Legal Info

Vehicle Ownership & Responsibilities

Buying A Car

Though many of you may already have a car (thanks mom and dad!), the car purchase process is something everyone will face sooner or later. Some people can be intimidated by the ordeal, worried that they might get ripped off or make a bad deal. The following are some tips from the Tennessee Motor Vehicle Commission to keep in mind when it’s time to buy a car.

Get your money in order.

Before you do anything else make sure to sit down and spend time thinking about costs.The first step of any car search needs to be determining how much you can afford to spend. It’s imperative that you do this before you start your search if you don’t, it is often easy to continue to up sell yourself. Before you know it, a search for a Kia ends with you driving off in a Ferrari. To avoid such trouble, look at your budget and come up with a conservative figure that you can afford.

If you’ll be financing the car then you should shop around for financing before choosing the vehicle. You should try to get your financing through a local bank or credit union as they typically offer better rates than dealerships. Make sure to ask about interest rates, monthly payments, down payments and other financing terms.

Do your homework.

A car is a major purchase whether it’s new or used. Remember, when it comes to buying a car information is power. Before you go to a dealership, spend sometime hunting around online to narrow down your options to those makes and models you are most interested in.

Be sure to look vehicles up online to find information about safety, reliability and price. Sites such as or are great places to collect info about cars before visiting a dealership. You can also check out an individual dealer’s reputation by looking them up with your local Better Business Bureau.

Now the negotiation.

Once you’ve settled on the car of your dreams it’s time to do the negotiating dance.Understand that the sticker price, also known as the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP), does not always represent the actual market value of the car. Doing research online before hand can ensure that you understand the real value of the car and it’s important to insist that the dealer give you the best possible price. An important tip for negotiating a good deal is to always be prepared to leave. Walking away is the best way to drive home the point that you are not desperate enough to pay top dollar for the car.

Signing the contract.

Before you go signing any contract make sure that any and all promises made by the dealer have been put into writing. Be sure to review all the documents related to the sale and make certain you understand what you’re signing. After all, it might come back to bite you later on.

Can I return the car?

You might be used to returning certain things if you change your mind later, but that is unfortunately not the way things are done with cars. People suffering from buyer’s remorse often wonder if they are allowed to unwind the deal and take the car back. The answer is usually no, though there are some rare occasions where it might be possible.

Tennessee law is clear that there is no cooling-off period for car purchases. This three-day cooling-off rule is a federal law that is meant to protect consumers from high-pressure sales that occur door-to-door. It does not apply to cars.Once you sign the sales contract you own the car and any return will only take place under two circumstances: 1) the contract contains a clause that allows for such a return or 2) the dealer chooses to allow it. While dealers may decide it’s best to keep the customer happy, realize that the law is on their side, and they do not have to agree to a potentially costly unwinding absent fraud or other extraordinary circumstances.

Car Insurance

Now that you’re an adult one unfortunate aspect of the new responsibility is the joy of paying bills. Though some of you may already be paying car insurance,others may have had a little help from your parents and thus not fully appreciate the legal obligation to carry car insurance. State law says that every vehicle driven on the highways of Tennessee must meet certain minimum insurance standards. This is known as the state’s Financial Responsibility Law.

State minimum coverage

To meet Tennessee insurance standards your policy must comply with the following minimum requirements:

  • $25,000 coverage for one injury or death
  • $50,000 coverage for all injuries or deaths
  • $15,000 coverage for property damage for one accident

It’s important to note that these are only minimum standards of liability coverage and there may be other, better plans for you to consider purchasing. For instance, these amounts cover injuries suffered by other drivers, passengers,and/or pedestrians in an accident. They do not typically cover injuries or property damage to the driver found to be at fault in the accident.


The state Department of Safety outlines the penalties for failure to maintain financial responsibility.If you’re pulled over in Tennessee or are involved in an accident, an officer is permitted to ask for proof of insurance. Failure to produce the required proof is a Class C misdemeanor and can result in a fine of up to $100, license suspension and a notation in your record which will prevent you from renewing your vehicle registration, at least until the insurance problem is remedied.

Lemon Law

A “lemon” in this context refers to a vehicle that was sold or leased after January 1, 1987 and has a defect that substantially impairs the vehicle. A car qualifies as a lemon if the manufacturer or dealer cannot repair the vehicle after three attempts or the vehicle is out of service for repairs for a cumulative total of 30 or more days.

How to qualify

For a vehicle to qualify under Tennessee’s Lemon law it must meet the following conditions:

  • Your vehicle must have been bought new.
  • Your vehicle must have had a minimum of three repair attempts or your vehicle must have been out of service for 30 calendar days.
  • The Lemon Law claim must be made either during the period of your vehicle’s warranty or within one year of purchase, whichever occurs first.

What happens if you qualify?

If you meet the above conditions then either the manufacturer or dealer is required to replace the vehicle with a comparable vehicle or accept the return of the vehicle from the consumer and refund the full purchase price.

What should you do to file a claim?

The first thing you must do if you are considering filing a Lemon Law claim is keep detailed repair records. Note every problem you’ve encountered, which repairs have been performed and the length of time your car has been unavailable for you to use while it was being repaired. Without this proof it will be much more difficult to hold a dealership accountable.

If you have a lemon, you are required to notify the manufacturer of the problem in writing by certified mail. The manufacturer has an opportunity to repair your car within 10 days. If the manufacturer has not responded or refuses to hear your complaint, the final part of filing a claim is to hire an attorney that specializes in Lemon Law claims. The good news for consumers is that the attorney’s fees are generally paid for by the defendant. If the attorney loses your case then they generally do not receive any payment. If, on the other hand, they win, the manufacture is usually responsible for paying their fees.

Seat Belts

We’ve all seen the billboards for “Click It Or Ticket” and have surely heard how important wearing a seat belt can be for improving the odds of surviving a car accident. Though everyone agrees you should buckle up, there may be times where you simply forget or where others in your vehicle choose not to strap in. What happens then?

Tennessee’s Seat Belt Law

Tennessee’s law is clear that any person who exceeds the child safety seat limits needs to be properly secured by a seat belt when riding in the front seat of a car.“Properly secured” includes both shoulder and lap belts, assuming the vehicle comes equipped with them.

The law also says that anyone under the age of 18 is required to wear a seat belt if they are riding in the back seat.A careful reader will detect a loophole for those over 18 and in the back.Though it is certainly not recommended, it is not technically against the law for an adult in the back seat to not wear a seat belt.

What if you drive an old clunker?

It would have to be a really old clunker to make any difference under Tennessee law. The regulations say that the seat belt law does not apply to cars made before 1968 or SUVS, vans and pickups made before 1972 that do not come with installed seat belts.

Child Safety Restraint Law

Though there’s a loophole for adults no such exception exists for those small enough to be in child safety seats. Tennessee law says that kids under the age of 1 who weigh less than 20 pounds must use a rear-facing safety seat. Children between 1 and 3 who weigh more than 20 pounds must use a forward-facing safety seat. Kids 4-8 and under 4’9 must be in a booster seat while those between 9 and 12 are recommended to be in boosters but not required.

What about riding in the back of a pickup?

Believe it or not, the laws regarding driving in the back of a pickup truck are less restrictive than if the child is riding in the passenger compartment of a vehicle. Tennessee law says that if the vehicle is on the interstate system or a road designated as a state highway, a person must be at least 12 years old to ride in the back of a pickup. If the truck is on a city route, a city street or a county road, as long as the kid is at least six years old they can legally ride in the back of a pickup truck.


In Tennessee, the seat belt law is a primary enforcement law. This means that police officers can stop and ticket drivers who are not buckled up or who are carrying passengers without their seat belts. Prior to 2004 officers could only issue tickets to people who had been stopped for other reasons.

Though you can be issued a citation for violating the state’s safety belt laws, the maximum fine for a first offense is $50.


Surprising news recently made national headlines as a study found that drunk driving is no longer the leading cause of death among teenage drivers. For years drinking and driving has been the biggest cause of death among young teens, but now researchers say that has given way to the scourge of texting while driving.

According to researchers, at least 3,000 teens die each year due to texting while another 300,000 suffer serious injuries. Experts say that the problem with texting is that it requires visual, physical and cognitive skills, diverting important attention away from the road and towards your cellphone. While this is dangerous for anyone, it is especially deadly among young drivers who have much less experience operating cars and responding to incidents on the road.

Tennessee law says that texting while driving is illegal. The law specifically states:

“No person while driving a motor vehicle on any public road or highway shall use a hand-held mobile telephone or a hand-held personal digital assistant to transmit or read a written message...”

The only exception to the texting prohibition is in cases where a car is not in motion at the time of the texting. This means that if the vehicle is in park,texting is permitted. The law also says that police officers, campus security officers and emergency responders are all allowed to text message behind the wheel provided the texting is related to their official duties.

In Tennessee, the crime of texting while driving is what is known as a primary offense. In the context of cell phones and driving, this means that a police officer can stop you and cite you for an observed violation of the texting law.The police officer does not need to have some other primary reason to stop you,such as your taillight being out or speeding.

Some police forces in and around Chattanooga have begun to use unmarked vehicles to catch drivers texting on the road. Sport utility vehicles and state-owned semi trucks work well for allowing police to look into cars to see if drivers are texting or simply using a radio remote or dialing a phone.

If one of these officers catches you texting, don’t worry, you won’t be carted off to jail. You will, however, be made to pay some fines. A violation of the texting law is a Class C misdemeanor and results in a fine of $50 and court costs of now more than $10.

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