Florida law requires you to acquire a car's title when you buy a car. To acquire the title, the former owner signs the title over to you and you also sign. Any liens on the car are stated on the title. Paid liens should have a stamp that says "lien satisfied" over them. If you buy a car with a title that includes current liens, you must pay the liens off before you can fully own the car.
Liens are claims by creditors made on a piece of property. A creditor can sell the property to repay the debt if the debtor does not stick with an agreed upon payment plan. All liens are reported on the property's title, and in Florida, car liens fall under the "liens on personal property" category. Many people take voluntary liens when they sign up for car loans.
Florida allows businesses that have worked on property to place a lien on the property if the property's owner cannot pay. If the previous owner could not pay a car repair bill, a lien may have been placed on the car. Furthermore, subcontractors can place liens on property if the contractor did not pay them.
Once a lien is placed on a car, it stays on the title until the debt is paid off -- even if the title transfers to a new owner. Because the lien is on the car, you are not responsible for paying off the debt; the creditor cannot go after you, take you to court or try to take any other property. The creditor can reclaim the car to pay for the lien, though, and you can only be clear of this threat by paying off the lien.
Always request the title, research the title, and have the previous owner sign over the title before giving the owner money for a car. Florida law assumes that you saw the title and received the title before giving the previous owner money, because you cannot legally own the car until the title is in your name. As such, the law offers no recourse for liens that came with the car, as valid liens are stated on the title.
Calla Hummel is a doctoral student studying contraband in international political economy. She supplements her student stipend by writing about personal finance and working as a consultant, as well as hoping that her investments will pan out.