Don’t get Lien’d on in New Brunswick

So, you’re sitting at home on a sunday afternoon. There comes a banging at your door. Bang bang bang bang. You go to the door and find two gentlemen there. The two gentlemen say they’re there to repossess your car.

No, there must be some mistake, you don’t owe money on the car. You bought it used more than year ago, with cash.

They give you the paperwork. They’re not repossessing it from you, they’re repossessing it from the previous owner. The one you bought the car from. The law is on their side. Five minutes later the junk in your car is on the ground and they’re driving away with your car.

Yes, this can happen. It happened to me last week. So here’s some cautionary words.

I bought the car used, private sale. It turns out this person still had a loan on the car. Or more properly stated, the credit union with which they had the loan still had a lien against the car. This person recently declared bankruptcy, and so the bank called in all the securities against her. This included my car. Doesn’t matter I paid for it. Doesn’t matter it was registered in my name. Doesn’t matter that I had bought the car more than a year before. What mattered is that the bank had a lien and they were exercising it.

Second problem is that the credit union people are a bunch of scumbags, but that’s immaterial to this.

Now, when I talked to the credit union people (not even my credit union, these are people I had no contact with previously), they were surprised I was able to register it in my name – given that they had a lien against it. I was too, as I figured that whole fancy Service New Brunswick system for vehicle registration – you know, the one you have to input the VIN number for the car, would be linked to find things like that. Looks like the answer is no. Caveat Emptor, it’s up to you to make sure.

Of course, if you’re the person selling the car, you’d think you should mention this to the buyer. They didn’t do that either. Oh sure, they think that the loan didn’t cover the car, they’re clear to sell it, blah blah blah. Doesn’t matter. If the bank has a lien, the bank has a lien. All that money you paid for the car is gone, all the money you paid in fees and registrations and repairs, that’s all gone too. Sure you could sue the person who sold you the car, but they just went bankrupt and the bank is seizing their stuff. I have direct experience in legal action against people who have gone bankrupt and the result seems to be “$0”. You’d win the moral victory, and walk home.

So, in New Brunswick Canada, if you’re buying a car, how can you check for liens? Since it looks like SNB.ca won’t do it for you.

There is a section on the SNB website that I had to look for called “Personal Property Registry”, which to me sounded more like land and shit. No, turns out it covers vehicles. In there they have a link to a different website called “Lien Check” which goes to some website called “ACOL.ca”, which – to me at least – looks pretty damned sketchy. Contact info is a PO box in Halifax, NS. But never mind that, if the NB Government endorses it, it must be good, right?

Anyway, if you have the VIN for the car, you can go to the Lien Check folks and find out if there are any outstanding liens on your vehicle, or a vehicle you’re about to purchase, or a vehicle that you see in the parking lot. The rate-limiting factor is that each search costs you eight bucks. I tried it out myself for a vehicle I just bought to replace my car that had been taken, and it came back with zero outstanding liens. I guess it works.

Also, pay your damned bills.