Other states have also eased restrictions around wet signatures — for instance, a Texas Department of Motor Vehicles spokesman said the state allows digital signatures. But it's still unclear how widespread the shift has been across the country, and whether dealerships that can use electronic signatures to finish deals are actually doing so.
More breakthroughs could be on the way this year.
In New Jersey, lawmakers are considering a bill to require the state's motor vehicle agency to accept all vehicle purchase paperwork that has been electronically signed. California's new-vehicle dealers association likely will try again this year to get legislation passed that would digitize signatures on sales and lease contracts that now require wet ink.
For dealers, the progress is long overdue.
"This is something that should have happened a long time ago," said Larry Zinn, general manager of Warren Henry Auto Group in Florida.
"You should be able to buy a car without having wet signatures," he said. "It's a more convenient customer experience. You know, it is touchless, which is what our consumers want."
Auto retailing has long been viewed as slower to adapt to e-commerce than other retail sectors. But the industry's digital transition was underway before the pandemic as dealerships worked to improve the customer experience and become more convenient and efficient. Retailers and vendors vary in how they define an end-to-end online purchase — but in any case, requiring a customer to physically sign a paper form prior to taking the keys generally precludes a transaction from being considered 100 percent digital.
But going digital, down to every signature in a deal jacket, would pay dividends for dealers and consumers, advocates say. Some likely benefits: cutting down on paper, speeding up transaction time, getting deals funded faster and improving customer satisfaction.
"We have shifted to electronic signatures in most departments across my four Nissan stores," said Scott Smith, president of Smith Automotive Group near Atlanta. "The storage and security of paperwork associated with wet-signature documents is a major cost. A high-volume store can have 3,000 customers in the service center a month. Each visit requires three or four pages to be signed by the customer. You check a lot of boxes with electronic signatures."
Despite the benefits, not every state accepts digitally signed documents. Thirty-five states have laws to enable electronic signatures specific to title and registration paperwork on the books, and 26 of those have taken the next step to adopt policies governing how to accept them, according to Cox Automotive's Dealertrack unit, which monitors states' electronic titling and registration regulations.
Documents that must be physically signed often include an odometer disclosure statement or a secure power of attorney form.