When you buy a car in the U.S., the seller hands over the car and the buyer hands over the money. The seller also hands over the title, which is physical proof of ownership, which you also need to register and insure the vehicle. The title document isn’t just a sheet of regular old paper, either; instead, it’s specially made with various security features to prevent counterfeiting. The problem now, according to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal, is that there simply isn’t enough title paper around.
From the WSJ:
“It’s one of these things that’s like everybody’s touched it probably at some point but you don’t realize the complexity that actually goes behind it,” says Andrew Palmer, director of sales for labels and forms at R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., one of the largest printers of title paper.
William Huston, of Sturgis, S.D., heard about the title-paper difficulties when he was trading in his Dodge Challenger for a Ford pickup. The new truck was at a Colorado dealership, but he needed South Dakota to produce a new title after a lien with his credit union was released.
The dealership resorted to a workaround—a power of attorney agreement that gave the dealer the ability to sign the title once it was available, says Mr. Huston, who works in farm-equipment sales. “It really wasn’t something that surprised me knowing everything that’s going on in the world today,” he says.
State officials in Michigan, South Dakota and Oklahoma have taken steps to conserve supplies, including giving priority to buyers who require a title to sell a vehicle, and asking dealers to hold off on applying for a title until after a purchase is final, the officials say.
Robin Shrake, a county treasurer in South Dakota, has been hearing by phone from angry and confused drivers, including some who have lost their titles, since the state’s department of revenue revealed in November that title paper would be in short supply until next year.
The underlying causes are what you might expect, if no less frustrating for those experiencing it: the Journal says the way we consume paper products changed significantly during the pandemic, with higher demand for cardboard — all those deliveries need a box. Also, producing special paper for niche uses isn’t exactly a growth industry, as electronic documents become more and more common.
Thankfully, electronic car titles, which do not require paper, are also becoming more and more of a thing, including in states like California, Massachusetts, and Texas. That, surely, is the future, as it’s kind of ridiculous that all of this is still an issue in 2022. The only problem with a digital title is that it isn’t as pleasing to look at or hold, but, on the other hand, you’re less likely to lose it forever and end up in a jam.