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Ghost Vehicles Haunt New Mexico


Submitted By Marc Powell, Executive Director New Mexico Independent Auto Dealers Association

New Mexico has a growing problem with unregistered “ghost” vehicles on the road;  a minor traffic infraction with significant hidden costs for the state. Before we explore those costs, take a hint at the scale of the problem revealed in recent reporting by D’Val Westphal in the ABQ Journal. Her June 5 article shows that the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) issued over 1,000 tickets for "no license plate" in the first five months of 2022 and 1,722 tickets for "no registration." This puts Albuquerque on pace to write 4,500 tickets for "no registration" and 2,500 for "no license plate" this year. APD has only 17 traffic officers, and they write a lot of other, more urgent tickets like speeding, DUI, etc. Yet these hard-working officers still found time to write an average of 19 tickets a day for no plates or registration. One civilian quoted in Ms. Westphal’s article saw 23 such ghost vehicles while going about her day. Imagine how many vehicles are operating illegally in Albuquerque, much less in Bernalillo County and other parts of the state.

New Mexico has the highest rate of uninsured vehicles among all 50 states at almost 25%.  One in four vehicles on the road does not have insurance and 100% of ghost vehicles are uninsured. It is illegal to drive in New Mexico without insurance, in an unregistered and unplated vehicle.  And we all pay among the highest uninsured motorist insurance rates in the country as a result.

Black market street sales are the core of this menace.  Black market sales differ from legal private-vehicle sales. New Mexicans are allowed to sell up to four vehicles per year without a dealer’s license, provided that the vehicle is titled and registered in the name of the seller. Black market sellers flout the law by selling large numbers of unregistered vehicles with open titles, often with multiple unregistered sales on the title. Therefore, the state doesn’t collect tax on any of those sales, resulting in significant lost revenue. The state also can’t tax the black market seller’s profit, because these are cash deals and the seller’s name is nowhere on the paperwork.

Ghost vehicles are difficult to identify or trace and represent the ideal form of transportation for any criminal enterprise, whether street racing, drug running or violent encounters.  Imagine being a law enforcement officer who pulls over a ghost vehicle – without any idea of who owns the vehicle or what to expect. These encounters are fraught with tension and risk to all involved. Like anonymous guns, easily available anonymous vehicles contribute to our skyrocketing crime rates.

The biggest costs are borne by innocent buyers from black market sellers. Folks save diligently in the hopes that paying cash will get them a better value, only to find that the seller’s claims about the vehicle were bunk. Unreported damage and outstanding liens, severe mechanical issues and title problems hurt innocent buyers. Since the seller is anonymous, the buyer has no recourse when problems arise.

New Mexico needs to pass legislation in the 2023 Legislative Session which closes loopholes that have allowed the ghost-vehicle problem to flourish and increase state funding for enforcement. Counties and cities need to increase enforcement of registration requirements, with an approach that impounds ghost vehicles until they are legally registered and plated.

*This editorial is a paid advertisement by the New Mexico Independent Auto Dealers Association.


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