Consumer, safety groups fight back against car dealer “license to kill” legislation in New Jersey

Unscrupulous car dealers got New Jersey Senator James Beach and Assemblymember Louis Greenwald to carry anti-consumer, anti-safety, anti-enviroment legislation that threatens to open the floodgates for car dealers to sell hazardous recalled used cars in New Jersey, endangering the lives of their customers, their families and other passengers, and all who share the roads.

The bills would also allow New Jersey car dealers to sell vehicles that fail to comply with federal clean air / emissions standards.

The bills, S2740 and A4292, are the epitome of special-interest legislation.  “Coincidentally,” the owners of the Foulke car dealerships in Cherry Hill, NJ, contributed over $500,000 to a leadership PAC controlled by NJ Democratic power broker George Norcross shortly before the elections in NJ last November. So some politicians, such as Senate President Steve Sweeney, are likely to feel beholden to them for winning their seats.

The Foulke car dealerships have come under fire from NJ’s Attorney General for allegedly engaging in a number of illegal practices, and have been enjoined from engaging in such activity.

Assemblymember Greenwald, author of A4292, also has close ties with auto dealers, and has carried legislation that favors car dealers before.

The “license to kill” bills in NJ are similar to other measures that legislators have rejected in other states where car dealers got them introduced. Most recently, the car dealers’ bills were withdrawn in New York and Massachusetts, once lawmakers realized how harmful they would be.  Similar bills have also been defeated, or had the harmful provisions removed, in California, Maryland, Oregon, and Virginia. New Jersey legislators rejected a similar measure authored by Assemblymember Moriarty in 2015.

There is overwhelming public opposition to allowing car dealers to sell recalled used cars, with or without “disclosure,” which merely shifts legal liability onto victims. Statewide polling in New Jersey found that hardly anyone thinks such a law would be a good idea.

The car dealer “license to kill” bills are opposed by the nation’s leading consumer / auto safety organizations, plus major consumer, civil rights, and environmental groups in New Jersey, and the New Jersey State Bar Association.

They are also opposed by safety advocate Alexander Brangman, whose daughter Jewel was only 26 when she was killed by an unrepaired recalled Honda Civic with an exploding Takata airbag. She was in a low-speed collision involving multiple cars. Everyone else walked away. But the defective Takata airbag spewed metal fragments into the passenger compartment, severing an artery in Jewel’s neck, causing her to bleed to death.

The only supporters of the anti-consumer bills are trade associations for car dealers, who seek to evade legal liability for engaging in fraud and selling deathtrap cars. Attorneys for car dealers have advised them that the legislation is needed in order to eliminate the existing protections under various state laws, which prohibit auto dealers from engaging in unfair and deceptive acts and practices, violating express or implied warranties, committing fraud by misrepresenting the condition of the car or concealing a material fact such as the safety recall status, failing to fulfill their common law duty of care, being negligent, or causing wrongful death.

The New Jersey bills are even worse than in other states, because they would also drastically limit attorneys fees for victims of fraud committed by car dealers, making it virtually impossible for individual attorneys or the state’s Attorney General to act, regardless how harmful and widespread the car dealers’ practices are, or how many victims are harmed.

That means that even if the dealers fail to “disclose” the safety recalls, and make false claims about the safety of the cars they sell, they can evade being held accountable.

Here are some of the letters of opposition to the car dealer bills:

Consumer Federation of America, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, National Association of Consumer Advocates, Consumer Action, and The Safety Institute

Center for Auto Safety

Alexander Brangman, father of Jewel Brangman, who was killed by an unrepaired recalled car

New Jersey State Bar Association

Consumers Union

New Jersey Citizen Action, Sierra Club of New Jersey, NAACP New Jersey, The Latino Action Network, Ironbound Community Corporation, La Casa De Don Pedro, New Jersey Tenants Organization, Environment New Jersey, American Federation of Teachers Local 2274 Ramapo College of New Jersey

Consumers League of New Jersey

Pam Fischer, founder of the New Jersey Teen Safe Driving Coalition and former Director of the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety

Garden State Bar Association

News reports:

Philadelphia Inquirer: N.J. considers a consumer bill that only car dealers love

News 12 Investigates: Car recall bill may provide less protection in legal disputes

News 12 Investigates:  Groups oppose bill to require auto dealers to notify buyers about recalls

NJ101.5 Radio: Consumer groups fear the backhand effects of New Jersey car recall legislation

NJTV: Would new bill harm or help consumers buying used cars?

Editorial:

NJ Star-Ledger Editorial Board: Hit the Brakes on Bill Favoring Auto Dealers

 

 

Dealers increase profits at customers’ expense

When you shop at a car dealership, watch out for expensive add-ons and costly financing. Often items like extended service contracts, “theft etch” and “GAP” are a rip-off, and usually you can get a better rate on the financing yourself, by shopping around.

For example, many service contracts and extended warranties have fine print that excludes “pre-existing conditions.” So if the engine blows, your claim may be denied when the provider blames the problem on a lack of maintenance by a prior owner, or a component that was supposedly faulty when you bought the car.

How much extra do add-ons and dealer-arranged financing cost? They can add $5,000 or more to the price of a car, without adding any real benefit. Of course, car dealers push add-ons aggressively because they are so profitable — for them.

According to Automotive News, in the first quarter of 2018, AutoNation, the country’s largest new car dealership chain, averaged a gross “finance and insurance” profit of $1,779 per unit sold. That’s just their profit.

Bottom line: If you want to save big, it’s smart to get your own financing and decline the high-cost / fat-profit / low value add-ons.

Trump throws military under car dealer bus

What is “GAP” insurance, and why would the Trump Administration seek to allow car dealers to gouge our nation’s military heroes and their families when they buy cars, by selling them high-priced “GAP” insurance that is often worthless?

According to car dealers, the purpose of GAP, or “Guaranteed Asset Protection” insurance, is to cover you if your car is stolen or totaled before you pay off the loan. The “GAP” is the difference between the amount of the loan and the worth of the car.

Anyway, that’s the shtick. But in reality, the main purpose of “GAP” — when it is sold at car dealerships, and added into the price of a car loan — is to line the pockets of greedy car dealers.  You can actually get a much better deal if you simply buy GAP protection from your own insurance company. Regular insurers usually charge as little as $20 or $30 to add GAP coverage to your existing policy.

However, car dealers often charge $1,000 or more. Plus when it is added into your loan, it can cost you far more than that, in added interest that goes to the lender, for the entire life of the loan.  Making matters worse, some dealers pocket the money for GAP and never even activate the policies. So if your car is stolen or totaled, you could be in for a rude awakening. Some dealers have scammed many customers this way, then left the state and declared bankruptcy, evading any legal liability.

It’s bad enough when car dealers cheat civilians this way. But according to National Public Radio (NPR), as reported by VOX,

“the Trump administration has also proposed changes that could open up service members to predatory practices when they buy cars. The administration has proposed easing restrictions on “gap insurance,” an add-on to car insurance that covers the difference between the amount a car owner owes on the car and the car’s actual cash value.

Gap insurance is typically available from regular insurance companies for a very low price, as little as $20 to $30 a year, but car dealers often mark it up by hundreds of dollars. Current rules effectively block auto dealers from tacking on overpriced gap insurance to military service members, but the administration has sent a proposal to the Defense Department looking to revise the rules. (If the proposal does eventually make it out of the Defense Department, it will ultimately require the approval of the Office of Management and Budget, which [Trump appointee Mick] Mulvaney also heads.”

As Americans, we all have a stake in protecting our military Servicemembers from scams like this.  Among other reasons — when they are cheated in this way, it increases the risk they may lose their security clearance, and their ability to perform their vitally important mission, of protecting our nation from enemies foreign and domestic.

Especially at a time when our nation faces unprecedented threats from enemies abroad and cyber-attacks from enemies who have penetrated our power grid and are messing with our elections, we cannot afford to lose the services of highly-trained military personnel, who are desperately needed to protect our nation.

Our nation’s military should not have to fight on this front, simply to preserve the protections they already have. They deserve a Commander in Chief who has their back, not one who is stabbing them in the back.

This is an update of a prior post, “Avoid GAP insurance rip-offs”

 

 

 

Pennsylvania passes Car Dealer “License to Kill” Law

Life in Pennsylvania just got a lot more dangerous. Caving in to unscrupulous car dealers, Governor Tom Wolf signed a bill that was opposed by the nation’s leading auto safety organizations, that will make Pennsylvania into a dumping ground for unsafe recalled cars.

The new PA law in Pennsylvania allows car dealers to get away with selling defective recalled used cars, without getting the safety recall defects repaired first — no matter how hazardous the defects are.

Similar car dealer bills have failed to pass in other states, including New Jersey, California, New York, Maryland, and Virginia. The only other state to pass such a law is Tennessee, where dealers got legislators to sneak their bill through under the radar, on the last day of session, with no public discussion or debate.

The Pennsylvania legislation was opposed by the nation’s leading consumer / auto safety organizations, and by Ralph Nader and Alexander Brangman, whose daughter Jewel was killed by an exploding Takata airbag in a recalled Honda Civic.

Their letters of opposition:

Alexander Brangman, father of Jewel Brangman

Ralph Nader

Consumer Federation of America, The Safety Institute, the National Association of Consumer Advocates, Consumer Action, and Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety

Center for Auto Safety

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety

Here’s what can happen when someone is sold an unrepaired recalled car:

“Dad dies saving daughter from icy pond.  Car had been recalled for brake problem.”

Republican Rep. James R. Santora carried HB 1898 at the behest of the car dealers like CarMax, which recently lost a major appellate court decision in a case brought by a customer in Bakersfield, California, Tammy Gutierrez. That decision may set a good precedent for other consumers who have been sold dangerous recalled used cars.

Pennsylvania’s new law allows car dealers to fatten their profits by low-balling consumers who trade in cars with unrepaired safety recall defects, then turn around and sell them at top dollar to other consumers — without getting them fixed. All they have to do to comply with the new law is to slip a copy of the safety recall notice in a stack of papers — instead of making sure the cars are actually safe to drive.

In fact, the law actually is worse than that, because it says if the dealer fails to even provide this sham type of “disclosure” to an unlimited number of consumers, all of those violations of the law count only as a single offense, punishable by a mere $1000.

It’s a violation of federal law for car dealers to sell recalled cars as NEW cars. While there isn’t a similar specific federal law to protect used car buyers, many state consumer protection laws exist to prohibit such practices.

Currently, state laws in PA and the other 49 states prohibit violations of the common law duty of care, or prohibit engaging in unfair or deceptive acts and practices, acting with negligence, or causing a wrongful death. Such laws – which apply to all businesses, including car dealers — carry potentially extremely serious sanctions.

But under the new law, car dealers won’t have to worry about being held liable if someone is injured or killed.

The biggest beneficiary under the new law will be CarMax, the nation’s largest retailer of used cars. Research performed by the CARS Foundation, MASSPIRG Education Fund and the Frontier Group found that over 25% of vehicles CarMax offered for sale in 6 locations across the nation had at least one unrepaired safety recall.  Many had multiple safety recall defects.  One pickup truck CarMax advertised for sale in Massachusetts had 6 unrepaired safety recalls, including two for catching on fire.

News report by Consumer Affairs:

“Pennsylvania passes law that will make it easier for car dealers to sell lemons, safety groups say”

Why can’t you buy a new car without going to a car dealership?

Car dealers and corrupt politicians conspire to keep consumers captive, forcing them to go to greedy car dealerships to purchase a new car. This outrageous monopoly costs American car buyers billions of extra dollars each year.  Plus it often ruins lives when dealers engage in fraud, deception, or sell cars with killer safety defects.

truTV’s  Adam Conover, famous for his riffs on “Adam Ruins Everything,” explains “The REAL Reason Why Car Dealerships are the Worst”

What can you do to break free from the car dealer monopoly? Well, if you are buying a USED car, you don’t have to go there. You can usually get a much better deal on a nice, safe used car without having to spend 4 – 6 hours being tormented by a greedy car dealer.  This is how some of the nation’s leading consumer advocates buy a car — without the hassles and risks that come with buying from a professional crook:

12 Tips for how to get a good deal on a nice, safe used car

Why don’t consumers get safety recalls done? They’re afraid of car dealers.

Safety recall defects are dangerous, putting precious lives at risk. So why don’t consumers get safety recall repairs done?  Surveys show that a major reason is that many consumers are afraid of taking their car to a car dealer.

According to a report in the Detroit News:

“The big problem is that recalls depend upon the private vehicle owner to take the car to a dealer and get it fixed. In newer cars, that compliance rate is more than 80 percent, but when a car is five years old or older, the rate drops to around 44 percent, according to a new survey by ChecktoProtect.org which was founded by FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) and the nonprofit National Safety Council and announced June 22.

Surveys done by Autotrader.com show that a lot of car buyers don’t trust dealers to fix recall issues properly, and they also worry about the dealer charging them extra for non-recall repairs.”

Read more: Detroit News: “As vehicle recalls multiply, technology gets the blame”

 

Did CarMax sell you an unsafe car?

You’ve probably noticed the ads. They’re on TV, at sports events, and on the radio.  CarMax has an enormous ad budget and spends millions to paint  a rosy picture about the cars it sells. But behind all the hype, dangerous cars with killer safety defects are lurking.

CarMax boasts that all the vehicles it offers for sale must pass a rigorous inspection, before they can be sold as “CarMax Quality Certified” vehicles. But what they don’t want you to know is that they fail to get the FREE safety recall repairs done.

Instead, they charge top dollar for cars with killer safety defects. In fact, according to a recent survey of CarMax vehicles for sale in California, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, over 25% of the vehicles they offer for sale have unrepaired safety recalls.  One truck had 6 unrepaired safety recall defects — a deathtrap on wheels.

CarMax is the largest retailer of used cars in the U.S. They took in over $15 billion last year, but they don’t care enough about the safety of their customers to hire employees and give them the job of delivering cars to franchised car dealers for repairs and picking them up when they’re ready.  Instead, they are perfectly willing to put the lives of their customers, their families and friends and other passengers, and others who share the roads, at risk, to maximize their profits.

One of the most common defects in CarMax cars: hazardous Takata airbags that are prone to exploding with excessive force, spewing metal fragments at drivers and passengers. Over 20 people have been killed by these ticking automotive time bombs.  Here’s what can happen at any time to hapless consumers who end up riding in cars with the faulty airbags:

People Magazine: Scott Eastwood’s girlfriend Jewel Brangman died from faulty airbag in crash.

The crash that killed Jewel was basically a fender-bender. The recalled Honda that caused Jewel’s death was sandwiched between two other cars, in a low-speed crash. Everyone else walked away. But a metal fragment from the exploding airbag sliced into Jewel’s neck and she bled to death.

The only way CarMax is going to stop endangering lives is for their own customers to speak up. We hope that happens before there are more tragedies like the one that killed Jewel Brangman.

Did CarMax sell you a car with an unrepaired safety recall?  If they did, we want to hear from you. Such sales are very likely a violation of state consumer protection laws. We encourage you to fight back.

Here’s where to contact CARS. Thank you for helping save lives!

 

Cars with deadly Takata airbags you may not even know about

Last March, Las Vegas teen Karina Dorado was in a low-speed crash that normally wouldn’t have resulted in serious injuries. But she was driving a 2002 Honda with a checkered past. It had once been in a crash and was “totaled” by the insurance company.  Some people might expect that to be the end of the road for that car.

But insurers auction off wrecked cars to the highest bidder. Those wrecks are often purchased by unlicensed, untrained rebuilders who lack the equipment, or the desire, to perform a proper repair.  It would be very expensive to fix the vehicles so that they are safe to drive.

Instead, they cut corners, leaving the vehicles with major problems that can cause death or serious injuries.

According to news reports, the Honda that Dorado was driving had a recycled recalled Takata airbag that was removed from a 2001 Honda Accord. It was not the original one that came with her car. Instead, it was a faulty airbag that was prone to exploding with excessive force, spraying metal fragments into the driver’s face and neck.  When her car was in the crash, metal from the recalled airbag punctured Dorado’s windpipe, almost causing her to bleed to death.

Under the the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act of 2000, it is illegal to sell a used automotive part that was recalled, but not repaired. However, the law is seldom enforced.

How can you avoid buying a car with a recycled killer Takata airbag?

  1.  Check the federal database of total loss vehicles established by the U.S. Department of Justice. Keep in mind that no database is 100% complete, and there are huge gaps in each of them.  This one includes ONLY vehicles that were “totaled” by the insurer, or self-insured company (such as a rental car company).  It does NOT include vehicles that sustained major damage, but were not totaled, or recalled cars.
  2. ALWAYS get any used car you are considering buying inspected by both a skilled mechanic and a reputable auto body shop of YOUR choosing BEFORE you buy. Make sure they check for signs that the car was in a crash that may have caused the airbags to deploy. Don’t trust the seller. Insist on getting your own inspection. If they won’t let you do that, walk away. They are hiding something. A good place to find a good mechanic and body shop: Car Talk’s Mechanics Files

More tips on how to buy a car, without having to go to a car dealership

Read more:  KSAT Investigative report: Why are recalled Takata airbags being recycled?

Why don’t consumers get unsafe recalled cars fixed?

GM, Fiat Chrysler, Honda, the National Safety Council, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, mayors and other elected officials, are investing millions in an attempt to reach owners of older recalled cars and persuade them to take their vehicles to car dealers for recall repairs. They’re using advertisements, social media, even private investigators who track people and find out who owns vehicles that have repeatedly changed hands.

They are trying to impress on the owners that their safety is at stake, and driving without repairing the safety recalls is too risky. The biggest challenge: the millions of older vehicles with Takata airbags that are prone to exploding with excessive force, spewing shrapnel into the faces, necks, and chests of drivers and passengers, causing victims to bleed to death.

But the messages that consumers are getting from the auto industry are extremely mixed. The former Chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, Jeff Carlson, a Colorado car dealer, claims that “only 6 percent of recalls are ‘hazardous.'” Carlson and the NADA have been opposing federal legislation that would require dealers to fix all safety recall defects on used cars, prior to sale — in addition to the existing protections under state laws in all 50 states.

He claimed that “Such a move would ground millions of cars unnecessarily and diminish vehicle trade-in values.” That attitude is dangerous, reckless, and irresponsible, but it’s all too common in the car dealer world. By that nutty calculus, none of the following safety defects would be considered “hazardous” — brakes that fail, steering loss, sticking accelerator pedals, catching on fire, wheels that fall off, seat belts that fail in a crash, or a myriad of other safety defects that have claimed hundreds of lives and maimed thousands of people.

No wonder consumers are confused about whether it’s worth taking time off from work to take their car to a dealership that may be over 100 miles away, and where they may not get a loaner car, while their car sits waiting for repairs. Meanwhile, many consumers would be without their only means of transportation to get to work, and get their kids to school, or get to medical appointments.

Car dealers across the country have also been urging state legislatures to allow them to get away with selling unsafe, unrepaired recalled cars without repairing them first. What message does that send to the public about the importance of getting safety recall repairs? If the cars are so unsafe, they should be repaired first, right? Shouldn’t the car dealers, who are the professionals, set the right example? Of course they should.

It appears that the car dealers’ double standard is aimed more at forcing consumers to go to car dealerships for repairs, than at ensuring their safety. Once there, consumers are often subject to high-pressure tactics to sell their car and purchase a new one. Among the scams common at many car dealerships — refusing to return the car keys unless the consumer buys another car.

Recent complaints about car dealers posted on Quora: “I had my car keys taken at the dealership and was almost forced to purchase a car (refused to let me leave).”

Automotive News: Carlson vows to press NADA’s fight against regulation

Bottom line: Consumers should take safety recalls seriously. So should auto dealers. Car dealers need to do the right thing, comply with state laws, and stop selling unrepaired, defective recalled used cars — shifting the burden onto consumers. Auto manufacturers should offer roving repairs to consumers with unrepaired recalled cars where they work or at their homes. And the National Automobile Dealers Association should acknowledge publicly that of course all the cars with Takata airbags and other safety recall repairs are unsafe, and should be repaired immediately.

Stalling defect in Kia and Hyundai vehicles may lead to expanded safety recalls

Link

Investigators from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are delving into stalling problems in nearly 1.7 million Hyundai and Kia vehicles. They are following up on warnings from a whistleblower who had access to documents about the safety defect.

Earlier recalls over the stalling defect may not have included all the faulty cars. According to Reuters, “Kim Gwang-ho, then an engineer at Hyundai, flew to Washington in August 2016 to tell NHTSA the companies should have recalled more vehicles over the problem, citing an internal report. He also reported several alleged safety lapses to both U.S. and South Korean authorities.

On March 31, Hyundai expanded its original U.S. recall to 572,000 Sonata and Santa Fe Sport vehicles with “Theta II” engines, citing the same issue involving manufacturing debris, the NHTSA said. On the same day, Kia also recalled 618,160 Optima, Sorento and Sportage vehicles which use the same engine.”

Stalling in traffic is a serious safety defect, which can lead to a crash, injuring or killing the driver, passengers, and others who share the roads.

If your car intermittently stalls in traffic, or has another safety defect, here is where to file a complaint with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA has the authority to pressure auto manufacturers to issue safety recalls and to provide repairs at no cost to consumers, for up to 15 years after the recall is issued.

File an auto safety complaint with the NHTSA

Read more: Reuters: U.S. Regulators Open Probe into nearly 1.7 million Hyundai, Kia models

Lawsuit: Dealer sold “fake” warranties on used cars

Ever wonder what happens when you buy a warranty or service contract from a car dealer?  Unfortunately, some dealers just pocket the money.  Then if your car needs repairs, you are left with no coverage.  Some dealers have faced criminal penalties for engaging in this scam, but often it goes undetected.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of consumers in New Jersey alleges that a dealer in that state repeatedly sold so-called “warranties” or service contracts on expensive used cars, but failed to activate the policies.

See news report:

ABC 7 New York: Dealer of high-end used cars sold “fake” warranties

Don’t fall victim to car dealer scams.  CARS tips for how to get a good deal on a nice, safe, reliable used car — without having to set foot on a car dealer’s lot

 

Buying a car from a dealer in California may get even more hazardous to your financial health

When you buy a car at an auto dealership, you should be able to get all the terms in writing BEFORE you sign anything — right?  Right. But for California car buyers, that may change. Why? Because car dealers are aggressively lobbying to get rid of the consumer protection laws in California that currently prohibit them from using “e-contracting.”

The California New Car Dealers Association and Enterprise Holdings (one of the largest sellers of used cars) are pushing for passage of AB 380, authored by Assemblymember Matt Dababneh (D-Van Nuys), powerful chair of the California Assembly Committee on Banking.

But pro-consumer groups including Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, CALPIRG, the Consumer Federation of California, Consumer Action, Public Counsel, the California Reinvestment Coalition, the Center for Responsible Lending, and Public Good are fighting back, to preserve protections for California car buyers.

Who would benefit the most if AB 380 passes?

One of the biggest winners would be Credit Acceptance Corp. What’s their business model?

Mother Jones: “They Had Created this Remarkable System for Taking Every Last Dime from Their Customers: Welcome to the Lucrative, Predatory World of Subprime Auto Loans”

Here’s why groups that work on behalf of consumers and against powerful, crooked special interests are opposing AB 380:

Large coalition of pro-consumer, pro-economic justice organizations opposes AB 380

Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety opposes AB 380 (Dababneh)

Consumer Federation of California

CALPIRG

What’s wrong with e-contracting in car transactions?

Unscrupulous car dealers and shady lenders LOVE “e-contracting.” A LOT. That’s because the combination of high-pressure sales tactics at the car dealership — aimed at consumers who are often tired and feeling rushed after hours of haggling and test-driving cars — and all-electronic transactions make it much easier for dealers and crooked lenders to get away with fraud, forgery, and other illicit (but oh-so profitable!) flim-flam.

Among crooked car dealers’ favorite e-contracting scams: selling cars in excess of the agreed-upon price, “packing” loans with thousands of dollars in unwanted, high-profit, worthless add-ons, overcharging for license fees and pocketing the difference, selling cars that fail to pass smog,  charging bogus “government” fees, and engaging in other types of fraud.

Unlike with home purchases, where there are strict, built-in protections, auto sales transactions fail to require the seller to provide you with a written, good faith estimate of all the costs three days in advance, before you sign.  Buying a car is much riskier. It’s also riskier than credit card transactions, where there are limits on your liability in the event of identity theft or fraud.

You have a lot to lose

Under the federal Truth in Lending Act, you are entitled to get all the disclosures about an auto loan in writing. BEFORE you sign anything. Like: What will the monthly payments be? How much will you have to pay in interest?  How long will the loan last? Up front. In your own hands. Then if you wish, you can leave the dealership and take that document with you and shop around, to see if you can find another dealer or lender who will beat that offer. You have that important right, thanks to federal law.

California law also prohibits dealers from using e-contracts. That means when you buy a car in California, the dealer should hand you a paper document, with everything in writing, all nicely filled in. You can look at the entire document at one time, or zero in on any part of it. You get to review the whole contract before you decide whether you want to agree to anything. You can tell that “friendly” F & I manager to stop hovering over you, while you read it. You can take it with you while you sip a cup of coffee in a quiet spot. You can show it to your spouse, or friends, or an attorney, or anyone you wish,  BEFORE you sign.

But if the dealers and lenders have their way, and gut California’s law against e-contracting in auto sales, dealers will be able to get away with concealing vital terms on a computer screen that you may not even be able to read. You certainly cannot take the computer or e-pad with you and shop around. It won’t be in your control. Instead, it will be in the dealership’s control.

If  AB 380 passes, car dealers can lure consumers into signing in advance that they agreed to let the dealer use e-contracting, to buy a car.  They can make it sound like it’s no big deal. Then they can use that against car buyers, if there are any disagreements over what they agreed upon. Making matters worse, “signing” can be done by anyone who has access to the computer — with the click of a mouse.  It would become virtually impossible to prove your signature was forged. Your “signature” could be added with a click. By anyone.

And — you won’t get anything in writing, on paper, until AFTER the documents have already been “signed.” By then, it’s too late, and you may be held legally obligated to pay, even if you are the victim of a scam.

Consumers fight back

Some dealers in California have jumped the gun and are already acting as if it were legal for them to use e-contracts. With unfortunate but predictable results. Consumers are starting to complain they didn’t get to see the screen, and dealers are adding thousands of dollars extra, above the purchase price that was negotiated; giving the consumers thousands less than the agreed-upon value of their trade-ins; and adding in worthless, expensive service contracts  — even when the consumers rejected them, during negotiations. One dealer added over $4000 in multiple unwanted, worthless extra service contracts onto the purchase of a new car, plus “surface protection” costing over $1200 and “Lo Jack” costing $695 — extremely high-profit items for car dealers.

In some cases, consumers have won the right take these dealers to court, because the judges agreed that the contracts were not binding, citing the existing law that prohibits e-contracting. Otherwise, the consumers could be forced into arbitration, basically being compelled to surrender their Constitutional right to fight back in a court of law.

If the predatory dealers and lenders win, and AB 380 passes, consumers would be likely to lose those court challenges they are winning now, and could be forced to give up their ability to hold unscrupulous dealers accountable.

Winners and Losers

If AB 380 passes, the biggest winners will be large auto dealership chains like AutoNation, which took in over $19 billion in gross revenue in 2014. They are publicly traded on Wall Street. Their biggest investor? Bill Gates.

The biggest losers will be California’s new and used car buyers who can ill-afford to give away thousands of their hard-earned dollars to mega-dealers and big banks for the privilege of being ripped off.

What can you do to help stop AB 380, the crooked car dealers and fraudulent lenders’ favorite bill?

Call your Assemblymember and tell them to vote NO on AB 380. Buying a car from a car dealer in California is already dangerous enough.  Here’s where to find out who your Assemblymember in Sacramento is: Find Your Legislator

Thank you! Every call helps make a difference!

Read more:

Large coalition of pro-consumer, pro-economic justice organizations opposes AB 380

Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety opposes AB 380 (Dababneh)

More pro-consumer organizations are also opposing AB 380:

Consumer Federation of California

CALPIRG

Public Counsel

Attorney David Valdez, who represents many victims of unscrupulous auto dealers and lenders