 

Importance of Pedigree, Provenance and Continuous History

In our previous article, The Economics of Car Valuations, we discussed some of the factors, generally, that drive the values of antique and collector vehicles. The present article highlights the importance of establishing, maintaining and proving the pedigree, provenance and continuous history of your collector car and assembling such in the vehicle’s dossier (i.e. file of records concerning the vehicle).

If you look at the cars that sell at the top of the market, they all have one thing in common; a noted history that is clear and transparent. In the collector car market, investors and hobbyists have a choice as to what car they buy. While it is true that they will usually buy the prettiest and most correct example that they can afford, they will also weigh the vehicle’s history. A vehicle’s history has always played a role in the value of the vehicle, but it has only been as of late that the vehicle’s history has played a tremendous role in the value of antique and collector vehicles.

If you are looking to purchase an antique car or expensive collector car insist on viewing the dossier which should include records, names of previous owners and services and restorations that the vehicle received.

If you are looking to sell your antique or collector car then it is incumbent upon you to document your vehicle and create the type of dossier of records that the buyers today are insisting upon.

What should be in the dossier?

At a minimum, the dossier should include a sheet of paper listing all of the important production notes and numbers of the vehicle. Ideally, there would be a binder or computer file containing photographs and narrative decoding of the various components and numbers on the vehicle. The file may also include pre-restoration photographs as well as restoration photographs and photographs of the vehicle with awards it has earned or notable places where it has been invited or displayed. Receipts and notes concerning the service performed on the vehicle should be included as should any affidavits of former owners.

The area in which most dossiers are deficient is with respect to historical documents, previous ownership and service records and notes. Attention to this subject is most important. Every vehicle has a story to tell, it is your job as the vehicle’s current custodian/caretaker to preserve that story for future generations. That is, in a sense what the dossier is, is it not?

Continuous History

The notion of Continuous History was first announced by Mr. Justice Otton in the case of Old Bentley Number One (Hubbard vs. Middlebridge Scimitar Ltd.) in the High Court of Justice – Queen’s Bench Division, Royal Courts of Justice, London in 1990. From that day forth in 1990, it became clear to everyone involved with Bentley Speed Sixes, in order for a car offered for sale to be described as a Speed Six, it was now essential that the vehicle be accompanied by a continuous history.

What is continuous history when it comes to antique and collector vehicles?

Continuous history is, according to the Courts in London, a full, unbroken and authentic set of documents which identify in a reliable manner who has owned the car, the uses that it has been put to and a description of its service history and any restoration, rebuilding or reconstruction work that the car has experienced throughout its life since originally leaving the factory.

The case of Brewer v. Mann ([2010] EWHC 2444 (QB)) demonstrated why continuous history documentation of a Bentley Speed Six is so important, however the importance was transportable to all other antique and collector cars. In Brewer v. Mann, the car had two significant features (or flaws) that made it essential for the description to be more detailed than simply stating that the car was a Speed Six car. These features (or flaws) were that the engine was not a Speed Six engine (i.e. non original engine) and the only surviving part of the original car was a small section of the chassis. There was also a lack of a continuous history for the years between 1930 and 1981 even though, during that period, the car had been completely reconstructed. Thus, there was no way that the car could be authenticated as a Speed Six or, indeed as a vintage Bentley.

In consequence, it was particularly important that the contractual description accurately described all the significant changes that occurred during the car’s lifetime and the seller found some way in which to authenticate those changes or stated in the description that they were not capable of being supported by a continuous history. The need for full documentary evidence of the relevant history of a Speed Six or any other collector vehicle is highlighted by the increased valuation placed upon the vehicle by auction goers and appraisers.

In sum, it is crucial that collector car owners establish dossiers for the cars they own and insist upon reviewing the dossier for cars that they are considering purchasing. Ultimately, the industry and all collectors should strive to have a documented continuous history for every collector car, no matter the importance or perceived value 0f that particular car.

Attorney Bryan W. Shook is not only a devoted automotive enthusiast, but is also an experience litigator who devotes a large portion of his law practice to helping other collectors and hobbyists understand today’s market and protect their automotive investments. Attorney Bryan W. Shook is a seasoned automotive collector and restorer and as such brings real world experience and firsthand knowledge to the table for his clients throughout the world. Although Bryan Shook is headquartered in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania (close proximity to Carlisle and Hershey), Attorney Bryan Shook is available anywhere for consultation, advice, and information, most times, on as short as a day’s notice. If you’d like more information about this topic or would like to speak with Attorney Bryan W. Shook please email him at BShook@shooklegal.com or by phone at 717-884-9010.  More information can be found at Http://www.vintagecarlaw.com.

Collector Car Market Experiences Billion Dollar Growth over last 10 years

April 16, 2014 · Posted in News · Comments Off on Collector Car Market Experiences Billion Dollar Growth over last 10 years 

Choosing the Right Legal Counsel Makes All the Difference

The collector car insurance company Hagerty Insurance is reporting that the collector car auction business in the United States is now a billion dollar business.  Reports suggest that the total gross auction sales in 2013 eclipsed $1,300,000,000.00 ($1.3 Billion) according to Hagerty.  Hagerty comparatively notes that in 2004 the figure was around $282,000,000.00 ($282 Million).  This is a billion dollar growth in the United States collector car auction market in ten short years! As Hagerty and other news outlets note, this growth is not simply confined to the United States, but the world-wide collector car market has soared similarly over the same time-period.

With this type of unprecedented growth within the collector car market, hobbyists, collectors and car investors need to be more vigilant than ever to protect their investments and their collections.  The market is ripe for fraud, misrepresentations and other nefarious actions, including ownership disputes and estate or probate litigation.  If you, unfortunately, find yourself on the cusp of a dispute or hauled into court or other legal tribunal over the title, ownership, pedigree, provenance or history of an antique or classic car or collectible, you must be prepared to present your side of the story in an intelligible, persuasive and cogent manner.  You would be best served by employing an attorney who fully understands the issues you face and the collector car market and car auction industry.

The handling of a legal matter concerning an antique or collector car is markedly different than other types of legal matters.  In the collector car hobby there are “terms of art” (i.e. trim tag, restamp, NOS, NOM, matching numbers, etc.) that must be defined for the Court in order for your position to be argued effectively.  Furthermore, many times it will not simply be enough to define the term, but rather the term itself and its application to the facts of the case are what the case’s ultimate determination may turn upon.  This is where it pays to hire an attorney who not only “speaks your language” but also knows how the frauds are perpetrated and how to persuasively represent your position to the Court or Jury.

Ultimately, collectors must be hypervigilant in the current market and careful to employ the right legal counsel and other professionals with respect to their dealings, collections, and businesses.  The market is constantly changing, not only in its growth but also in its technicalities and breadth, a collector’s diligence is of paramount importance.

Bryan W. Shook, Esquire is an attorney in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania whose practice areas include vehicle fraud, dealership fraud, VIN matters, title fraud, VIN error, estate ownership questions and general collector car problem resolution.  Attorney Bryan W. Shook is not only a devoted automotive enthusiast, but is also an experience litigator who devotes a large portion of his law practice to helping other collectors and hobbyists understand today’s market and protect their automotive investments.

Attorney Bryan W. Shook is not only a devoted automotive enthusiast, but is also an experience litigator who devotes a large portion of his law practice to helping other collectors and hobbyists understand today’s market and protect their automotive investments. Attorney Bryan W. Shook is a seasoned automotive collector and restorer and as such brings real world experience and firsthand knowledge to the table for his clients throughout the world. Although Bryan Shook is headquartered in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania (close proximity to Carlisle and Hershey), Attorney Bryan Shook is available anywhere for consultation, advice, and information, most times, on as short as a day’s notice. If you’d like more information about this topic or would like to speak with Attorney Bryan W. Shook please email him at BShook@shooklegal.com or by phone at 717-884-9010.  More information can be found at Http://www.vintagecarlaw.com.

Vehicle Identification Numbers

October 2, 2013 · Posted in News · Comments Off on Vehicle Identification Numbers 

Vehicle Identification Numbers

(What are they; where are they found and why are they important?)

 What is a Vehicle Identification Number?

A Vehicle Identification Number also commonly known by its acronym “VIN” is the unique identifying serial number of a motor vehicle.  Manufacturers of vehicle have assigned unique identifying numbers to their vehicles since the dawn of the automobiles however early forms of vehicle identification numbers were usually very short (three of four numbers) and usually found stamped in the engine block or on a small brass plate on the frame of body of the vehicle.  The process of identifying vehicles by their engine numbers started early on but a problem quickly arose when an engine had to be replaced.  This problem however was not rectified until approximately 1954.  Starting in approximately 1955 US auto manufacturers began using unique Vehicle Identification Numbers to uniquely identify all US built automobiles.  The compelling force behind this change in practice was a desire to work with law enforcement and state’s DMVs to reduce the amount and opportunity for VIN fraud and stolen vehicle trafficking.   Prior to 1954, vehicles were identified by body number, chassis number, serial number or engine number.  One can imagine how confusing this would have been and how great the potential for fraud would have been.

A VIN is the DNA of a vehicle, that is to say it is the unique identifier of every vehicle.  The VIN is the number by which s vehicle is registered and titled.  Decoding a VIN can tell you many things including when the vehicle was built, the model of the vehicle, the assembly plant and possibly even the original engine displacement.  Since a VIN plays such an important role in the identity of a vehicle, much fraud has arisen over the years surrounding VINs.

Where are VINs located and how can I tell if the VIN on my car is the correct VIN?

Since the beginnings of automotive production the engines, bodies and usually the frames of vehicles have been assigned identification numbers usually in a serialized fashion.  Beginning with the 1970 model year, nearly all vehicles produced for sale in the United States have had the VIN placed in at least three distinct locations.

  • Public VIN (since January 1, 1968 visible through the windshield)

In the United States, the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 (effective January 1, 1968) mandated certain safety requirements on vehicles to be sold in the USA such as side marker lights, safety belts and Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) visible on the dash through the windshield.  This is VIN location has come to be known as the “public VIN” and is probably the VIN that you are most familiar with.

  • Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards Certification Sticker (since August 31, 1969 found in the door jamb or on the door)

Starting with all vehicles manufactured after August 31, 1969, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (“FMVSS”) certification sticker was required to be affixed to the vehicle which also included the VIN of the vehicle.  Effective January 1, 1972, the sticker also had to include gross vehicle weight (“GVWR”) information on the certification label.  On Chevrolet models from the 1970s, this sticker is blue and is found on the driver’s door.

  • Hidden or Confidential VIN

VINs have been stamped into frames of vehicles for many years, however the process became more uniform starting approximately during the 1968 model year. The VIN was stamped into various metal objects on the vehicle, including the frame, the body, the engine, transmission and other places.  The VIN on the frame or the body became known as the Hidden VIN, the Confidential VIN or the Federal VIN.  This number is usually not a full, complete VIN but a derivative thereof.  The sequential production number of the hidden VIN should match the sequential production number (the last five or six digits) of the Public VIN and if the vehicle was produced after August 31, 1969, the FMVSS certification sticker.  The VIN on the engine and transmission would have also been a derivative of the VIN and it too should match the Public VIN provided that the engine and/or transmission is original.

Why are VINs so important?

A vehicle’s identification number is very important as it is the only unique identifier a vehicle possesses and accordingly its integrity and validity must be established and preserved.  This is especially true with collectible vehicles given their inherent and actual values.  When you look a vehicle for potential purchase, you must view the VIN in as many of the locations as you reasonable are able to view it.  Start with the public VIN and see if it is consistent with other examples of the year, make and model; ensure that it has not been tampered with or affixed in such a way as to make it not appear as original.  If the public VIN is missing, loose or appears tampered with in any way, contact a marque specialist and attempt to locate the hidden or confidential VIN for the vehicle to ensure the public VIN is the proper VIN.

What if the Confidential VIN and the Public VIN do not match?

If the confidential VIN and the public VIN do not match, you have a major problem which needs to be addressed professionally and legally.  In short, if the public and confidential VINs contradict one another, you have an unsalable vehicle with a title defect; specifically you have a vehicle which purports to have two identities.  Common reasons for the two not to match are that the vehicle itself is stolen or was stolen or salvaged in the past and another VIN (a good clean VIN) was affixed in the public location to make the vehicle appear as though it was “clean” when in reality it was not.  Another reason for the two VINs not to match is that the vehicle was rebuilt from several other vehicles.  If a vehicle has been rebuilt and bears two VINs that can be a problem as this is the usual excuse that is given when a vehicle has been “re-tagged” to disguise a title problem or a former theft; much scrutiny must be employed in this instance.   When the Confidential VIN and the Public VIN do not match it may also be an instance of a “rebody”.  A “rebody” is a vehicle which has had the body replaced and the VIN of the original vehicle affixed to the “donor” body.  The legal issues surrounding rebodied vehicles are explored in another article.

Many laws have been enacted to protect the integrity of the VIN.  Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 511, the alteration of a VIN, could be a federal criminal offense.  Further, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2321 whoever buys, receives, possesses, or obtains control of, with intent to sell or otherwise dispose of, a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part, knowing that an identification number for such motor vehicle or part has been removed, obliterated, tampered with, or altered, could be fined or imprisoned for up to ten years.  Similarly, Pennsylvania’s statutes also address this matter.  Specifically, 18 P.S. § 1.4(a) states that a person who alters, counterfeits, defaces, destroys, disguises, falsifies, forges, obliterates or removes a vehicle identification number with the intent to conceal or misrepresent the identity or prevent the identification of a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part commits a felony of the third degree and, upon conviction, shall be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than seven years or a fine of not more than $50,000.  Further, and most concerning is that pursuant to 18 P.S. § 1.4(b) any person who purchases, receives, disposes, sells, transfers or possesses a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part with knowledge that the vehicle identification number of the motor vehicle or motor vehicle part has been altered, counterfeited, defaced, destroyed, disguised, falsified, forged, obliterated or removed with the intent to conceal or misrepresent the identity or prevent the identification of a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part commits a felony of the third degree and, upon conviction, shall be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than seven years or a fine of not more than $50,000, or both.

In laymen’s terms the VIN of a vehicle must be preserved and protected and if you are in possession of a vehicle with a VIN or VIN tag or VIN plate which has been altered, removed and replaced or otherwise tampered with you could face serious civil and criminal offenses.  The best advice is to contact an attorney at once who can analyze your situation and assist you with identifying your legal options.

Attorney Bryan W. Shook is not only a devoted automotive enthusiast, but is also an experience litigator who devotes a large portion of his law practice to helping other collectors and hobbyists understand today’s market and protect their automotive investments. Attorney Bryan W. Shook is a seasoned automotive collector and restorer and as such brings real world experience and firsthand knowledge to the table for his clients throughout the world. Although Bryan Shook is headquartered in  central Pennsylvania (close proximity to Carlisle and Hershey), Attorney Bryan Shook is available anywhere for consultation, advice, and information, most times, on as short as a day’s notice. If you’d like more information about this topic or would like to speak with Attorney Bryan W. Shook please email him at BShook@shooklegal or by phone at 717-884-9010.  More information can be found at Http://www.vintagecarlaw.com.

Rebodied Cars … what to do …

June 29, 2012 · Posted in News · Comments Off on Rebodied Cars … what to do … 

Rebodies:
What’s the big deal???

(By: Bryan W. Shook, Esquire)

BShook@shooklegal.com

717-884-9010

I’ve been getting quite a few calls lately seeking information on re-bodied vehicles.  The term “rebody” is a term of art used throughout our hobby to denote a vehicle whose original factory body has been replaced with another “donor” body.  The donor body is then given the original body’s VIN, serial number, data card, trim tag, cowl tag, etc. and then usually and most unfortunately sold to an unsuspecting buyer as the original, real deal automobile.  This problem is complicated when the rebodied car is an “air car” which did not exist prior to the rebody.  Specifically what happens is someone dreams up a car or has the paperwork from a desirable car and makes it from “thin air” using the donor body as the starting point.  All of a sudden, the car has pedigree, provenance and history if the builder can dream up a good enough story.  This is problematic as you can plainly see.

There are several legal issues when it comes to a rebodied automobile.  The most important issue is whether or not the rebody was disclosed to you when you purchased the vehicle.  If the rebody was not disclosed to you how can it be said you negotiated with the seller on equal footing.  Another issue comes from the fact that rarely are rebodys done properly.  Were the police notified of the body replacement as required under some state laws?  Did the seller give you two Certificates of Titles?  (Remember the best bodies come from good cars and in today’s day and age, good cars get restored … was the body stolen and the subject vehicle the product of a “chop shop”)  Did the seller give you photographs of the original body to evidence the condition of the original body?  Do you have confirmation that the original body has been destroyed? (This is usually where the State Police come in as this is where the stories start about two cars registered under the same VIN)

Without the safeguards outlined above, you can never been shore that the vehicle you purchased truly belongs to you.  Under the law you would have a breach of the warranty of title claim if any third party were to ever come after you claiming you own the body to their car.  The problem is  that if you know the car has been rebodied and you can’t provide the above information to a new purchaser you could be just as liable as the seller who sold the car to you should you not disclose what you know to a prospective purchaser.

If you have a rebodied car or think you do, this is a serious matter.  Rebodied cars can be nearly unsaleable and always have questions.  There was way to rectify the situation and there are ways to unwind the transaction which unknowingly left you with the rebody.  In any event, please call me and we can discuss your options and to what extent your car may have been rebodied.

Attorney Bryan W. Shook is not only a devoted automotive enthusiast, but is also an experience litigator who devotes a large portion of his law practice to helping other collectors and hobbyists understand today’s market and protect their automotive investments. Attorney Bryan W. Shook is a seasoned automotive collector and restorer and as such brings real world experience and firsthand knowledge to the table for his clients throughout the world. Although Bryan Shook is headquartered in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania (close proximity to Carlisle and Hershey), Attorney Bryan Shook is available anywhere for consultation, advice, and information, most times, on as short as a day’s notice. If you’d like more information about this topic or would like to speak with Attorney Bryan W. Shook please email him at bshook@shooklegal.com or by phone at 717-884-9010.  More information can be found at Http://www.vintagecarlaw.com.

Bid with Knowledge; Buy with Confidence – Vintage Car Law

The Status of Vehicle Titles in Pennsylvania

January 17, 2011 · Posted in News · Comments Off on The Status of Vehicle Titles in Pennsylvania 

The Status of Vehicle Titles in Pennsylvania

By:   Bryan W. Shook, Esquire

bshook@shooklegal.com

BUYING A VEHICLE WITHOUT A TITLE

 In the realm of car collecting, one thing can cloud a bargain more than anything else, a vehicle with no title.  The statement “no title” or “sold on bill of sale only” is usually enough to make most potential purchasers turn and run, FAST.  But should it really scare us away? Perhaps, but not without good reason.

 A vehicle sold without a certificate of title is a vehicle sold with questions.

Before you purchase any vehicle without a title, you must ask yourself the following. 

  1. Why doesn’t the seller have a title to transfer to me?
  2. Is the vehicle listed in either the NMVTIS or the NICB VinCheckSM?
  3. How am I going to get a certificate of title in my name?

Why doesn’t the seller have a title to transfer to me?

The most obvious question is why does the seller not have a title to the vehicle?  There are many potential answers to this question that should be asked prior to negotiating for the purchase of this vehicle.

For instance, the vehicle could be missing its title because it was previously salvaged and somehow escaped destruction (i.e. crushing); or worse yet, the vehicle could be stolen.  These are reasons to RUN, FAST!!!

Often the case, however, is that the vehicle was abandoned, so to speak, by the last owner who held a certificate of title. This usually happened when the vehicle had fallen into such a state of disrepair that the condition and its value at the time made the title and registration of the vehicle a moot point.  Accordingly, whoever acquired the vehicle from the last person may not have requested a transfer of the title for these, or similar reasons.

The answer to this first question often tells you 90% of what you need to know.  Trust your instinct.  If the story sounds fishy or otherwise unbelievable; it probably is.

Is the vehicle listed in either the NMVTIS or the NICB VinCheckSM?

Before you purchase a vehicle without a title you should run the VIN through two sources.  The first is an initiative of the United States Department of Justice located at http://www.vehiclehistory.gov/ and known as the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS).  The NMVTIS is designed to thwart the registration of stolen vehicles and prevent title fraud.  An important note, however, when researching the NMVTIS for collector cars, is that the system is still in its infancy and relies upon information uploaded from individual states.  Results of the NMVTIS include where the vehicle was previously registered and if it has ever been reported stolen or had any other title issues in the past.  With respect to antique and other older collectible vehicles, it is possible that some “older” thefts may have slipped through the cracks. So, don’t rely too heavily on the results of the NMVTIS search if it comes back with no record found.  This is why it is important to also check the second source.

 The second source that should be checked is the National Crime Insurance Bureau’s (NCIB) VinCheckSM.   This database includes information regarding whether a vehicle has been reported stolen. The link to search the NCIB database is https://www.nicb.org/theft_and_fraud_awareness/vincheck .

 Importance of an Adequate Bill of Sale

 If you choose to go ahead with the purchase and buy the vehicle, it is highly recommended that you have the seller give you a bill of sale for the vehicle.  It is important that the bill of sale identify the vehicle by year, make, model and VIN.  The seller should state something to the effect that they are delivering you the absolute rights of possession and ownership of the vehicle.  The seller should also state that to the best of his/her knowledge the vehicle is not stolen and how they acquired the vehicle and from whom.  Of course the bill of sale should also indicate the date of the transaction and full contact information for both you and the seller.  This will ensure compliance with 13 Pa. C.S.A. § 2401 and will assist you in the acquisition of a certificate of title down the road.

 How am I going to get a certificate of title in my name?

The current laws in Pennsylvania contemplate only scenarios in which certificates of title are transferred with every vehicle transaction.  Therefore, by extension, the law fails to contemplate a scenario in which a person or entity would acquire a vehicle or vehicles for which no owner can produce and accordingly transfer a certificate of title. 

Similarly there appears to be no law, regulation or procedure, formally in place, for the motioning of the Court for a declaration of ownership of a motor vehicle so as to permit Penndot to issue a new certificate of title to memorialize the current owner and allow for registration of the automobile.  Further it is important to note that Penndot has unfortunately purged many of their old motor vehicle records, including ownership and registration records.  As a result, Penndot openly states that “[v]ehicle record information is available for the past 10 years only.”  Penndot Form DL-135 (Rev. 9-10).  Obviously this practice of record retention leaves open many scenarios whereby an owner cannot acquire a certificate title because Penndot has no record of ever issuing one.

What can be done to acquire a title?  One solution is to Petition the Court of Common Pleas in Pennsylvania.  Attorney Bryan Shook can assist you with this.  He can be reached at BShook@shooklegal.com.

Legal History Lesson:

Vehicle titles in Pennsylvania are often the most misunderstood aspect of vehicle ownership.  This is because of historically misinterpreted and misunderstood notions of what exactly constitutes “ownership” of a motor vehicle in Pennsylvania.

Under the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code, an “owner” is defined as:

A person, other than a lienholder, having the property right in or title to a vehicle. The term includes a person entitled to the use and possession of a vehicle subject to a security interest in another person, but excludes a lessee under a lease not intended as security.

75 Pa. C.S.A. § 102.

The Superior Court has described titles and ownership this way;

[i]n Braham & Co. v. Steinard-Hannon Motor Co., 97 Pa.Super. 19, 23 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1929), though it involved the interpretation of earlier legislation concerning motor vehicles, the following language of Judge, later President Judge, Keller is nonetheless pertinent and applicable to The Vehicle Code of the present day: ‘It is clear that the primary purpose of the Act of 1923, supra, was to protect the public against the theft of automobiles and their resale by the thief, and to facilitate the recovery of stolen automobiles. It was a police measure, and was not designed to establish the ownership or proprietorship of the car, * * *.’ And at page 25, of 97 Pa.Super. Judge Keller said: ‘It follows that the act does not provide nor intends to provide that the ‘certificate of title’ shall determine the absolute ownership of the car, or alter or affect in any manner the actual ownership of the vehicle and the relations of the persons interested in it. It only requires registration by the person entitled to its possession and in control of its operation. The certificate is not a warrant of ownership or muniment of title as usually understood in the law. It may be relevant evidence in establishing such title.

Weigelt v. Factors Credit Corp., 174 Pa.Super. 400, 404, 101 A.2d 404, 406 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1954)

The idea that a vehicle may have both a legal and an equitable owner was recognized by the Commonwealth Court in Dept. of Trans. v. Walker, 136 Pa.Cmwlth. 704, 584 A.2d 1080 (1990).  The Court in Walker stated that “[i]t follows that Section 102 of the [Vehicle] Code does not provide nor intend to provide that title to a motor vehicle shall determine absolute ownership of such. In fact, our research reveals that in Pennsylvania, the certificate of title constitutes no more than some evidence of ownership.”  Id., 584 A.2d at 1082, citing Semple v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., 215 F.Supp. 645 (E.D.Pa.1963). See also Aetna Casualty & Surety Co. v. Duncan, 972 F.2d 523 (3d Cir.1992) (under Pennsylvania law, a state-issued certificate of title is in no way controlling on the question of ownership).

The courts of Pennsylvania look to see who it is that in fact possesses the attributes commonly associated with ownership.  Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., at 526.    The elements of ownership that Pennsylvania looks at are the elements of use, benefit, possession, control, responsibility for, and disposition of the automobile.  Wasilko v. Home Mut. Cas. Co., 210 Pa.Super. 322, 326, 232 A.2d 60, 62 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1967).

Conclusion

In summation, although you may not have received an actual certificate of title when you purchased your vehicle, you still most likely own the vehicle.  This is barring any type of theft in the vehicle’s past or another “owner” stepping in and challenging your interest while asserting that their interest is legally better than yours. 

With this in mind, the motioning of the Courts for a declaration that you are the owner of the vehicle, and therefore entitled to a certificate of title from Penndot is often your best bet in getting the vehicle properly titled and on the road.  The declaration of ownership is possible if you have actual legal ownership of the vehicle.  The court will, to the extent that it is able, extinguish the rights and interests of all others, whom you are able to find and notify of the proceedings, in the vehicle.  This will ultimately allow you to register and enjoy your vehicle without having the issue of not having a title hanging over your head and clouding your “ownership” of the vehicle.

Finally, always remember that a vehicle sold without a certificate of title is a vehicle sold with questions.  This, however, does not absolutely mean that the vehicle can never again be titled.  It does however underscore the need for the exercising of enhanced due diligence throughout the transaction.

The above information is in no way meant to be construed as anything more than general information.  The above information is not legal advice.  The author encourages you to seek the help of an attorney any time you are contemplating the purchase of a vehicle without a certificate of title.  Further THE AUTHOR ASSUMES NO RESPONSIBILITY AND ACCEPTS NO LIABILITY FOR ACTIONS TAKEN BY USERS OR READERS OF THIS DOCUMENT, INCLUDING RELIANCE ON ITS CONTENTS.  It is strongly encouraged that you seek legal counsel for all matters related to a collector or antique vehicle purchase given the amount of money involved and the rarity of the vehicles.  This information is not intended nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. 

This page includes links for your assistance only.  This page is in no way associated with the NCIB page or the NMVTIS. 

Bryan W. Shook, Esquire is a devoted automobile enthusiast.  Attorney Shook would be glad to help you with any vehicle title issues you may have including lost titles, no titles, bill of sale transactions, etc.  Attorney Shook is a collector and as a collector knows the ins and outs of the hobby, let Attorney Shook’s legal knowledge of the collector car hobby work for you.  Attorney Bryan Shook can be reached at 717-884-9010 or by email at BShook@shooklegal.com.  For more information – http://www.vintagecarlaw.com.