Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

For decades, odometer disclosure agreements required physical paper and ink signatures. But times have changed.

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To deter odometer fraud, the federal government has required the use of odometer disclosure statements for the buying and selling of motor vehicles since the early 1970s. These statements had to be completed on secure paper documents and signed by the transferor and transferee with the use of handwritten, wet ink, printed names and signatures.

This law was put into place because it was believed to be the most secure method in documenting this acknowledgment. These written signatures provided physical evidence for investigators to examine later if there was suspicion of the signatures being forged. Also, it was the only choice: There was no other readily available and acceptable option at the time for both parties to acknowledge the odometer information.

“The law says that if I sell you my car, I have to disclose the mileage to you as being actual, not actual or exceeding mechanical limits,” says Paul Steier, director of vehicle programs at AAMVA. “And these have always been paper documents that required a wet signature.”

But times have changed, and electronic documents and file sharing are now the norm. And why can a title transfer be done electronically but a disclosure statement still requires a wet signature?

That’s the exact question the vehicle standing committee members posed to Steier and his team about a year ago.

“So we got to work,” he says. “We took it upon ourselves to go all the way back to the ‘70s when the laws were passed to determine how to proceed.”

In 2019, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a rule allowing for the use of electronic signatures on electronic odometer statements incorporated within an electronic title record or power of attorney. But the shift from paper to digital documentation takes time, and some motor vehicle agencies (MVAs) remain unsure how to implement the new process. What has resulted is a hybrid approach, where some parts of the transaction could happen electronically while others required physical paper.

“Even after the rule passed, NHTSA didn’t really describe how that hybrid process would work,” Steier says. “So that’s what we set out to clarify, to take the mystery out of this hybrid titling process.”

After months of research, the vehicle standing committee, on behalf of AAMVA, published a white paper in February 2024 titled “Guidance for the Acceptance of Signatures on Physical Odometer Disclosure Statements” to provide MVAs with clear direction.

“AAMVA is not a regulatory body, so this is intended to serve as background information and guidance moving forward,” Steier says. “The idea being that DMV administrators can take it to their legal counsel, look at their own state laws—because most states have some regulations around electronic documents and electronic signatures for government purposes—and then look and see how that applies to their current business processes.”

Not only will the acceptance of electronic signatures expedite the entire process, it will also relieve some burden from DMV employees.

“Frontline DMV employees are not expected to be forensic scientists,” Steier says. “They don’t have labs to analyze these documents to determine how a signature was applied, so this will help them make a more informed decision on acceptance of title documents.”

For more information on physical odometer disclosure statements or to download the white paper, visit tinyurl.com/55pj44yn.


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