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Spring 1989 · Vol. 18 No. 1 · pp. 3–4 

Case Study: The Pink Slip and the DMV

Responses by Bryan Born 18/1 (1989): 5–8; and John Derksen 18/1 (1989): 9–12.

Elmer A. Martens

Robert Cleaver’s experience at the Stanton Office of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) took an unexpected turn. With only seconds to respond, he was up against a troublesome choice.

Robert Cleaver had purchased a 1981 Honda Civic by following the Classified Ads in the local Woodland Sentinel. After following several non-promising leads, he had located a 1981 Honda Civic with low mileage and air conditioning. The price was satisfactory. Over the Gonzalez’ kitchen table he wrote the check of deposit, chit chatted about trustworthiness, exchanged names and addresses, and in the course of the conversation identified himself as a teacher of ethics at a Christian college.

Setting out the correct information might mean . . . his relationship with the sellers could be sticky.

After two days he returned to present the cash in exchange for the pink slip. Cleaver saw that the pink slip was made out to Tony Atwell. He asked Gonzalez about it. Oscar explained, “We purchased the vehicle only a few months ago. It was not clear whether our daughter could handle the stick shift and now we have found that she could not. The license tag was good till December and so we haven’t registered the vehicle, but there will be no problem at the DMV when you present your pink slip.” {4}

Cleaver knew that when he registered the vehicle he would need to pay 6.5 percent state sales tax. By not reporting and registering, the Gonzalez family had evaded this cost. Still he was not sufficiently in touch with regulations to know whether there would be a problem with the proposed procedure.

When he stepped to the DMV reception desk, the lady asked cordially, “What can we do for you?” As she took the papers from Cleaver’s hand she began ticking off a checklist and in the process, holding up the pink slip, she asked, “You bought the car from this man?” Cleaver said neither yes nor no. She assumed silence meant affirmation and directed him to aisle #5.

Cleaver stood at the end of a line waiting. What might have happened had he indicated that the Honda had been bought from a man other than Atwell, the registered owner? Setting out the correct information might mean, he thought, that Gonzalez would need to pay the sales tax plus possible penalties, his own busy schedule would be interrupted and certainly delayed, and his relationship with the sellers could turn out to be sticky. Still it was hardly a matter of serious consequence.

He stepped to the appropriate window. The efficient secretary began punching the appropriate information on the computer. “Did you pay $2,200 for this vehicle?” Cleaver answered, “Yes.” “That will mean a tax of $143. Did you purchase the car from this man?” She held up the pink slip. Cleaver was silent, and the clerk proceeded making her entries, having assumed a positive answer. Cleaver walked to his car with the necessary papers in hand. He never liked standing in lines at the DMV and today, to that discomfort there had been added another.

Dr. Elmer A. Martens is professor of Old Testament, Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California.

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