Even before Covid, the internet expanded the scope of car enthusiast interactions to a global scale. BaT, blogs, forums, etc. profoundly extended our reach. At times far beyond our grasp. Covid simply doubled down on our reliance on the Web as our personal intermediary in conducting transactions especially those involving purchasing things like vintage cars. What could go wrong?

“A lot,” says friend of Drivin’ News, Tom LoRusso.

Singing the CarGurus no title blues

Tom LoRusso with his untitled 2001 BMW 740i Sport

Titanium Silver Metallic 2001 BMW 740i Sport with Gray leather interior, Tom LoRusso knew exactly what he wanted. Over time he had missed a couple of opportunities. Undeterred, he soldiered on. In late February of 2020 an apparently beautiful example popped up on Cargurus.com. It was a California car. Tom, an experienced mechanic in a earlier life, conducted his due diligence. Photos looked great. Carfax produced no red flags. Next step would put him in touch with an experienced BMW mechanic in California to do an onsite PPI (Pre-Purchase Inspection). The report back confirmed that Tom had found a sweet example of his heart’s desire. Tom pulled the trigger.

With a price agreed, and the broker’s confirmation of title, Tom arranged shipping and transferred the money.

Before shipping, the broker emailed all the paper work for Tom’s electronic signature. He confirmed the title would be coming. Tom had emphasized that he would not take the car without a title.

It took a week or so to ship the car to Tom’s home in New Jersey. A brilliant spring sun gave life to the well preserved silver metallic paint as the BMW eased down the carrier ramp. It displayed the condition and quality Tom had expected. Two days later the ownership paperwork came in the mail. Right about this time Covid-19 became news and went viral, so to speak. Tom accepted that Covid would complicate matters and prepared to patiently await his opportunity to register the BMW in New Jersey. During that time he would drive using the temporary California tags. As the lockdown dragged on past the 30-day limit of his California tags, Tom felt significant relief with news that, due to Covid, New Jersey had extended the legal life of temporary tags. Then, in July, long awaited relief arrived.

News reports announced that the New Jersey DMV would be opening for business the following Monday. Tom committed to being at the Wallington office on Monday before the doors opened.

Unfortunately, so did hundreds of other people. Equally unfortunate for everyone waiting, an official came out saying that despite the announcement the Wallington office would not open that day. Grumbling swept across the amassed crowd like the wave at a 1980s baseball game. Undeterred Tom confirmed the office would be open the next day. Taking no chances Tom arrived two hours before the scheduled 8:00 am opening.

As the sun came up on that clear July morning, The line extended from the front of the Wallington DMV office down the length of the block completely around the block and started to lap the original line. Tom simply turned and left. Disappointed but not defeated, he had a plan.

Two days later, cruising through the quiet streets of late night Wallington, Tom reached the office just as the clock struck midnight. He joined a sleepy line of about 200 people quietly basking in the moonlight. Then, shattering the dark stillness, the empathetic voice of a cop announced that those on line after the designated cutoff point where he stood would not get inside the next day. Tom, sadly, found himself on the “not today” side of the line. Tom took a midnight journey home.

Not unlike Wiley Coyote, Tom, undaunted, set about hatching another plan to get to a desk inside the Acme DMV.

Two weeks passed. Tom’s plan had his brother drop him off by the Wallington office at around 9:30 pm the night before for what would be his fourth attempt. Arriving properly provisioned with food and blanket, he cracked the top 100. Tom’s tenacity had earned him position number 75 on the line. He described the long wait as a big party attended by people wearing masks standing 6 feet apart on a hot summer night. Tom felt confident though uncomfortable as his butt flat-spotted like an old tire as he reclined on the concrete pavement.

A hot July sun came up with a vengeance and blistered the waiting crowd like hotdogs under a broiler. Luckily, by this time, the line’s slow crawl had carried Tom into the shelter of the DMV building’s shadow. And then, finally, mission accomplished. The DMV greeter steered Tom to the specialist who, the greeter assured, would know exactly what could be done. And he did. Nothing could be done!

Basically Tom learned that the broker had sent paper work that would require a Herculean bi-coastal effort on Tom’s part to get a title. In reviewing the paperwork Tom found that he had overlooked a tiny box that indicated “Missing Title.” The box contained a check mark. Getting a title would require waiting on line at the California DMV. All of a sudden the west coast seller seemed strangely unavailable. Tom wanted the car. He resigned himself to taking on the task of getting a clean New Jersey title.

Clearly in character with the Chinese designation of 2020 as the “Year of the Rat,” Tom’s turd in the punch bowl day had yet more in-store.

In summing up the specifics of his situation with the knowledgeable DMV specialist, Tom took solace that, at least, because of the New Jersey extension, he would be able to drive his BMW during his efforts to connect with California DMV. That would be correct confirmed the specialist if his BMW had a New Jersey temporary tag. “However, it is a California car. You can’t drive it,” said the specialist.

The checked “Missing Title Statement” box

Tom’s heart slowly sank like a heavy Jeep in a soft bog. He had been driving all over the state with no acceptable proof of ownership. If he got pulled over the car would be impounded until he got the title straightened out. Tom says, “The storage and towing fees would have exceeded what I paid for the car.”

Tom drove home resigned to parking his prize BMW until he had a real NJ title. For three weeks he attempted to reach California DMV many times every business day. He groans and says, “Every time it went straight to voice mail.” Seemingly at a veritable dead end, Tom acted on a tip from a friend and reached out to Recovery Title Solutions, a company specializing in titling issues. Speaking with owner Mike Sassano, Tom realized that he had come to the right place. Now early October, Tom’s BMW had already been sitting for over a month.

Sassano explained that certain states had Motor Vehicle Departments with which Sassano could work to straighten out legitimate titling issues such as Tom’s. In Tom’s case, Vermont would afford the fastest turnaround, about seven weeks.

Almost seven weeks to the day, Vermont plates and temporary registration card arrived. Now, Tom intended to insure his long dormant 740i and get it back on the road while pursuing the transfer of his Vermont title to New Jersey.

Vermont Plates get BMW registered but not insured

Not so fast there Tom. The “Year of the Rat” prepared to take another bite out of his plans. Since Tom lived in New Jersey and his BMW had a Vermont registration no one would insure him.

With time now rolling into November, Tom locked a laser focus on getting his New Jersey plates. Then Tom got a break, he believed. Instead of returning for another DMV sleepover at Wallington sleepover. Tom found that the Newton, NJ DMV office had no lines and did not require an appointment.

Borrowing his mother’s car he gladly drove the hour to Newton. Arriving about a half hour before opening, Tom jubilantly took his place on a line of fifteen. Home free at last. Nothing could go wrong now. Ah but the “Year of the Rat” was not done with Tom.

“Good morning sir. Do you have an appointment?” said the smiling greeter. “No Ma’am,” said Tom, “Your website says I don’t need one.” “Well you do,” she responded. Accompanied by a chorus of groans from a dozen people behind him, Tom, showed her the DMV website which earned him a sympathetic shrug.

Returning to the parking lot, Tom opened his phone to schedule the first available appointment. It would be ten days later on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Tom ate turkey as the anticipation ate him.

White noise and shuffling feet in the Newton DMV office provided a listless soundtrack to accompany just another routinely unremarkable day. But for Tom his excitement could barely be contained. For him and his prize 740i, six months in “no-title hell” had concluded. After twenty anti-climactic minutes on November 26th, Tom departed the Newton DMV office with his New Jersey registration.

With plates and title in hand, Tom LoRusso’s put “The Year of the Rat” in his taillights.

Tom, BMW and New Jersey title, together at last