Getting Registered

So the big day of my new car’s supposed arrival was upon us.  My neighbor, David (Jack’s older brother) said he had seen a tow truck at the entrance to our housing development unloading a black Mustang.  I was a bit confused as I would have expected the previous owner to drive the car.  Another clue that something wasn’t quite right.  Anyway, about 10 minutes later the car pulled into my driveway with Frank at the wheel.  A quick exchange of paperwork took place and Frank was on his way.  And now I had my new acquisition parked in the driveway.  Talk about being excited.  I still had no real clue what I was in store for.  I proudly showed off the car for all of my friends.  I couldn’t drive it because I had no tags and registration yet.  Getting that taken care of was my next task.  That would prove to be a bit more challenging than it should have been.

My first trip to the Maryland MVA was only a bit discouraging.  For those people who don’t know, MVA is the acronym for Motor Vehicle Administration.  In most other states it is known as the DMV.  But Maryland chose to be different and call theirs the MVA.  On my first trip to that agency I waited in line, only to learn that the title to the car wasn’t clear as there was a lien on the car.  The former owner, Frank had purchased the car at a used car dealer and hadn’t paid off the loan.  Seems he was using the money I paid for the car to cover the remainder of the loan.  So back I went to visit Frank to see if the lien had been paid off and to get a statement that it had been.  He took me to the used car dealer where he had purchased the car.  At that point he paid off the loan he had taken out with the dealer when he had purchased the car from them.  Then the dealer provided me with paperwork that showed that the lien had been lifted and the title was clear.  Hurdle number one had just been overcome.

Now it was time to make my second trip to the MVA.  I waited in line, and when it was my turn the clerk looked over all of my paperwork.  He said there was a discrepancy with the VIN on my paperwork and started questioning what the actual VIN was.  What I didn’t know then, and only learned many years later requires a short discussion about how Ford used to assign and mark the VIN numbers on cars going down the assembly lines back in the 1960’s.  This is a shortened and oversimplified explanation of the process, but it will server to explain what was going on and why the clerk was questioning the authenticity of the VIN.

In 1967 Ford assigned VINs to a car just prior to building it.  An assembly line worker had the responsibility of stamping it on the fender apron.  The worker would enter the VIN into a machine and then stamp it onto the left front fender apron.  The fender had a cutout to allow the VIN to show through.  Since this process was performed by hand there was an opportunity for human error to occur.  There are many stories of Mustangs with VINs that were stamped incorrectly and then stamped again with the correct VIN.  In the case of my car one of the digits didn’t stamp for some reason.  There are two VINs showing through the fender cutout on my car, both of which are missing the same middle digit.  If you remove the fender, or remove the passenger side fender, a hidden VIN with all the digits correctly stamped will appear.  My car also has the original body buck tag and door plates which both show VINs that agree with the hidden VINs.  But when I went to the MVA all I had were the VINs that were missing a digit.  The title for the car had the correct VIN.  This is the discrepancy the clerk had zeroed in on, and he wasn’t about to let some teenager pull the wool over his eyes.  I was blissfully unaware of how any of this worked at the time.

The clerk pointed out that there was a problem with the VIN on my car, but didn’t fully explain.  This is assuming he even knew about assembly lines and incorrectly stamped VINs at all.  I have to assume he was aware that VIns could be incorrectly stamped, as I’m sure any MVA employee who wasn’t new would have run into this situation several times.  He began to question the legality of the car.  After quite a bit of back and forth he requested I take a piece of paper and a pencil and trace the VIN onto the paper by holding it over the VIN and rubbing the pencil on the paper.  This had to be the VIN stamped on the fender apron, not from the body buck tag or the door tag, which can be removed and replaced fairly easily.  I asked him which VIN he wanted me to trace as the fender apron had two (I was unaware that it actually had another hidden one).  That question only raised more questions in his mind regarding this teenage potential car thief. I left the MVA frustrated and disappointed, but planned to gather all the evidence he requested and return to get my car registered.

I went back home and made aa tracing of both of the VINs for him.  Then I returned to the MVA and waited in line for my turn.  When I got to speak with a clerk, it wasn’t the same person I had spoken with before.  He eyed all of my paperwork suspiciously.   After all, I was a teenager with more papers than I was required to present to him.  He questioned what I had, and I explained the story about the lien and the discrepancy with the VIN.  After some back and forth he also began to question the legality of the car and said I would need to bring proof from the state police that the car wasn’t stolen.  They could check my VIN (if they knew which one to run) and would confiscate my car if it turned out to be stolen.  I could also face criminal charges if I was implicated.  He sent me away to gather the additional evidence.  It was becoming even more discouraging, and I had now made the trip to the MVA three times, along with an hour round trip to the used car dealer with Frank to clear the lien.

At this point my parents tried to help me out.  They suggested I visit a different MVA location, preferably one closer to where the car had been purchased in case I needed anything else from Frank to prove the car’s title was clear and it wasn’t a stolen car.  So I drove the 30-40 minutes over to another MVA near where I had purchased the car.  While standing in line I felt nervous and frustrated.  What problem would they discover now?  Would the state police come and take my newly purchased car away from me?  Would I be going to jail?  Finally it was my turn to talk to the clerk.  I handed hum my paperwork and waited in silence.  He started looking it over and then stopped.  My heart sank.  He looked at me and asked “What is all of this stuff?  There’s a whole lot of extra papers here I don’t even need”.  I proceeded to dutifully explain about the lien and the VIN discrepancy.  He looked at the papers again and told me he understood about the lien and I had the paperwork I needed for that.  But he said he couldn’t understand why I had the tracing of the VIN as the correct VIN was on the title.  There was nothing stolen or illegal, and I certainly wasn’t going to jail as I had feared.  He threw my extra paperwork into the trash and issued me a title with no further questions.  The tags and registration would be in the mail in a couple of days.  I walked out of there shaking my head at all of the hassle I had gone through at the other location and grateful for how easily things had gone at this MVA location.