Get Gephardt: SLC woman bought a car, then discovered it wasn’t legal to drive

Jan 17, 2023, 10:10 PM | Updated: 11:06 pm

SUNSET, Utah — Imagine paying thousands of dollars for a car, only to find out you cannot get license plates to drive it legally.

When it happened to a Salt Lake City woman, she decided to Get Gephardt.

“This is the car that I was supposed to get, or that I did have for a week” Nataly Fontoura told KSL, as she pointed to a photo of a 2011 BMW sport utility vehicle that she purchased last spring from AutoPro Motors in Sunset.

Nataly Fontoura tells the KSL Investigators that she has not been able to get license plates for a 2011 BMW she purchased from a dealer because it cannot pass emissions.

Fontoura, who lives in Salt Lake City, later learned the state will not give her license plates for the 12-year-old car because of mechanical issues.

“It didn’t pass emissions, so I wasn’t able to register it,” she said.

Fontoura said she contacted the dealership, and the owner told her he would fix her SUV to get it to pass emissions. But week after week, she said the car just sits in an auto shop.

“It’s been five months now; they don’t know what’s wrong with it,” she said. “They don’t know when I’m gonna get it back.”

Fontoura does have a car she can drive. After pestering the dealer, she said he delivered an oil-leaking loaner. But she said the small sedan is much too small to get her mother, who uses a wheelchair, around. And she does not trust it in the snow.

“I don’t feel safe at all in this car,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons I bought an SUV is because I want my family to be safe.”

With no clear answer on when she would get her BMW back, last October, Fontoura asked the dealership for a refund, and she said the owner agreed.

“I just want my money back,” she said.

Unwinding the deal

The owner of AutoPro Motors did not respond to our multiple emails asking about Fontoura’s car and why it cannot be driven on Utah roads. So, we walked into the dealership and met owner Joel Stephen.

“We’re in the process of, I think she wants to unwind the deal, so we’re in the process of doing that,” he told us.

“She’s been trying to go through that process with you for some time now,” we countered.

“Yeah, we had to go through a couple things before we were able to get it done,” Stephen answered.

As KSL investigators dug deeper, we found Fontoura is not alone in her frustration with the dealership. The company has been slapped with an “F” rating for failing to respond to five separate complaints. One complaint from 2021 reads, “Still can’t get license plates because car won’t pass emissions.”

When we brought that up with AutoPro Motors, Stephen told us, “So, how it works is when any car is sold as-is, we’re not responsible for any emissions.”

Rules of the road

We fact-checked that claim with state regulators.

“Generally, if the dealer sells you a vehicle, they need to assure that the vehicle can pass relevant inspections,” said Jason Gardner, spokesperson for the Utah Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division.

Jason Gardner of the Utah Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division explains to KSL’s Matt Gephardt that for dealerships to issue temporary tags so new owner can drive their cars off the lots, cars must be able to pass emissions.

Gardner explained not every county in Utah requires cars to pass an emissions test to be registered. But if a car is sold to someone living in a county with that requirement, which was the case with Fontoura who lives in Salt Lake County, it must be able to pass emissions. And if emissions are required, the inspection must have been done within eleven months prior to sale.

But there is an exception to that rule.

“If they sell the vehicle without issuing a temporary permit,” Gardner said. “A temporary permit is basically what authorizes you when you buy your car to drive that vehicle away in lieu — until you can get your official registration.”

So, you could technically haul a car away from a dealership without that temporary paper permit. But to drive off with that car, it needs that permit, which legally assures, among other things, the car can pass emissions. But dealerships do not have to register a used car.

“You guys do not register the cars here?” I asked Stephen at AutoPro Motors.

“No. We do for some cars which are newer,” he answered. “But the older cars, we do not register.”

Joel Stephen, owner of AutoPro Motors, told KSL Investigators he is unwinding Fontoura’s purchase.

As for Fontoura, she contacted state regulators, who investigated. The state confirmed with AutoPro that her deal is being unwound. Fontoura said she has gotten back her down payment, but is still waiting for her loan to be paid off.

“Very frustrating,” she said. “I don’t have the car that I’ve been paying for.”

So be warned as you shop for a used car — if you live in a county with an emissions requirement, and the dealer issues a temporary permit, the vehicle must be able to pass emissions before the dealer can sell it.

If the dealer does not register the car, there is no guarantee you will be able to get it registered yourself. An expert we spoke to says this is a good reminder to always have a mechanic give a used car a once over before you buy it.

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Get Gephardt: SLC woman bought a car, then discovered it wasn’t legal to drive