By on January 22, 2013

Bryan writes:

A question I’d love to see posed to the Best and Brightest: What to do when you’re sent tickets for a car you’re not liable for?

I just got two tickets this morning, for parking infractions that occurred 9.5 years ago, under a previous owner of a car that I bought 9 years ago. I’m not going to pay them just to quell the payment demands, since I consider this extortion.

So, is it better for me to simply never acknowledge receipt of the tickets, since they’re not my liability? Or will that put a black mark on my credit rating? I’m concerned that trying to rationally explain things to the parking enforcement company will only get me stuck deeper in the problem – they don’t care about the truth, they just want to get paid.

This has happened to my parents twice before, so I think it’s a common problem – but I don’t know what the best thing to do is, and I’d love to see how the Best and Brightest have dealt with it.

Sajeev answers:

When can you ever ignore an infraction from a law enforcement organization?

Well, definitely not here. And it isn’t extortion, it’s a clerical error. Probably. Hopefully.

I had this problem with a car (Fox Body, ‘natch) I once sold, as I never filled out some paperwork with TxDOT that officially released the vehicle from my name. And the kid that bought it? He decided to run it up and down the Sam Houston Tollway with my license plates.  So some official TxDOT paperwork sent to the billing peeps at the Tollway cleared it up.

More important point: depending on the people behind those tickets, yes, it very well could hurt your credit rating via collection agency.  You need to show proof of ownership (title transfer docs, etc.) and discuss it with the parking enforcement people.  If you still think they aren’t playing fair, talk to a lawyer who specializes in ticket dismissal.   Of course, all of this depends on your ability to prove ownership of the vehicle after the tickets were issued.

Get the paperwork, who knows what else happened with this car before you had it!


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24 Comments on “Piston Slap: Not my Ticket, Not my Problem?...”

  • avatar

    I got a bill from AZ BMV from a speed ticket that turned in to reckless operation 19 years prior. They decided almost two decades later to take on a $15 surge charge if you didn’t take a class. The local BWV said they heard of one BMV going back over 40 years!

  • avatar

    The collection of these parking infraction fines may have been turned over to a collection agency. Check carefully who is demanding payment.

    There are statutes of limitation on how many years old debts can be collected – the number of years varies from state to state – but 9 years is probably beyond the longest limit. Answering correspondence from a collection agency can be interpreted to “restart the clock” on the limitation so be careful about dealing with these folks.

  • avatar

    I spent so many hours dealing with one of these issues I would have been better off paying. And they count on that. Could it be a simple error? Yes. Likely? No. More likely it is willful negligence. Why spend money not in the budget to check records when they can send you a bill and hassle you with it. Or, sell the debt. Likely they knew the car was sold, but now want to try to raise money. Could be elected officials pushing for the funds, or ambitious bureaucrats.

    One solution is to go to the proper elected official and work with them to figure out where the system is failing. If that doesn’t work, and you can afford it, send an email to his opponent in the next election donating fifty dollars, recapping the problem, the failure to deal with it, and NAMING NAMES. Copy the problem official. Or, go before city council and once again, NAME NAMES.

    Always be polite and professional and not too indignant. Point out that these behaviors aren’t the right way to operate and make for unhappy citizens. Likely, you can’t get to the bottom of it because the elected guy, or bureaucrat doesn’t cooperate. So call them out by name. The bad actors will stop only when publicly shamed.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Well, this is kinda weird, because I assume that, when you bought the car, you registered it in your name and got new plates. So, I don’t know how you would have been associated with the previous owner for parking tickets. Even as a “clerical error” this strikes me as odd . . . but whatever.

    The more common situation is the one that Sajeev describes, where you sell your car to someone and let the buyer drive the car with your plates on it . . . and the driver collects some parking tickets, photo radar citations and red light camera tickets. The law on all of those is that the person who has the car licensed is liable, regardless of who’s driving . . . unless you can prove that the car was stolen. And lots of states (like DC) require you to surrender your plates to the DMV when you sell the car. So, if you let the buyer drive around on your plates, you’ve already violated the law and are subject to fines.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s not a clerical error. It’s procedural. They don’t check. They used to, but not anymore. It’s more profitable to prosecute by computer generated mail and force you to defend yourself. They also make it as cheap as possible on themselves by forcing you to defend yourself in the manner they prescribe – send copies of title transfer by mail with this form filled out., etc.

      If you call, you get a collector who can say nothing but how to pay. In our case, we never owned the car in question or even one like it. They assigned our old tag number to a used vehicle buyer of a different make, and then sent us his tickets. Twice.

      • 0 avatar

        I got a demand for a three year old parking ticket about a year after I bought a car from a private party and properly registered it in California. I sent the letter to the state DMV fraud division and never heard from the DMV or collection agency again. The agency was also in California, so it wasn’t an out of state agency or ticket, and my DMV registration continued until I sold the car.

  • avatar

    Strange though… parking tickets and toll tickets are written on the license plate, never seen one tied to the VIN, though I guess it is possible with parking tickets but impossible with toll tickets. Why would you sell a car with your license plate attached??

    As for parking tickets, it is pretty simple (at least in FL) to go online and check which vehicle titles are still in your name, and remove the ones that are no longer yours. This is a good lesson, always submit the paperwork to the state DMV to remove ownership of title if you sell or otherwise dispose of a car.

    • 0 avatar

      “Why would you sell a car with your license plate attached??”

      Ive never lived in a state where the plates didnt normally go with the car, thats why. Only “vanity” plates can be retained by an owner who sells, with a transfer fee, of course.

      • 0 avatar

        Fair enough! This would explain the OPs situation. Just news to me, as I have never lived in a state that the tags go with the car (8 states so far), vanity plates or otherwise. Tags are registered to an owner, and transfer from car to car.

        Here in FL you own the plate for life, which is good as a new plate costs you $150 on top of typical registration fees.

      • 0 avatar

        Exactly, in California, plates generally go with the car. When you sell a car, you fill out a release of liability with the CA DMV. These days, you can do this online instead of mailing in the slip.

    • 0 avatar

      State laws vary re: the transfer of license plates. In some states, the plate belongs to the owner, while in others, the plate runs with the vehicle.

      • 0 avatar

        Prior to computer read license plates and tracked tickets, I had a friend from NJ, who frequented Philadelphia, PA for sales work. He eventually realized he was racking up a serious amount of tickets on his plate numbers and was running the risk of a boot even back then.

        Soooooo, on a week day off from work, he took the license plates from the car and beat them to death with a ball peen hammer. He then went to the NJ DMV to turn in the damaged and “unreadable” plates and got a new and differently numbered set. Pooof, the PA tickets disappeared…

        And he respected the Philly parking laws a little more diligently until he sold that car…

  • avatar

    Laws vary by state (presuming that you are in the US).

    No one can properly advise you about what to do without knowing where you are located, other than to tell you to look up the rules in your area. Without more details, I would guess that the tickets were sold off to a collection agency and that you may not be obliged to do anything, but that is just a guess.

  • avatar

    I think some states you actually are liable for those tickets!!

    Score one for good old Taxachusetts, license plates go with the driver not the car, this would never happen.

  • avatar

    At 9.5 yrs, I would expect the statute of limitations would be (or just about to be) expired.

  • avatar

    Let’s see how good the B&B are… First TTAC new writer hopeful to identify the yellow car in the pic moves to the head of the line for the job.

  • avatar

    We had a slightly different situation, got a parking ticket in Henderson, Nevada, for parking in a red zone, about eight years ago. We hadn’t noticed the sun-baked dark brown “red” paint. Stopped by city hall, just a couple of blocks away, to find out what the fine was.
    At that point we thought:
    ~ We live in Washington.
    ~ We had a car with Oregon plates that we’d borrowed for a while from Mr. Hertz.
    ~ Henderson at the time was gaining a couple of thousand population per week and the city government was really straining to keep up.
    ~ So let’s blow off the parking ticket.
    So far, it’s worked….

  • avatar

    I thought tickets were license plate based, not VIN based.

    And…And the kid that bought it? He decided to run it up and down the Sam Houston Tollway with my license plates

    I always destroy mine!!

    • 0 avatar

      I made that mistake once. Sold a car to a guy and he was worried about driving it home without tags. I said, ok drive it home, then mail or bring me the tags. 2 or 3 weeks went by and no tags. I knew the name of his apartment complex so went there one night and cruised around until I found the car. Got out with my screwdriver and removed the plate. He probably never did figure out what happend to the plate, and I never heard from him again.

  • avatar

    My story happens like this: I had a car that I had totaled (only had liability ins because it was an old rust-bucket) so I sold it to a company that auctioned the vehicle…. about a year later I received a certified letter from the city of Chicago stating that my car had been impounded because it was parked on a public street with illegal drugs inside. A description of the car was given with VIN (car is now blue, was green when I owned and sold it) So after taking a day off work to send faxes and e-mails and to make phone calls to the city of Chicago, I finally reached a person with the reason I was sent this notice… They send them to the 3 most recent known owners! WHY?!?

  • avatar

    One thing to check is how many unpaid tickets you can have before your car will be put on the boot/tow list. Even if these old tickets are not themselves enough to get the car towed, they may be eating into your margin of safety, so if you get two other tickets in a short interval and fail to pay them fast enough, zap, your car gets the hook.

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