New Jersey woman waits years to get title to car she already owns

NUTLEY, New Jersey (WABC) -- Two years to get a car title -- that's the dilemma facing one driver who paid off her car loan, but then never secured a title showing she owned her car. This was a big problem which left her afraid to drive because she couldn't register the car where she lives, until she got 7 On Your Side's Nina Pineda in the driver's seat.

"I am going to wind up in the hospital over a car over this nonsense," said Julizza Pena-Torchia. She paid off her Toyota Corolla two years ago, yet she has no title showing she's the owner.

She and her husband Mario say they've been ping-ponging between both states DMVs ever since they moved from Brooklyn back to New Jersey in January and tried to register the car.

"That's when I hit a roadblock, they said 'Wait you're not the owner of the car,'" Pena-Torchia said.

The records showed Toyota still owned the car she had leased for three years before taking out a loan from Bank of America to purchase it.

"So Bank of America sent Toyota a check, they sent me a letter the car was paid in full," she said.

That was back in 2014. But three years later she paid off that loan to Bank of America, becoming the car's sole owner.

"I didn't owe them one dime. They sent me a letter saying the car was paid in full, to take the lien release to the DMV and they would issue me a title," Pena-Torchia said.

But she never went to the DMV back then as instructed. Then she and her husband relocated to Nutley this year, but couldn't get registered or get New Jersey plates because they never got an actual title.

"I'm a nervous wreck driving down the road," Pena-Torchia said. "If the cops pull me over, I'm not sure it's legal for me to drive."

The couple tried for months to get paperwork from the bank but they keep leaving the DMV empty-handed.

"I left weeping, I just felt so helpless," Pena-Torchia said.

So 7 On Your Side took a look at the cold case. We worked with Bank Of America which discovered Pena-Torchia was unable to get a title because of a lien release that was never recorded after the lease was initially paid off.

Together with Bank of America and New Jersey's Motor Vehicle Commission, a new title and plates were finally issued.

Some big takeaways -- within 30 days of paying off a car, you should get at least two documents. First, you'll get the lien release, sent from your finance company, proving you paid off your loan.

Next is your title. In New York, even if you have a loan, you'll have the title already. But in New Jersey, your finance company holds the title (until the loan is satisfied), and will sign it over and send it along with your lien release.

You'll need to take both (or send it) to your DMV to get a new title listing you as the sole owner. Remember, keep all these documents in a safe place. It's sometimes a challenge getting replacements.

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