When most people trade in their car they don't often think about their old license plates. Part of those "title and tag fees" that customers pay are supposed to go to the paperwork processing of sending back the old tags and getting new ones. However, sometimes your old tags can get lost in the shuffle and could have some consequences that could cost you-
In April, four months after trading in the car with the plate, Gibat got an $80 ticket in the mail for running a red light in Nassau County, N.Y. He hadn't run the light, but a car with his old license plate had and he got the ticket because the plate still was in his name. Gibat believed that car was his old car and he suspected it had been re-sold with the plate on it, prompting him to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and contact the Watchdog.
My investigation put the red light on that theory but raised new concerns.
The citation he got in the mail included photos taken by a red-light camera. They show his plate on a black Nissan sedan. Gibat had traded in a black Nissan Altima, so I can understand why he suspected it was his car. But since the citation doesn't include additional information such as a vehicle identification number, he couldn't be sure.
The red-light camera photos also can be seen online through Nassau County. I took a look at those last week. Those photos are larger and clearer and show the vehicle that blew through the light was a black Nissan Maxima, not an Altima.
The question now is how his plate got on that car.
"That's even weirder," said Gibat, of Hanover Township, Northampton County.
Paul Goodwin, Vinart's general manager, told me he didn't know.
"Somewhere along the line, this plate got misplaced, lost, stolen, I'm not certain to what, and ended up in the hands of somebody up in New York," he said.
Goodwin told me it is the vehicle owner's responsibility to retain custody of a license plate and to return the plate to the state if it no longer is needed. State Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jan McKnight confirmed that but also said a dealer should return a plate to the state if it's left on a trade-in.
Mr. Gibat is still in a legal mess with his citation, his appeal has been denied and now he is looking to hire an attorney. Now the vast majority of dealerships handle these license plate transactions on a daily basis without any issues. You turn your old car in, they remove the tags and send them to the DMV. Then in a few weeks you are issued new ones. However, if the dealership recommends you remove the tags, or you suspect that the establishment might not be trustworthy in this regard, taking a few minutes to remove your tags and dropping them off yourself might be a good move.
I'm Tom and I run AutomatchConsulting.com; I also write articles about car buying. If you have any questions about the car-buying process feel free to drop me a line in the comments or find me on Twitter @AutomatchTom and Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting