Texas Vehicle Identification Numbers
Where do you get a VIN check in the state of Texas?
The state of Texas Department of Motor Vehicles has a Vehicle Check page which directs users to one of the search pages for the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, one of the largest databases for cars which have been in junk yards or salvage yards in the country. Places like this are often easy prey for thieves to steal VIN numbers from cars which have been destroyed. Therefore, they are more heavily regulated by the government and the data to be reported is mandated, including:
- The name, address, and contact information for the reporting entity;
- The VIN;
- The date the automobile was obtained;
- The name of the person or entity from whom the automobile was obtained;
- A statement of whether the automobile was crushed or disposed of, or offered for sale or other purposes; and
- Whether the vehicle is to be exported out of the country.
The public doesn’t have access to the NMVTIS database, but they contract with other providers so that you can get the same information. Although none is specifically endorsed by the state of Tennessee, there are many places on the Internet to get a full National Motor Vehicle Title Information System report:
- www.titlecheck.us; and
The National Insurance Crime Bureau is another free database and they recommend VINcheck to check a VIN number. VINcheck will tell you if a car has been reported stolen and has not been recovered.
You should also purchase a motor vehicle history and title report which includes the following information:
- Current State of Title Information;
- Historical Title Information;
- Disclosure of Brand History on Title:
- Odometer Rollback
- 61 Possible Problem Events.
- Odometer Information – when a car registration is performed in Tennessee an odometer reading is taken. A vehicle history report includes this reading;
- Information on Previous Accidents – an LA vehicle history check contains accident-related information. If a vehicle has been in an accident it may affect the life and/or the safety of a vehicle;
- Open Lien/Loan Information Including: Issuing Financial Institution – if there are any liens or loans against the vehicle then upon purchasing the car you assume the responsibility for those liens. In some states, debts such as child support can also be tied to the car, therefore, it is imperative that you make sure there are no outstanding liens against the car that you are purchasing;
- Impound & Towing Events; and
- Active Theft Data.
Texas is also a state which keeps track of liens on vehicles by using Electronic Lien Titles or ELTs. When a lien is payed off the lienholder has ten (10) days after receipt of payment to release the lien and will then send an electronic transaction to the Texas DMV with the name and address of the dealer. The DMV will remove the lien and mail the title to the dealer. For those who are downloading the forms for titles, you should download Form 130-U and determine if your customer’s lienholder is an ELT participant and prefers e-Titles.
Other forms that are needed in Texas when registering and titling a vehicle include:
- Application for Texas Title and/or Registration;
- Detailed Instructions for Application for Texas Title and/or Registration;
- Repossessed Motor Vehicle Affidavit;
- Prescribed Form for Release of Lien;
- Additional Liens Statement;
- Limited Power of Attorney for Eligible Motor Vehicle Transactions
To find out if your vehicle has been the part of a manufacturer’s recall you check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website.
You can file a complaint to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles online or call (888) 368-4689 for further information or assistance.
Why are VIN checks so important in Texas?
VIN fraud is illegal and is a felony in both the state of Texas and in the United States, and this includes when the VIN is removed during the restoration of a car. One of the best ways to not become the victim of vehicle fraud is to obtain a Vehicle History Report, which will include information such as:
- Information on the past owners, including:
- The number of owners the car has had; and
- The odometer readings at the time of each change in ownership.
- Whether there are liens on the vehicle – if you purchase a vehicle which has liens against it then you may be unwittingly assuming those loans when you buy the vehicle. This can even include liens such as child support which are tied to the owner of the car and not to the car itself;
- Brand History – such as if the car was every used as a police car or a taxi;
- Title and accident history – this will usually include any accident reports, information regarding whether the car was involved in a flood, whether the car has been in a salvage yard, and will also tell you the name of the legal owner of the car;
- Odometer settings and rollback alerts – sellers of cars have been known to “rollback” the numbers on the odometer so that the car appears to have lower mileage which increases the value of the car; and
- “Lemon” determination – a VIN check will alert you if your car has been deemed a “lemon” and been repurchased by the manufacturer.
Some VIN checks may even tell you information as specific as the dates of servicing of the vehicle or if it has previously been sold at an auction.
If you suspect that you have been a victim of fraud, you should contact the National Insurance Crime Bureau by:
- Text the keyword “FRAUD” to TIP411;
- Call 800-TEL-NICB;
- Fill out an online form.
If you have a complaint against a motor vehicle dealer’s sales practices, please fill out the form for the Motor Dealer Online Complaint System or call 888-368-4689.
Lemon Law in Texas
The lemon law in the State of Texas are found in the Texas Rev. Civ. Stat. Ann. Title 14, §§ 2301.001 et seq. The lemon law in Texas covers any “motor vehicle”, defined as:
- Every fully self-propelled vehicle with two wheels or more and has a primary purpose of transporting persons or property on a public highway;
- Every fully self-propelled, titled vehicle with two or more wheels and has as a primary purpose of off-road transportation of persons or property;
- An engine, transmission, or rear axle (be it attached to a rear axle or not) which is manufactured for the installation in a vehicle which primary purpose is the transport of persons or property on a public highway, and having a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 16,000 pounds; and
- A towable recreational vehicle.
The law does apply to vehicle converters.
Texas’s Lemon Law covers consumers who fall into one of these categories:
- A person who buys a motor vehicle from a Texas dealer and who is entitled to enforce the terms of the manufacturer’s warranty;
- The lessor or lessee, not to include a sublessee, who purchased or leased a motor vehicle from a Texas dealer or lessor; or
- The transferee or assignee of a retail purchaser, lessor or lessee, as long as the transferee or assignee is a resident of Texas and is entitled to enforce the terms of the manufacturer’s warranty.
The lemon law is for vehicles which have been purchased or leased new and it develops a defect or a condition that substantially impairs the motor vehicle’s use, market value, or safety. This is called a nonconformity, and the state of Texas has determined that the nonconformity must continue to exist for the car to be considered a lemon.
Vehicles which are not covered by the Lemon Law include those which:
- The problems or issues with the vehicle do not impact the vehicle’s use or its value; and
- The problem is a result of neglect, abuse, or unauthorized vehicle alterations.
For a vehicle to be covered, Texas has established a term of protection which states that a proceeding must begin within six (6) months following the earlier of the:
- Expiration of the Express Warranty Term; or
- 24 months, or 24,000 miles following the date of the original delivery of the vehicle to the consumer.
To qualify as a lemon in the state of Texas, the vehicle must have a defect which is covered by the warranty that:
- The manufacturer has made at least four (4) attempts to repair by the manufacturer, converter, distributor, or any of their agents or dealers. Two of the repair attempts must be made within twelve (12) months or 12,000 miles, whichever occurs first, following the original date of delivery of the vehicle to the consumer. The other two (2) attempts must be made within twelve (12) months or 12,000 miles, whichever occurs first, immediately following the date of the second repair attempt;
- The same nonconformity creates a serious safety hazard which continues to exist after being subject to repair two or more times by the manufacturer, converter, distributor, or any of their franchised dealers. One attempt to repair must be made within twelve (12) months or 12,000 miles, whichever occurs first, following the date of original delivery of the vehicle to the consumer. At least one other attempt must be made within twelve (12) months or 12,000 miles, whichever comes first, after the first repair attempt:
- A nonconformity which substantially impairs the vehicle’s use or market value still exists and the vehicle is out of service for reasons of repair for a cumulative total of thirty (30) or more days within the original 24 months or 24,000 miles, whichever comes first, following the date of original delivery to the customer. At least two repair attempts must be made within the first twelve (12) months or 12,000 miles following the date or original delivery to the consumer.
This is what is called the “Manufacturer’s Duty to Repair or Replace” and under the Texas law if the manufacturer or its authorized dealer has been unable to repair the defect after a reasonable number of attempts during the term of protection (which is defined above) then you may have the right to a manufacturer’s arbitration program or court for a lemon law claim.
Once you realize that your car has a continuous problem and that attempts to fix it have been unsuccessful, you should contact the manufacturer or the authorized retailer via certified mail with return receipt and specifically state that your car is a lemon and that you want a refund or a replacement under Texas’s Lemon Law. This is a necessary step as it:
- Informs the company that there is a problem and that it is serious and allows the company an opportunity to fix the defect (after the certified letter the manufacturer gets one more chance to fix the problem); and
- Informs the company that you will be using the lemon law if the defect is not properly repaired.
Arbitration in Texas – Office of Administrative Hearings
In most states, the Better Business Bureau handles many of the informal dispute settlement procedures; however, that does not appear to be the case in the state of Texas. In Texas, the process is described as “simple, easy-to-follow, and includes the following:”
- The consumer should file a Lemon Law complaint along with a $35 filing fee and provides notice of the complaint with a final opportunity to repair to the applicable manufacturer;
- The fastest way to do this is to use the Motor Vehicle Dealer Online Complaint System by using the form below or by calling the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles at (888) 368-4689 or you should consult your attorney;
- The complaint is reviewed by the Lemon Law Section administrative staff and the assigned TxDMV staff case advisor who will review the case for completeness and eligibility, and an attempt to resolve the complaint through mediation between the two parties will be made;
- If unresolved, the matter will be referred for a hearing before an assigned hearing examiner where both parties will be able to present their case. This is handled through the Office of Administrative Hearings Department;
- The hearing examiner will issue a final written decision within 60 days after the end of the hearing; and
- Either party can challenge the decision of the Office of Administrative Hearings by filing a motion for rehearing with the TxDMV. If still dissatisfied, the party may file an appeal with a state district court in Travis County, Texas. (Travis County is the county where Austin, Texas, the capitol, is located.)
This is a far different procedure than most states which use the Better Business Bureau Auto Line and is one which you should have an attorney.
Do you need to hire an attorney for a lemon law case in Texas?
Yes. In the state of Texas which appears to have far different requirements than other states, you should have an attorney. It is important to remember that the manufacturer of the car and the dealers will have legal experts on their side and you might want the same kind of expertise on your side. A lawyer will represent you in court, but they will also:
- Explain the lemon law in the state of Texas to you and help you to understand both the process and the possible outcomes;
- Help you to gather all the necessary documents;
- Help to ensure that the manufacturer is treating you fairly;
- Help save you time by handling the communication and other actions on your behalf; and
- Help you to navigate the courts and the legal terms.
You can ask friends or family if they know of any attorneys who specialize in lemon law cases or even ask attorneys if they know any attorneys who specialize in lemon law cases. Just as you wouldn’t want a family attorney to represent you in a criminal case, you don’t want an attorney who has no experience in lemon law cases. If you do not know any attorneys you can always contact the Texas State Bar.
Ideally, you are searching for an attorney who:
- Seek experienced attorneys – A Texas lawyer who specializes in lemon law cases will have specialized knowledge in relevant Texas laws and procedures;
- Comes highly recommended – ask for a recommendation from people you know who may have worked with lemon law lawyers before;
- Schedule a consultation – book a free consultation with a few lemon law attorneys so that you can learn more about them and their experience; and
- Ask about their fees – Make sure that you understand how much the attorney charges and when you will be expected to pay (up front, installments, after the case, or do they take the case on a contingency basis?)
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