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

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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

 

 

 

So what auto safety regulations will we lose?

President Trump has reportedly declared that he plans to get rid of 75% of federal regulations.  This is verrry scary stuff. Especially since states are prohibited from being able to act, to require auto manufacturers to build safety into their cars.  The states’ hands are tied. That means if we lose safety regulations in DC, nothing can be enacted in their place. No matter how bad the carnage gets.

So — which lifesaving auto safety regulations will Trump roll back? The one that requires seat belts to work in a crash? The one for fuel tank integrity, that requires cars to withstand a rear-end collision without exploding into flames?  The one that requires your car to offer a minimum level of side-impact protection for your head and torso if you are T-boned by a huge SUV that blows through an intersection, against the red light? The one that keeps SUVs from tipping over, killing drivers and passengers?

You have to wonder whether he, or anyone around him, has thought this through. What will happen to public confidence in the auto market when people realize that the cars they own now are actually safer than the newer ones, built under the anti-regulatory Trump regime?

What’s next? Autonomous cars a teenager can hack, or that could be controlled by Isis, Putin, or Kim Jong Un?

This is reminiscent of when GM, Chrysler, and Ford were so cocky about having the entire U.S. market to themselves. They sold huge numbers of atrocious lemon cars. They were lemons despite the fact the workers were doing their best. They were lemons by design. Worst of all, the auto manufacturers refused to stand behind them. They dismissed consumer complaints and stonewalled frustrated car owners.

The end result: car buyers revolted, all 50 states enacted lemon laws, and the auto import market was born, eventually overtaking the domestics by a mile, especially in markets like California.

GM, a former powerhouse, now has only a puny 9% of the California market. Its market share nationally has shrunken to just 17%.  People don’t forget easily, or quickly, when they have been sold a car that fails to meet reasonable expectations. Let alone one that kills.

Message to President Trump and the auto lobbyists:  Don’t delude yourselves. It can happen again. Markets can shift, and they can shrink. It’s entirely possible that Obama will be known for saving the American auto industry, and Trump for destroying it. Ultimately, it all depends on what millions of individual consumers, who value their lives and their families’ safety, decide.

CarMax sells cars with recalled, defective airbags — as “CarMax Quality Certified” cars

CarMax advertises that all of its cars must pass a “125+ point inspection.” They even post a long list of components on their website that they supposedly inspect, check, and repair, before they decide that a car qualifies to be sold as “CarMax Quality Certified.”

But — don’t be fooled. CarMax is selling LOTS of cars with defects that have killed and maimed people. Including cars with the dangerous, exploding Takata airbags that have killed at least 11 people and injured about 180 others, sometimes causing blindness or brain damage.  Shockingly, CarMax does NOT bother to get the defects fixed before they sell the cars.

Because of an exploding Takata airbag, one college student in an otherwise survivable crash bled to death. Tragically, CarMax cares more about maximizing its profits than protecting its customers, or their families.  CarMax tries to shift the responsibility for getting safety recalls performed onto its customers. But purchasers who buy cars with recalled Takata airbags are faced with a serious problem. There is a huge shortage of repair parts. Automotive experts predict it may take months, or years, before owners of the recalled cars can get the repairs done. Meanwhile, they are stuck driving a car that is a ticking automotive time bomb.

Read more: NBC: U.S. Confirms 11th Death Linked to Faulty Airbag Inflator

 

Takata admits guilt. But who pays for cars with unsafe airbags?

Thanks to enforcement by the U.S. Department of Justice the Department of Transportation, and the FBI, airbag manufacturer Takata plead guilty to wire fraud and agreed to pay a total of $1 billion in criminal penalties. Why? Because the company had committed fraud, concealing dangerous defects in its airbag inflators, which have caused at least 11 deaths and approximately 180 injuries, including blindness and brain injuries, in the U.S.

According to the law enforcement agencies, Takata executives engaged in a cover-up that lasted for at least 15 years.

According to the DOJ, “Under the terms of the agreement, Takata will pay a total criminal penalty of $1 billion, including $975 million in restitution and a $25 million fine. Two restitution funds will be established: a $125 million fund for individuals who have been physically injured by Takata’s airbags and who have not already reached a settlement with the company, and a $850 million fund for airbag recall and replacement costs incurred by auto manufacturers who were victims of Takata’s fraud scheme. A court-appointed special master will oversee administration of the restitution funds.”

Sooo — if auto manufacturers are being compensated for losses associated with Takata’s fraud, why are they and their franchised dealers still selling cars with unsafe, unrepaired Takata airbags, which are being passed onto consumers at dealerships such as CarMax?

CarMax is notorious for selling cars with unrepaired safety recalls, including defective Takata airbags that are being recalled.  CarMax advertises that all its cars must pass a “rigorous inspection” in order to qualify to be sold as “CarMax Quality Certified” vehicles. But CarMax fails to get the safety recalls repaired.  Consumers who buy cars with dangerously defective Takata airbags from CarMax and other unscrupulous auto dealers may not realize that there is no way they can get their cars repaired for a long time, due to severe shortages of replacement airbags.

Read more: U.S. Department of Justice: Takata Agrees to Pay $1 Billion in Criminal Penalties for Airbag Scheme

 

Autonomous cars cause confusion, pose hazards

Auto manufacturers are rushing to be the first to sell cars that are semi-autonomous. But they have failed to invest in adequate training for sales personnel who can explain the features — and their limitations.

So what can go wrong?  Here’s one example: According to a recent report in Automotive News,  “As Donna Lee approached the intersection of Roberts Drive and Spalding Drive in Sandy Springs, Ga., the salesman in the passenger seat told her not to hit the brakes, even though two cars were stopped and waiting at the red light ahead.

According to court documents, Lee and Mercedes salesman Desmond Domingo have similar accounts of what happened next on the evening of May 10, 2014. The Distronic semiautonomous system in the Mercedes-Benz GL450, which Domingo believed would bring the car to a full stop, did not kick in as he expected. The Mercedes slammed into the car in front of it at around 40 mph, causing a chain reaction of crashes that left a 16-year-old driver with a concussion and significant damage to the cars involved.”

CARS has testified at forums regarding autonomous vehicles that they should not be offered for sale to the public until they are fully autonomous, and they have been proven safe through at least one year of real-life testing in all normal weather conditions, including heavy rain, fog, and snow. Otherwise, consumers who purchase the cars may end up stranded, or in collisions — particularly if they purchase the cars as used vehicles, and are not familiar with their limitations.

Read more:   Automotive News: Autonomous features ripe for misunderstanding

Wells Fargo – stop robbing your customers

So — Wells Fargo is spending a fortune on ads claiming it will make things right for its customers. Except — you kind of have to question their sincerity. Why? Because they still insist on depriving victims of their massive frauds from hauling Wells Fargo into an open court. That would give victims real leverage to get justice, and could also shed light on who was actually responsible.

Needless to say, that might turn ugly for some executives who thought they could get away with just about anything, because none of their illegal activity would ever see the light of day, before a public court of law. In their minds, no lawsuits means no real accountability. The multi-million dollar bonuses keep rolling in.

First, Wells Fargo pressured their employees to open an absurdly high number of accounts, under threat of losing their jobs if they failed to meet unrealistic goals. When customers complained about bogus accounts that were opened without their consent, Wells Fargo didn’t resolve the problems. Instead, they hid behind the closed, privatized arbitration system, while continuing to engage in the same illegal activity.  About 2 million times!!

Now, Wells Fargo is robbing its customers of their Constitutional right to have their case heard in court — where the facts can be made public.

The Des Moines Register nailed it when they called on Wells Fargo’s new CEO Timothy Sloan to restore their customers’ rights. No rights, no justice. Everything short of that is just another scam.  The Wells Fargo robbery continues….

Des Moines Register editorial: Wells Fargo Blocks the Courthouse Door

DO NOT drive these Honda cars. Get them fixed. NOW.

A 50-year-old Riverside, California woman was recently killed by a faulty, recalled airbag in her 2001 Honda Civic. Cutting corners on safety, airbag supplier Takata produced the airbag with cheap but volatile sodium nitrate.

In even a low-speed collision, the chemical explodes with excessive force, sending shards of metal into the passenger compartment. It’s been described as having a hand grenade go off in the car.

The woman, Delia Robles, was driving to get her flu shot when her Civic collided with a pickup truck. Officials at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have been warning owners of the cars not to drive them, and to get them repaired immediately.  NHTSA found that in a collision where the airbags inflate, the odds of being killed are 50-50.  In other words, those cars are ticking time bombs.

Here are the cars that NHTSA has identified as posing the highest risk:

2001-2002 Honda Civic, 2001-2002 Honda Accord, 2002-2003 Acura TL, 2002 Honda CR-V, 2002 Honda Odyssey, 2003 Acura CL, 2003 Honda Pilot.

Honda is offering to tow these cars to dealerships for repairs. They should also offer to send roving mechanics to the owner’s home or workplace, since a leading barrier to getting repairs is the fact most people have only one car, and they depend on it to keep their job and get their kids to school. For many owners of recalled cars, the closest dealership may be a long distance away, and they may not be able to drop off their car on a weekday, and then get back home and back to work.

Owners of recalled cars may also have difficulty getting time off from work to drive a long distance for repairs. Many at-risk owners may not be proficient in English or Spanish, and may not understand the risks they face.

Some owners have also had bad experiences at car dealerships, and may be fearful of going to a dealership again. Unfortunately, some dealers may take advantage of the safety recalls to pressure them to buy another car, while holding their recalled car for repairs.

Where to check the safety recall status of your car, at a government website:

https://vinrcl.safercar.gov/vin/

If you own one of these recalled cars, here’s what CARS recommends:

Contact Honda directly.  Here is Honda’s toll-free number:  1-888-234-2138

Take Honda’s offer to provide you with a loaner or rental car,  and also have them tow your car to the dealership for the FREE repairs.

Read more:

CNN report: Stop driving these cars NOW.

Daily News report: Many Southern California cars have dangerous airbags

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buying a used car? YIPES!!

Comedian and commentator John Oliver lambastes crooked car dealers and greedy auto lenders. These are the unscrupulous characters we’re battling with, to protect consumers.

How can you avoid becoming a victim of greedy dealers and Wall Street bankers? It’s easier than you think. Here’s how you can get a good deal on a nice, safe, reliable used car — without having to deal with professional crooks.

How to get a good deal on a nice, safe, reliable used car

 

 

 

 

Federal Judge warns children not to buy from CarMax

During a hearing before the U.S. Federal District Court in Pasadena, California, Federal Judge Wardlaw tells CarMax’s attorney, “I have to tell you, having read what CarMax does, I have told both my children, don’t you buy a ‘certified’ car from CarMax.”

Watch video: Judge warns children about CarMax

Did CarMax sell you an unsafe recalled car?  We want to hear your story.  The only way to get CarMax to stop selling cars with lethal safety defects is for courageous consumers to speak up.  Contact us at:

http://carconsumers.org/contact.htm

 

Can’t get your car registered? Stopped by Police? You are not alone.

According to the Associated Press, Minnesotan Philando Castile, who was shot and killed during an otherwise “routine” traffic stop, had been pulled over at least 52 times in recent years, in and around the Twin Cities, and cited for minor offenses. He had been assessed over $6500 in fines and fees, although many violations had been dismissed in court.

His tragic death is a stark and heartrending reminder of what can go horribly wrong when car drivers are pulled over by police. It should also raise serious, urgent questions about why some people are being pulled over at all.

Consumer and civil rights groups are raising alarms about a new law that was just enacted in California that will lead to many innocent people being pulled over by police, ticketed, having their cars impounded, and facing severe criminal sanctions. Why? Because car dealers failed to provide them with permanent license plates within the 90-day deadline for displaying permanent plates.

Governor Jerry Brown just signed the bill, AB 516, into law in the nation’s largest, most diverse state. It is now on track to take effect in January, 2019. So there is still time to change it before more innocent car buyers are harmed.

According to the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the Bay Area, “LCCR recently published, in collaboration with other groups, a report entitled Not Just a Ferguson Problem: How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California, which shows the many ways that low-income California drivers, and particularly communities of color, are impacted by unfair laws that result in license suspensions and hefty fines, and that lead people into an endless cycle of debt and court involvement from which they cannot extricate themselves. Rather than reverse this trend, AB 516 would contribute to it.”

Here’s why this obvious injustice keeps happening, and how AB 516 would make it worse:

Under California’s current law, car buyers who purchase new or used cars without permanent metal license plates, at a car dealership, pay the dealer $29 for an “electronic vehicle registration or transfer charge” plus an $80  “document processing charge” to handle the registration. Sometimes they pay an additional $100 or more for a “registration /transfer/titling fee.” Then they drive off the car lot with a document that is folded up and taped in the back window that shows the date of sale and other relevant information. The dealer is supposed to handle the registration, and send them the permanent plates, either directly or by hiring a company approved by the DMV.

Car buyers must install permanent plates as soon as they receive them, or within 90 days. There are no exceptions. The law says they have to put them on the car before the 91st day — even if they have not received them, through no fault of their own. No plates? Tough. Hapless car buyers still face being pulled over, ticketed, and having their car impounded.

The kicker: There is NO requirement for dealers to ensure that car buyers receive their permanent plates within the 90 days. Some dealers take advantage of this major loophole in the law to abuse the system and increase their profits. As a result, this scenario plays out all too often:

You pay good money to buy a car from a car dealer. You drive it home. You paid cash, or if you got a car loan, you are making the payments, in full and on time. Life is good. Until….

You are pulled over by the police. Why? Because the temporary registration has expired, and you have not received the permanent plates. Why not? Because the dealer failed to submit the registration documents to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

As in, the dealer went out of business without paying the taxes he collected, or submitting documents to the DMV — some dealers do this to hundreds of people, then go belly up. OR —

  • The dealer entered the wrong Vehicle ID Number (VIN) into the system.
  • The dealer fired the person who handles vehicle registrations and hasn’t gotten around to hiring a replacement.
  • The dealer sold you a car that is registered in another state, which can take months to straighten out.
  • The dealer sold you a car with an unpaid lien, and the lender is demanding payment (which can run thousands of dollars) before it will release the title.
  • The dealer had the permanent plates sent to him, and not to you, so he can demand that you pay more, under threat of being pulled over again and again, and having your car impounded.
  • The DMV has a backlog in issuing permanent plates.
  • The DMV entered the wrong VIN.
  • Or — one of a myriad of other scenarios that are beyond your control.

None of that is your fault. You paid the fees for the dealer to properly register the car, when you bought it. It’s the dealer or the DMV who messed up. But who gets penalized? YOU.

According to consumer attorney Steven Simons, on July 19, 2014, Matthew Smith and his brother Luke bought a 2003 Acura for about $6900 (plus financing) from a dealership in Van Nuys, CA.  They paid the dealer the usual fees to handle the registration. But the dealer failed to follow through and do his job. Despite repeated attempts by the Smiths to get their car properly registered, and their fruitless attempts to get the DMV to assist them, to this day their Acura has not been properly registered, and they have not received their permanent plates. Meanwhile, police officers in several jurisdictions have repeatedly pulled Matthew over, including at gunpoint, and detained him for hours, searching him and his car.

Think this is wrong? We agree! Unfortunately, it’s going to get a lot worse, when AB 516 takes effect.

The author of AB 516 is Bay Area Assemblymember Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo). The most avid backers are toll authorities, who want temporary tags to be mandated, so they will rake in more revenue. Currently, they lose money when people who don’t have readily traceable plates drive through unattended toll booths without paying.

The other major backers are the car dealers. They keep pushing aggressively to shorten the amount of time car buyers have to install permanent plates, or face criminal penalties. California car buyers used to have 6 months to install permanent plates. Then in 2011, car dealers persuaded legislators to cut the time in half, to 90 days. Recently, car dealers tried to get lawmakers to slice the deadline in half again, to just 45 days. That bill has temporarily stalled, pending enactment of AB 516. But dealers are expected to bring it back.

The author claims that the first ticket you would get is supposedly just a “fix-it” ticket. So what’s the big deal?  Here’s the catch: you cannot fix it. Typically, people caught in this trap call the dealer and the DMV over and over again, file complaints, and even go in person and spend hours at the DMV and dealership waiting around, and pleading with them. What they discover is that getting the registration completed, so they can drive legally, is out of their hands. It is an exercise in extreme frustration.

Sometimes it takes over a year to get things straightened out. By then, many people are pulled over repeatedly and ticketed, and their cars are impounded. Even if they pay all the tickets and the hefty impound fees, they cannot get their cars back because they are not the registered owners.

What happens to many hard-working consumers when their cars are impounded? They often lose their only means of transportation to work, and their jobs. Then they default on the car loan. Guess who swoops in to take back the car? The dealer. Then he turns around and resells the same car, over and over again, making a profit each time. You, on the other hand, get stuck with no car, a repossession that harms your credit for at least 7 years, harassing phone calls from the lender demanding immediate payment of the remaining car loan, and no job.

The bottom line: the bill will play right into the hands of unscrupulous car dealers, who want customers to give up and default on car loans, because they can make bigger profits from reselling the cars, and trashing people’s lives. According to a major series of reports by Ken Bensinger at the Los Angeles Times, some dealers in California engage in the practice of “churning” cars — reselling the same car over and over again — as a regular business practice.

The bill would also make it easier for unscrupulous dealers to engage in an illegal practice known as “yo-yo” financing, which is very common, even among supposedly reputable car dealers. When dealers “yo-yo” a consumer, they sell them a car, hand them the keys, and encourage them drive it away. Weeks later, they reel them back in,  telling them the “financing fell through.” Then threaten to have the consumer arrested for driving with an expired registration, or to report the vehicle as “stolen.” They exploit the fear of criminal sanctions to extract a larger down payment, higher interest rate, or other terms more favorable to the dealer. They refuse to return the down payment or the traded-in vehicle, leaving car buyers over a barrel.

If AB 516 is enacted, dealers will be required to install temporary tags. Good idea. We are in favor of law enforcement agencies being able to properly identify the car and the car buyer. But — the temporary tags will be highly visible, and will have an expiration date that is easy to spot — and easy for a scanning device to pinpoint. Suddenly, people with expired temporary tags will become ridiculously easy to target. Enforcement of that 90-day deadline, which tends to be relatively spotty now, will skyrocket.

Here’s what will happen, only a vastly larger scale: In a village on Long Island, New York, “Since the scanners went live Nov. 2, they have been triggering an average of 700 alarms a day, mainly about cars on the road with expired or suspended registration stickers. Officers have impounded 500 vehicles. They’ve written more than 2,000 court summonses, mostly for minor violations.”

Plus — AB 516 would make altering even just the expiration date on a temporary tag a wobbler/ felony offense, subjecting car buyers to a potential prison sentence of 2-3 years. Imagine: you keep being pulled over by the police because you have not received your permanent plates. If you are detained one more time, making you late for work, you will lose your job. In your desperation you take a magic marker and change the expiration date. For this “horrible crime,” you will be at risk of having to do hard time in prison. Even though you have not altered the number of the temporary tag, and toll agencies and law enforcement can readily identify the car, for toll collection or public safety purposes.

Consumer groups and the California Police Officers Association worked together and drafted amendments to AB 516 that would have addressed these serious problems with the bill, and presented those to the author’s staff, at an in-person meeting. The amendments would have changed the bill so that:

  • When law enforcement officials detect that your car has a temporary tag with an expired date, they would have to check an existing law enforcement database, that they can already access electronically, to find out whether you were issued permanent plates. In a matter of seconds, they can tell. If the plates have not been sent to your address, you would not be issued a citation.
  • It would be an infraction, not a wobbler / felony, to alter just the expiration date on the temporary tag, leaving the rest of the tag unaltered and readily traceable.

The California Police Officers Association, to its credit, expressed the sentiment that its members are not overly eager to pull over and detain people who are already frustrated because they cannot get their permanent plates, so long as they properly display the temporary tags, and the car is readily identifiable for public safety purposes.

However, Assemblymember Mullin refused to accept those amendments. Instead, he added a “fig leaf” to the bill that would require consumers who have not received their permanent plates to prove their own innocence by obtaining a form from the DMV and showing it, if they are detained. That may sound easy, but in reality, it’s just another Catch-22. The form cited in the bill requires that you sign, under penalty of perjury, that you are the “registered owner of record.” But that’s the problem. You are not the registered owner. That is why you didn’t receive your permanent plates. Gotcha.

Read more — letters opposing  AB 516:

Courage Campaign

Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety

Consumer Federation of California

California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation

Lemon law / auto fraud attorney and Judge Pro-Tem Steven Simons

Lemon law / auto fraud attorney David Valdez

Lemon law / auto fraud attorney Greg Babbitt

Lemon law / auto fraud attorney Balam Latona

Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the Bay Area

Citizens United for a Responsible Budget (CURB)

Law firm of Kemnitzer, Barron & Krieg