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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Used-car buyers liable for unpaid tickets

 •  Tickets come with the used car, so heed the state's 'stopper' rules

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer

WHERE TO GO ...

Anyone considering buying a used car should write down the car's license plate number and the last four digits of the vehicle's identification, or VIN number, said Marsha Kitagawa, state Judiciary spokeswoman. The number can usually be found by looking through the front windshield near the dashboard on the driver's side of the car.

Then go to www4.honolulu .gov/mvrtitleinq and type in the VIN and license plate number to see if any unpaid tickets are indicated.

You also can check for problems by calling Honolulu's Motor Vehicle Information and Processing Section at (808) 532-4325 or by calling or visiting a satellite city hall.

New or potential owners should also check with the District Court Traffic Violations Bureau (TVB) to determine if there are any unpaid fees that have resulted in a new stopper or, if left unpaid, will result in the placement of a stopper on the vehicle.

The new policy is based on Hawai'i Revised Statute 291-D-10 (b).

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Used-car buyers have one more task to add to their buyer-beware list: Write down the vehicle's identification number and check whether the car has unpaid parking tickets in its history.

If it does, walk away or be ready to pay the unpaid fines when it comes time to renew the vehicle's registration.

For the past few weeks, the state has been enforcing a 12-year-old law requiring the state to block a registration renewal for a vehicle whose owners failed to pay parking citations.

Under state law, parking tickets are attached to the motor vehicle, not the registered owner, so the unpaid fines must be dealt with before the car registration can be renewed.

"Year after year, the TVB (Traffic Violations Bureau) clerks would issue a 'temporary clearance' if the new owner of the car told them the tickets were issued against the car while it belonged to a previous owner," said Marsha Kitagawa, state Judiciary spokeswoman.

That practice was halted, and a new policy was developed this summer when a judiciary employee discovered a discrepancy between what the 1993 law says and how it was being interpreted.

The law doesn't give clerks the option of issuing clearances, and it requires that the tickets stay with the vehicle until they are resolved, Kitagawa said.

The law is a concern for both buyers and sellers.

Jack Borja hopes to sell his daughter's 2003 Honda Civic LX, but he wants prospective buyers to know the car has a clean record.

"One of the first things I had my secretary do was check online to make sure there were no unpaid tickets," Borja said. "There actually were some, and I took care of it."

Even if no flags show up, Kitagawa recommends that would-be buyers go to the Judiciary's Traffic Violations Bureau at 1111 Alakea St. and find out whether the car they intend to buy has been ticketed within the previous 45 days. If so, those tickets probably won't show up as registration stoppers when the new buyer tries to transfer the title and registration this time around but may show up down the line.

If a new buyer wants to dispute the past tickets in court, he or she will first have to post a bond equal to the amount of the unpaid tickets and appear before a judge to explain why he or she doesn't believe he or she should have to pay for the tickets.

If the judge rules against the new owner, the bond money will be used to pay off the outstanding tickets.

Used-car dealers already do this check online before buying a used car from an owner, said David Stagner, Jackson Auto Group used-car manager.

"It's kind of messed up," Stagner said. "If you buy a car off the street, that's where you will have a problem. This ticket should follow the license, not the vehicle."

Staff writer David Waite contributed to this report. Reach Waite at dwaite@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8030.

Reach Suzanne Roig at sroig@honoluluadvertiser.com.