Washington Law Review


John M. Davis


Because motor vehicles are so easily moved from place to place, and because of the intricacies of successive security transactions in relation to them, it has become expedient to provide for a more adequate method of ascertaining the title to any given motor vehicle than the chattel mortgage recording act provides. In the absence of a title registration act giving the same force and effect to certificates of title for motor vehicles as that given to similar certificates under a Torrens system of land registration, in many instances a purchaser cannot be certain he is buying a clear title without a tremendous amount of search in the records of several counties, nor can an encumbrancer be certain of the priority of his lien without a similar search. Motor vehicle registration acts divide themselves into three groups, classified as to their effect on later purchasers and encumbrancers of the vehicle. In the first group the act is held to be merely a police or revenue measure and hence to have no effect on third persons dealing with the vehicle. In the second group the court has held that the effect of the certificate of ownership is that of a conclusive title instrument, title to the car not passing until the certificate of ownership is changed. The change in the certificate being the operative factor in a sale or mortgage, such sale or encumbrance under this type of statute is absolutely void, often even as between the parties, until the certificate of ownership is taken up and changed. In the third group there is a compromise. The statutes are not clear enough in expressed intention to justify holding the title instruments conclusive, but they are clear enough to justify a holding that the acts should have more effect than that of a police measure and should affect in some manner the rights of third persons dealing with the motor vehicle. In states having this type of act third parties who rely on the certificate of title may acquire rights superior to those of prior parties who have failed to conform to the requirements of the registration act.

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