Q: When you buy a car, what documents is the dealer required to give you?
A: When you buy a new vehicle, the dealer must provide you with several documents. These include standard documents, such as the sales contract (which is often referred to as the “Buyer’s Order” or “Bill of Sale”). Depending on your particular circumstances, there may be additional documents the dealer must provide. For example, if you finance the vehicle through the dealership, you should receive a Retail Installment Contract, and if you agree to a service package, the dealer should give you a copy of the signed Service Contract. Below is information on the more common documents you should expect to receive when you buy a new vehicle:
• Buyer’s Order or Bill of Sale: This is the basic sales contract. The seller should provide you with a copy of the completed and signed contract at the time you purchase the car. This is very important, because it is required in order to register your vehicle and to apply for a license plate. You should ensure that it reflects the terms you negotiated with the seller. If the seller made a verbal promise during the negotiations, make sure you get it added in writing before signing anything!
• Finance Agreement or Retail Installment Contract: If you finance your vehicle through a dealership, Georgia law requires that the agreement be in writing in what is typically called a “Retail Installment Contract”. The seller must give the buyer a completed copy of this contract at the time the buyer signs it. Make sure that it contains no unfilled blanks before signing.
• Odometer Mileage Disclosure Form: A written mileage disclosure statement is required whenever a vehicle is bought or sold, or at the end of a lease. The disclosure statement includes the buyer and seller’s information, basic vehicle information, and the odometer reading of the vehicle at the time of sale. This requirement applies to individual sellers as well as dealers.
• Lemon Law Rights Statement: Under Georgia law, a dealer must give the buyer a written Statement of Consumer Rights that explains the Georgia Lemon Law Act at the time of purchase or lease of any new motor vehicle. The law is very specific: the Statement must be printed in 11-point type, Arial font, on the front side of a sheet of standard, letter-sized paper that is yellow in color. The consumer must sign and date the Statement, and the dealer’s representative must print his or her name, date it and give the original to the consumer.
• Certificate of Title: A vehicle’s Certificate of Title is the document that establishes legal ownership over the vehicle. When you buy a new car, it is necessary to apply for a Certificate of Title within 30 days of the purchase or else fees and penalties will apply. If you purchase the new car from a dealer, the dealer should accept the application for title and an Ad Valorem Title Tax (TAVT) payment on your behalf. The dealer must then deliver the title application and your TAVT payment to the county tag office in the county where you plan to register the vehicle. If you paid for the new car in full and didn’t finance it, when the title is issued it will be sent to you. If you financed the car purchase and the finance agreement created a lien or security interest in the car, the title will list any lien or security interest holder and the title will not be released to you until you finish making the agreed upon payments.
When a dealer sells you a used car, it must provide you with many of the same documents as are required for a new car purchase, with some exceptions and additions:
• Buyer’s Order or Bill of Sale: Just as with a new vehicle, a used car Buyer’s Order or Bill of Sale is the basic sales contract between the buyer and the seller. The seller should provide you with a copy of the completed and signed contract at the time of purchase so that you can register your vehicle and to apply for a license plate. Again, you should ensure that the contract reflects the terms you negotiated with the seller and that you get all verbal promises in writing before signing.
• Finance Agreement or Retail Installment Contract: Just as with new cars, used cars are often financed through the dealership. If so, Georgia law requires that the finance agreement be in writing in a retail installment contract. The seller must give the buyer a completed copy of this document at the time the buyer signs the contract.
• Odometer Mileage Disclosure Form: As with new vehicle purchases, whenever a used motor vehicle is bought or sold, the seller must provide a written mileage disclosure statement . Again, this requirement applies to individual sellers as well as dealers.
• Buyers Guide: Under the Federal Trade Commission’s Used Car Rule, a used car dealer that sells six or more cars a year is required to post a Buyers Guide in every used car they offer for sale. The dealer must then give the buyer the original or a copy of the used vehicle’s Buyers Guide at the time of sale. The guide provides important information and notices to the buyer, including: whether the vehicle is being sold “as is” or with a warranty; the percentage of repair costs a dealer will pay under the warranty; a caution that spoken promises are difficult to enforce (and to get all promises in writing); a recommendation to keep the Buyers Guide for reference after the sale; a listing of the major mechanical and electrical systems on the car, including some of the major problems the buyer should look out for; and a recommendation that the buyer should ask to have the car inspected by an independent mechanic before buying the vehicle. The back of the Buyers Guide lists the name and address of the dealer, and should list the appropriate person at the dealership to contact if the buyer has problems or complaints after the sale. If you buy a used car and the sales discussion and negotiations are conducted in Spanish, the dealer must let you see and keep a Spanish-language version of the Buyers Guide when you make the purchase.
• Certificate of Title: Again, a vehicle’s Certificate of Title establishes legal ownership. When you buy a used car that is already titled in another person’s name, the existing title is very important, because the seller must transfer legal ownership of the vehicle to you by transferring the title to your name. The back side of the Certificate of Title has spaces for entering the transfer of ownership, which must be completed by the current owner (the seller) before they deliver it to you (the buyer). The seller should give you the title at the time the vehicle is delivered, and you must then promptly apply for a new title in your name at the county tag office in the county where you will register the used car. When you purchase a used car from a dealership, however, the dealer must handle the transfer process and submit the application for a new title in your name along with the appropriate Ad Valorem Title Tax (TAVT) payment on your behalf. As with a new car purchase, you will only receive the title if there are no liens or security interest holders listed on it. So, for example, if you financed the used car through the dealership and a security interest was created when you made the financing agreement, you would not receive the title until you finish making the agreed upon payments.
For more information on your rights and dealers’ obligations, visit our website at www.consumer.ga.gov .
Do you have a consumer question? Go to ConsumerEd.com to submit your question and read additional consumer tips. Always consult a lawyer about legal issues.