Guest Column: Vehicle Buyer Beware

Guest Column: Vehicle Buyer Beware
Private tag agencies could cause tag-title woes

Dennis W. Hollingsworth, CFC
St. Johns County Tax Collector

As your St. Johns County Tax Collector, one of my primary responsibilities is providing tax, tag and title service for the purchase of vehicles. Often we provide this service in cooperation with the title clerks at our county’s nearly three dozen franchised and independent automobile dealers. The clerks in my office provide dealer service with a 24-hour turnaround on the vast majority of their work, resulting in satisfied customers who receive their properly registered tags in a timely manner. We have a strong, positive relationship with the dealers in St. Johns County, as evidenced by recent survey results.

I want to call your attention to recent action in the Florida Legislature that could impact the service you receive when purchasing a vehicle through a dealer in the state. Prior to the recent law change, tax collectors had the final say if private tag agencies came into their respective county. My office has always monitored closely these agencies, and has demanded they adhere to the same high standards as we require at our office. Recent changes in the law have circumvented the tax collectors and opened counties to all private tag agencies, if approved by the State, to deal directly with the dealers without tax collector input. However, each tax collector is still responsible for the quality of the title and registration work resulting from dealer sales within their county, without the ability to impact or monitor it.

Some commercial dealers in St. Johns County have contracted with private tag agencies located outside the county –and in some cases, outside Florida. They have no vested interest in the satisfaction of the customer, and clerks in these agencies are paid on a per-transaction basis. Unfortunately, this rewards speed and high volume rather than accuracy. When transactions occur that are complex, problems often are overlooked which could result in customers not receiving their plates in a timely manner or, worse, customers not knowing about title problems until they try to sell or trade their vehicle. Since private tag agencies began operating in St. Johns County, we have seen an increase in the number of complaints from customers mistakenly believing that we were involved in their delayed or incorrect transaction. Our options are limited in how we can help, and it is the State Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Quality Review Unit that is charged with oversight of these agencies. These private tag agencies also charge much higher rates for title and tag work, which is passed on to you, the consumer.

St. Johns County residents, I urge you to remain vigilant about your vehicle purchases. Before you make a purchase, you can determine the estimated cost for your tag and title by knowing the estimated weight of the vehicle you are purchasing and whether you have a tag to transfer. Visit our website, www.sjctax.us, and print out the fee chart under Motor Vehicles/Fees. This will arm you with the estimated amount you should be charged for tag and title services. Also, if you do business with a dealership, ask them who handles the tag and title work for them, and request they keep business local by using the St. Johns County Tax Collector. We guarantee fast, accurate, professional service handled by your neighbors, and if you have a concern or question you can reach us at any of our five locations, or via phone or Email.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, email taxcollector@sjctax.us.

Photo credits: © 2010 Historic City News staff photographer

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