Waiting for the title to your new car to arrive? Or, do you need the title to your car in order to sell it?
You’ll likely be wearing woolens before that happens. Since the beginning of the year, the wait for vehicle titles in Minnesota has stretched to about three months, instead of the usual 40 days.
The delays are being caused by a high volume of applications and staff vacancies, according to the Department of Public Safety’s Driver and Vehicle Services Division, (DVS). It says it is offering voluntary overtime to employees and hiring temporary help.
Exasperated car dealers are imploring their customers to be patient. “I tell them to check with the state, but it reflects on me, like I’m not doing my job,” said Dave Stoufer, owner of Stoufers Auto Sales in Madison Lake.
A title is a document that proves legal ownership of a vehicle. DVS typically processes about 1.42 million titles a year. But as of Friday, the state’s website said it’s working on title applications filed on June 21. The backlog means car buyers will go months without clear titles to their vehicles.
But the state says it records title applications in real time, so its database reflects updated ownership information — even if the title isn’t issued until much later.
Car sales have recovered nicely since the Great Recession — last year some 17 million new cars and trucks were sold across the country.
And 2015 set the record for used-vehicle sales, too, with some 38 million vehicles being sold, according to Edmunds.com.
The trend has held true in Minnesota. The number of vehicle titles processed has increased about 3 percent annually since 2011. Last year, about 1.6 million titles were processed, an increase of 4.7 percent over 2014.
But auto sales in Minnesota this year are down by about 6 percent, said Scott Lambert, president of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association.
So a backlog in processing titles by the state is probably not due to a sudden glut of car sales, he said.
Lambert worries that when the state switches to a new computer system called the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS) next year, the backlog will get much worse. “I believe the state is headed for a real titling crash,” he said.
When asked about the increase in demand for title processing, DPS spokesman Bruce Gordon said, “while we don’t know for sure, some possible reasons might be that cars are staying on the road longer — averaging about 11 years — resulting in more sales between owners.”
Plus, the federal “Cash for Clunkers” program in 2009, where consumers received up to $4,500 to trade in their gas guzzlers for a more fuel-efficient models, “removed a large amount of the used-car inventory from the road, [creating] a robust market for used cars” in the past year or so, Gordon wrote in an e-mail.
DVS processes title requests in the order in which they are received. For an extra $20, titles can be expedited and received within three business days. All told, the Department of Public Safety collects about $5 million a year in title-processing revenue.
Typically auto dealers and lenders (if the car is financed) handle the paperwork for titles. Some dealers use an electronic system called Computerized Vehicle Registration to file for titles, which can arrive in 10 to 12 days, said Tamie Bockovich, car biller for Kolar Chevrolet Buick GMC Cadillac in Hermantown. (Others say the wait is about three weeks.) But not all transactions can be processed in that way.
If someone buys a used car from a private seller, then the seller signs the title over. Once the title is transferred, the new owner must register the transfer with the state.
“People call you 30 to 45 days after they bought their car asking where their title is, it’s like a safety net to have it,” Bockovich said.
“Usually they are understanding, they say, ‘Well, it’s the government, the state, there’s nothing we can really do,’ ” she said.