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Mechanic’s Lien & Civil Lien Processes For Vehicle Title Transfer

  • 3 min read

How do you recoup your losses if you’ve worked on a vehicle, but the owner hasn’t paid the bill or picked up the car? Maybe you’ve done mechanical work on the vehicle, stored the vehicle, or it was simply left on your property and the owner never came back. Depending on the circumstances of how you acquired the vehicle, there are two options to get the title: 

Mechanic’s lien & storage lien

If you are a licensed mechanic or automotive shop, you can use your license to go through the mechanic’s lien process or storage lien process to obtain a title. In some states, the storage lien process is known as a garage keeper’s lien. These processes are similar to each other, often including similar or identical steps. However, the process to use depends on the license of the party filing the lien. Typically these processes include contacting the current owner, sending notices, posting advertisements in the Newspaper, and finally selling the vehicle at auction. 

Civil lien

If you do not have an automotive license or storage license, you may choose to use the civil lien process in lieu of a mechanic’s lien or storage lien. Civil liens do not require the individual filing to hold a particular license. Filing a civil lien will result in many of the similar steps to a mechanic’s lien or garage keeper’s lien, but often requires the applicant to appear formally in court or informally at the local county courthouse. Depending on your jurisdiction, the court will specify the steps needed for your filing but courts can NOT legally provide you with legal advice. Before proceeding, you may choose to get legal advice from an automotive attorney or attorney of similar practice. Typically the civil lien process requires research into the registered owner, sending notices, and eventually presenting your case to a judge who will decide whether or not to issue you a new vehicle title in your name. Sometimes this process is also known as a court-ordered title, involuntary vehicle title transfer, or vehicle title by declaratory judgment. 

The differences between a mechanic’s lien, a storage lien, and a civil lien rest in the party filing the petition. As a licensed mechanic or storage facility, you have the right to use your license to file a mechanic’s lien or storage lien. As a private citizen, you have the option to file a civil lien instead. However, it’s not guaranteed that any of these processes will work. Mechanic’s lien and civil liens are often abused by petitioners and are very heavily scrutinized by the DMV and other regulatory licensing agencies. If you submit a mechanic’s lien or civil lien packet and it is rejected, review your submission and try again. Oftentimes these are rejected on principle, assuming that if the filing is legitimate, the petitioner will return to re-file.

If you are looking to recoup the losses of a vehicle you’ve worked on or stored, whether you’re a licensed mechanic, storage facility, or private citizen, a lien may help get you the funds you are owed.