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 consumer groups including CARS, CALPIRG, the Consumer Federation of California, and Consumer Action are fighting back, to preserve protections for California car buyers.

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:

Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety’s letter opposing SB 308 (Dababneh)

CALPIRG’s letter opposing SB 308 (Dababneh)

 

 

 

 

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.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Attacks on consumers mounting, over arbitration

In an amazingly lopsided editorial, the Albuquerque Journal published this hit piece, slamming the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for its gutsy work to restore your ability to fight back in court, as a consumer, by joining forces with other consumers who have also been victimized by crooks who engage in illegal practices:

Albuquerque Journal editorial

Here’s the letter to the editor I sent them, in response. However, it won’t be too surprising if it doesn’t appear in print — for reasons you can readily guess:

Funny — this newspaper didn’t object when the car dealers got a special exemption from the Federal Arbitration Act, that allows them to sue anyone they please. Since then, they have sued auto manufacturers, the federal government, their customers, and each other, and somehow you are fine with that, but apparently think their customers do not deserve to have the same access to the courts.

When Congress restored the right to go to court, for car dealers, the National Automobile Dealers Association wrote to members of Congress and promised not to oppose restoring the same rights to car buyers. Then they turned around and killed a bill that would have done exactly that.

If consumers don’t win back our rights through the CFPB’s rulemaking, then it looks like we will have to resort to free market solutions, like not buying another car from a dealer until we have the same legal protections they do.

Here’s the letter the car dealers sent to Members of Congress

And —  in case you haven’t already seen enough hypocrisy in this battle, here’s what Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa had to say, in favor of the legislation he authored, giving car dealers a special exemption from being forced to arbitrate their claims, in order to purchase a franchise to sell cars:

“While arbitration serves an important function as an efficient alternative to court, some trade-offs must be considered by both parties, such as limited judicial review and less formal procedures regarding discovery and rules of evidence. When mandatory binding arbitration is forced upon a party, for example when it is placed in a boiler-plate agreement, it deprives the weaker party the opportunity to elect another forum. As a proponent of arbitration I believe it is critical to ensure that the selection of arbitration is voluntary and fair…Unequal bargaining power exists in contracts between automobile and truck dealers and their manufacturers. The manufacturer drafts the contract and presents it to dealers with no opportunity to negotiate…The purpose of arbitration is to reduce costly, time-consuming litigation, not to force a party to an adhesion contract to waive access to judicial or administrative forums for the pursuit of rights under State law.”

Senator Grassley also said:

“This legislation will go a long way toward ensuring that parties will not be forced into binding arbitration and thereby lose important statutory rights. I am confident that given its many advantages arbitration will often be elected. But it is essential for public policy reasons and basic fairness that both parties to this type of contract have the freedom to make their own decisions based on the circumstances of the case.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. So how come he and his colleagues in the House have changed their tune, when it comes to consumers?

Could it be that Sen. Grassley and the Republican Congress rely on campaign contributions from Wall Street crooks who pass on a tidy portion of the $$ they extract from consumers, via the Rip-off TAX? Hmmmmm….

Buy a car, go to jail

California is on the brink of enacting an automotive Catch-22 that will cause more people to be pulled over by police and ticketed. For what? The crime of having expired  temporary license tags on their cars.  Even if they haven’t received their permanent license plates, through no fault of their own.

California allows car buyers only 90 days to put on their permanent plates. With NO exceptions. So — what happens when car dealers fail to submit the registration forms and go out of business, leaving dozens of consumers in the lurch? Or when the Department of Motor Vehicles messes up? Or when the plates are sent to the wrong address, or stolen?  YOU are out of luck.

In fact, the law says you have to put the plates on as soon as you get them, or within 90 days, whichever comes first. But what if you don’t get them within 90 days?  Tough. Try calling the DMV and the dealer. Good luck with that. And here’s the kicker: There is NO law that requires car dealers to ensure that the plates are sent to you within the 90 days. Gotcha. Catch-22.

If the dealer fails to submit the registration, YOU are subject to being pulled over and ticketed. If you get too many tickets, your car can be impounded.

What if you get desperate and alter the expiration date on the temporary tag, so you can get to work without being pulled over, while you try to get your permanent plates?  The bill would make altering a temporary tag a new FELONY offense, punishable by hefty fines and imprisonment of 2-3 years.

One hapless consumer bought a car from a major franchised new car dealership in Southern California. The dealer failed to submit the registration forms.  As a result, the car buyer got so many tickets, his car was impounded. He paid off all the tickets. But he was still unable to get his car back because the dealer still failed to submit the proper documentation so it could be registered. Until it was registered, he couldn’t get it back. He eventually sued the dealer and according to his attorney, he won. But should you have to file a lawsuit just to get back your own car?

The bill number is AB 516, and the author is Assemblymember Kevin Mullin (D-Burlingame). The bill is backed by — surprise!! — car dealers. Plus toll authorities, who stand to increase toll collections by millions of dollars.

Mullin’s bill is opposed by civil rights and consumer groups, including the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the Bay Area, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, and Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety.

The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the Bay Area writes:  “LLCR 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.”

Adding insult to injury: the bill would raise the amount car dealers are allowed to charge car buyers as a “document fee” from $80 to $90.  If the bill passes, car buyers will  pay car dealers more, supposedly to handle the registration and spare them the hassle of dealing with the DMV. But guess what. The dealer still doesn’t have to get you the permanent plates in time for you to avoid being pulled over and ticketed. AHA. Catch-22.

Read more:

News report:  Car Dealers Making Yo-Yos out of CA Legislators

San Francisco Chronicle Editorial: License Plate Bill Needs a Quick Fix

The Daily Journal: Temp License Plate bill moves forward

Letters opposing this bill:

Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the Bay Area

California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation

Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety

Law firm of Kemnitzer, Barron & Krieg

 

Car Dealers seek to legalize sales of unsafe recalled used cars

Faced with record numbers of recalled cars and lengthy shortages of repair parts, car dealers are pushing aggressively to weaken state laws that prohibit them from deceiving their customers into buying used cars with lethal safety defects.

Car dealers are eager to foist the unsafe cars off onto their customers, knowing that there is no way they will be able to get the serious safety defects repaired, for months on end. In one horrific case, a father, mother, 13-year-old daughter and brother-in-law were all killed within hours after the dealer handed them the keys to an unsafe car. The publicity surrounding that case led to Toyota’s issuing a massive safety recall, and eventually paying a record fine. However, the dealers do not seem capable of learning from that tragic incident and its aftermath.

Federal law prohibits car dealers from selling recalled NEW cars to consumers until they have been repaired.  There is no similar, specific federal law that prohibits dealers from selling recalled USED cars to consumers. However, broader, more generic state laws in every state, and some federal laws, prohibit merchants, including car dealers, from engaging in fraud, false advertising, unfair and deceptive acts and practices, anti-competitive behavior, reckless endangerment, negligence, and other shady practices. In addition, a whole body of case law exists that prohibits such illicit conduct.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has charged some dealers with violating the federal law against selling recalled new cars to consumers. What’s next? Dealers trying to make that legal too?

KPIX-TV, the CBS affiliate in San Francisco, broadcast this news report about the car dealers’ highly controversial, anti-consumer, anti-safety bill in California. Be sure to watch for the reaction at the end, by the news anchors:

KPIX-TV: Car dealers fight back over recall disclosures

 

 

 

NHTSA fines Honda the Max — But Honda Should Be Paying More

Under pressure from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Honda has agreed to pay $70 million in fines for concealing vital information about 1,729  fatalities and injuries in its cars, as well as important warranty information,  in violation of federal auto safety laws.

To its credit, NHTSA is assessing Honda the maximum allowed by law — $35 million, for two separate violations, for a fine totaling $70 million. Plus NHTSA now has more ability to monitor Honda’s compliance with the laws in the future.

But — Honda should be paying more. For a huge multi-national, multi-billion-dollar company like Honda, and such repeated serious offenses, $70 million is not enough to act as a real deterrent.

Why isn’t Honda paying more? Because Congress has failed to act, to give NHTSA the authority to levy higher fines. The Obama Administration has been asking Congress to raise the cap on fines for egregious violations of auto safety laws to $300 million. But so far, only Democrats in Congress have introduced bills to raise or outright eliminate the cap. Despite all the hearings and all the hoopla, no Republican has stood up to the auto industry on behalf of the motoring public and proposed giving NHTSA the authority to levy higher fines.

It’s particularly troubling that U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), Chair of the House Commerce Committee, keeps blasting NHTSA for not doing more, but has been totally AWOL when it comes to doing anything to give the agency the authority and resources it needs to do the job. So far, he’s failed to propose a single bill.  He talks a good fight, and can play the tough guy when the cameras are rolling, but when it comes to improving auto safety protections for American families, he has delivered exactly zilch.

Bottom line: thanks to behind-the-scenes special-interest lobbying in Congress against desperately needed, reasonable, effective auto safety reforms, Honda just saved itself a cool $530 million.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One more reason NOT to buy a car from a car dealer

Even the auto dealers themselves have to admit:  many car buyers dread buying cars from auto dealers. Young people are especially wary.  And for good reason.

Car dealers keep selling unsafe, recalled used cars to consumers, putting them, their friends and family, and other motorists at risk of death or serious, debilitating injuries.

And as if that weren’t bad enough, they also insist that you surrender your Constitutional rights as part of the price of buying a car from them.

Good luck trying to buy a car from a dealer without a “gotcha” clause hidden in the contract that says you give up your Constitutional right to take them to court, and benefit from  our nation’s hard-won consumer protection laws. Like laws against rolling back odometers, selling “junk” cars that are advertised as being “in mint condition,” or engaging in other forms of cheating, lying, fraud, and thievery.

And get this:  the dealers got a special exemption from Congress — just for car dealers —  that allows them to keep THEIR Constitutional rights. So they can take anyone they want to court, and use the laws that benefit THEM. But they killed a bill that would have protected YOU from losing your rights when you sign on the dotted line to buy a car from them.

If you’re fed up with car dealers and their scams, check this out:

Cleveland Plain Dealer: Arbitration: What you don’t know about fine print can hurt you

And let your local car dealers know you’re not buying from them until they clean up their act, and you don’t have to surrender your rights to buy a car from them.

Has GM changed its stripes?

General Motors executives, rocked by revelations about GM’s failure to fix known defects in its 2005 -2007 Chevy Cobalts and other cars the manufacturer produced in 2005 – 2007, seek to portray the company in a more favorable light, claiming  that the mistakes of the past belong to the “Old GM” and the “New GM”  has changed its stripes and is now more responsible and caring.

But — is it? You be the judge. Here’s what’s happening:  At the same time GM struggles to be perceived as a kindler, gentler company that actually cares about its customers’ safety, it is actively blocking legislation in the US Senate to stop rental car companies from renting unsafe, recalled vehicles to consumers. In other words, if an unrepaired, recalled Cobalt happens to show up in a rental car fleet, they are perfectly willing to keep playing “recalled car roulette” with your life.

GM’s position, argued in revealing testimony by Mitch Bainwol, Executive Director of the Auto Alliance, which includes GM, is that they don’t want to have to compensate rental car companies for the down time, when the manufacturers’ unsafe, defective products languish on rental car company lots while the manufacturers and their suppliers crank out the parts necessary to fix the safety defects. The fact the manufacturers are obviously responsible for making the defective products in the first place somehow doesn’t seem to register in their consciousness. To them, it’s all about avoiding any added costs, even if that means putting their customers’ safety at risk.

Adding fuel to suspicions about GM’s supposed change of heart: GM’s now offering concerned owners of the recalled cars a loaner, to be supplied by a GM dealer. However, they have not revealed what standards, if any, the loaner cars must meet. Is GM allowing its dealers to loan out vehicles that are under a safety recall?

If you think this scenario sounds far-fetched, think again. GM dealers are opposing the same federal legislation (S 921), named for Raechel and Jacqueline Houck —  two sisters, ages 20 and 24, who were killed by a recalled rental car. GM dealers are also fighting against a popular bill currently pending in California (SB 686) that would stop them from selling, renting, leasing, or loaning unsafe, recalled used cars to consumers.

Fe Lastrella, who lost her son, daughter, granddaughter (age 13) and son-in-law in a horrific crash near San Diego, after a Toyota dealer loaned her family a runaway Lexus while their new Lexus was in the dealership for routine maintenance, gave heartbreaking testimony in favor of the California loaner car safety measure.

Dealer lobbyists dismissed her testimony as irrelevant, because the crash involved a Lexus that had not yet been recalled — although her family’s tragedy raised public awareness and sparked a massive Toyota recall.  Instead, they argued that anytime there is a delay in getting repair parts, they should not be expected to stop loaning unsafe, recalled vehicles to consumers.

According to statewide polling, 88% of likely California voters disagree, and favor banning dealers from foisting unsafe, recalled vehicles into their customers. Of those, 78% “strongly” favor the restrictions.

Apparently GM and its dealers think the media can only focus on one auto safety disaster story at a time, and won’t connect the dots.

Video of US Senate hearing — GM represented by Mitch Bainwol, from Alliance of Auto Manufacturers, including GM

Senator Barbara Boxer asks: Should a rental car company be able to rent vehicles to the public when they’re under a safety recall?  Responses from auto manufacturers and dealers

Testimony of Fe Lastrella, who lost her daughter, son, granddaughter (age) 13 and son-in-law in horrific crash, due to an unsafe loaner car from Bob Baker Toyota / Lexus

Dealer lobbyists: Don’t stop us from renting, leasing, selling, or loaning unsafe recalled autos to consumers

Other vehicles besides the Chevy Cobalt included in the safety recall (so far):  2007 Pontiac G5s, 2003-7 Saturn Ions, 2006-7 Chevrolet HHRs, 2006-7 Pontiac Solstices, and 2007 Saturn Skys,

Attack against Tesla : HUTZPAH

Automotive News publisher attacks Tesla over safety —
Ignores dealers who oppose having to perform safety recall repairs

“Musk Can Run, but he can’t hide,” writes Automotive News publisher Keith Crain, whose publication caters to auto dealers. Crain echoes the sentiments of auto dealers, who have mounted an aggressive campaign in an attempt to force Tesla to sell vehicles through dealership networks, where they can get a cut of the profits and subject Tesla customers to a wide variety of shady practices that further line the dealers’ pockets.

In his editorial, Crain questions whether Tesla has the ability to perform safety recalls on its cars — which so far have not even been subject to a safety recall.

He writes: “If and when, and it’s bound to be when in my opinion, his car is recalled — if not for the three Model S fires since October 1, it will be something else — he’s going to find it increasingly difficult to take care of all his customers in a timely manner. …I doubt that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will allow just anyone to repair a recalled Tesla or let the company ship parts to customers and tell them to install the replacements at their leisure.” (Automotive News: Musk car run, but he can’t hide,” by Keith Crain, Nov. 25, 2013.) Crain implies that Tesla, like other auto manufacturers, should depend on auto dealers to do the safety recall repairs.

What he conveniently fails to write is that auto dealers are aggressively opposing legislation in Washington DC and Sacramento that would require them to get unsafe, recalled rental cars or used cars fixed, before renting or selling them to consumers. A glaring fact that Automotive News has apparently forgotten.

As numerous national and local news organizations have reported, dealers have been caught time and time again selling unsafe, recalled vehicles to unsuspecting used car buyers without bothering to fix them first — even when the repairs are free.

Sample news report: Today Show finds recalled used cars for sale on dealer lots

Unless and until auto dealers show that they actually do place a priority on their customers’ safety, including sales or rentals of recalled cars, they don’t deserve to sell Teslas. They have shown over and over again that they simply can’t be trusted not to sell their customers unsafe cars, knowing full well that the safety recall repairs have not been performed.

Bottom line:  Elon Musk and Tesla are wise to avoid trusting dealers to ensure that recalled cars are safe.

Read more:

Auto dealers oppose rental car safety legislation in Washington, DC

Auto dealers oppose used car safety legislation in Sacramento, CA

Automotive News Editorial: “Musk can run, but he can’t hide”

 

 

 

 

 

Ally Bank ordered to pay $80 million to consumers harmed by discriminatory lending

More than 235,000 African-American, Hispanic, and Asian Pacific Islander borrowers, who were charged higher interest rates on their auto loans from Ally Bank, based on their race, stand to get back $80 million, thanks to courageous action by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and U.S. Department of Justice.

The consumer protection and law enforcement agencies are coordinating their efforts to curb discriminatory lending in auto loans, which cost car buyers billions of dollars in hidden extra fees, while fattening the profits made by lenders and auto dealers. This is the government’s largest auto loan discrimination settlement ever.

“Discrimination is a serious issue across every consumer credit market,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “We are returning $80 million to hard-working consumers who paid more for their cars or trucks based on their race or national origin. We look forward to working closely with the Justice Department and Ally to make sure this serious issue will be addressed appropriately in the years ahead as well.”

Read more: CFPB and US DOJ order Ally to pay $80 million to car buyers

 

Senator Elizabeth Warren: Close the Car Dealer Loophole

Should auto dealers, who write tens of billions of dollars in auto lending contracts each year, evade regulation by the nation’s leading agency for policing consumer financing?

US Senator Elizabeth Warren recently made it clear that she thinks the answer is NO.  While questioning Richard Cordray, Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, who was testifying before the US Senate Banking Committee, Sen. Warren offered this opinion:

“As you know, the CFPB has authority over nearly every kind of consumer loan, but the big exception is car loans. The CFPB has done great work in this area [focusing on lenders, but not dealers]…But it makes no sense to me that there should be any exception here for consumers who are being tricked out of billions of dollars every year on car loans.”

Sen. Warren conceived of the idea of an independent consumer financial watchdog agency, and worked hard to make it a reality.  During the debate over whether to include auto dealers, they misled members of Congress and the public, repeatedly claiming they are “Main Street, not Wall Street.”

However, the reality is quite different. Hundreds of dealerships are owned by large, publicly traded dealership groups that are publicly traded and sold on Wall Street.  For example, AutoNation, based in Florida, owns 221 dealerships across the U.S. and took in over $15.6 billion last year.  AutoNation’s largest investor is Bill Gates.

Does anyone seriously believe that fits the description of “Main Street”?

Read more: Warren: Close CFPB’s dealer ‘loophole’