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….

New York’s Julie Menin: Tackling Predatory Car Lenders

New York’s Commissioner of Consumer Affairs, Julie Menin, is determined to protect New Yorkers from predatory auto lending practices. Desperate used car buyers have been complaining to the agency, after they were cheated by unscrupulous car dealers who charged exorbitant interest rates for cars that often broke down soon after purchase, leaving them with ruined credit, deeper in debt, and without wheels.

According to the New York Times, auto loan debts sink many New Yorkers financially, averaging more than $12,000 — a burden that can prove impossible on an average annual income of just $36,000. Plus dealers commonly tack on high-priced add-ons that inflate the loans, without adding any value.

In response, the Department of Consumer Affairs is developing a “municipal auto loan initiative,” to allow troubled borrowers to get auto loans directly from a number of lenders on more consumer-friendly terms. This innovative approach promises to provide New Yorkers with lower-cost, less risky access to the cars they need to get to work.

The Department is insisting that interest rates on the loans be fixed, at 16% or less, and that any application fees may not exceed $25.

CARS wishes New York and its courageous pro-consumer Commissioner Julie Menin great success. We hope that this innovative new program thrives and helps lift up thousands of New Yorkers who would otherwise fall prey to dealers itching to exploit them.

Read more:

New York Times: New York City Starts Car Loan Program to Curb Abusive Practices









CarMax – Too Risky for Wise Investors?

Thinking of investing in CarMax? You may want to take a close look at their breathtakingly risky practice of selling unsafe, recalled cars to consumers.

CarMax is already under fire from consumer groups,  faces potential action by the Federal Trade Commission, and has been repeatedly exposed in undercover investigations by TV news organizations, including ABC’s 20/20, over its sales of unsafe, recalled cars to consumers.

Here’s the rub:  CarMax advertises that all their cars must pass a “rigorous 125+ point inspection” before they can be sold as “CarMax Quality Certified” cars.  But how can a car with a killer defect possibly pass a rigorous inspection and meet their standards?

Despite the mounting scrutiny, CarMax recklessly persists in selling “CarMax Quality Certified” unsafe, recalled cars at retail to consumers. Case in point:  Even when competitors like AutoNation have wisely announced their decision to cease selling used cars with unrepaired Takata air bags, CarMax continues to sell them anyway.

Defying common sense and responsible business practices, CarMax somehow seems unable to bring itself to stop selling consumers cars with the notoriously defective air bags, which can explode on impact, hurling shrapnel at the driver and front-seat passenger’s face and neck..  In cases that are making global headlines, the defective air bags have caused  serious injuries, including blindness, while other hapless victims have bled to death.

This particular defect  remains the focus of Congressional investigations in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Takata also faces possible legal action by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and by the US Department of Justice.

So — what does AutoNation know and take into account that CarMax doesn’t seem to grasp?

Is CarMax waiting for a total PR catastrophe, before they stop making that added bit of profit by selling lots of unsafe, defective, recalled cars to consumers, instead of having them repaired or selling them for a somewhat lower price, at wholesale?

Whatever CarMax’s motivation, wise investors may wish to rethink the company’s self-inflicted level of exposure.


“Regional” auto safety recalls place military families at risk

The refusal by Takata and some manufacturers to expand the safety recall of defective, exploding air bags to cover the entire nation is jeopardizing the safety of many of America’s military families.

If you are a member of the Armed Forces, under Federal law, you are allowed to register your car in your official state of residence. Regardless where you are stationed, or the state where you and your family members are actually driving your car.

Auto manufacturers use data from RL Polk to identify owners of recalled vehicles and send them notices. But that data is based on where their vehicles are registered.

So if you are serving  in the military, and register your car in New York, but are stationed in a high-humidity state like Florida, you may not receive the safety recall notice for your car.  Even though  Honda, Toyota, and other manufacturers, as well as the air bag supplier Takata, now acknowledge the air bags should be recalled in high-humidity states like Florida.

That’s because, as far as RL Polk and the manufacturer are concerned, cars that are registered in New York are being driven in New York. They fail to account for the fact that if you’re serving in the military, you may have registered your car in New York, but be stationed for years in a high-humidity state like Florida.

Florida is home to at least 29 Navy, Marine, Air Force, and Coast Guard bases, with over 50,000 active duty personnel.  No doubt many of them have chosen to register their cars in their official state of residence, where the taxes may be lower, or it is simply more convenient.

What are Takata and auto manufacturers who installed the potentially deadly air bags in their cars doing to protect military families?  It appears that the answer is nothing.

We hope that Members of Congress and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will pressure the manufacturers to ensure that members of the Armed Forces and their families are alerted to the hazards, and their cars are repaired, regardless where they are stationed, or where their cars are registered.

Better yet, all auto manufacturers and Takata should make the safety recall national, so all owners and their families can have the safety recall repairs performed, without having to pay out of pocket for the mistakes made by Takata and the manufacturers — and without being injured or killed by flying shrapnel from the defective air bags.

Car dealers: “no love for liberals”

Keith Crain, publisher of Automotive News, the auto industry’s leading trade publication, knows the auto industry inside out. His response to auto dealers’ vitriolic reaction to Hillary Clinton’s being invited to address the National Automobile Dealers Association:

“If anyone doubted that Hillary Clinton is a polarizing figure, all he had to do was look at the brouhaha caused by the National Automobile Dealers Association’s selection of her as a keynote speaker at its convention next year in New Orleans…

The episode did demonstrate that the American new-vehicle dealer, who I’ve always felt is the last of the entrepreneurs in North America, basically has no love for liberals…”

Good news for car buyers — Richard Cordray Confirmed!!

At last, in a huge, sweet victory for struggling consumers, Richard Cordray has been confirmed as Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB, first envisioned by now-Senator Elizabeth Warren, was created to be a watchdog for consumers in the financial marketplace.

Democratic legislators in Congress created the agency when they voted for the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, in the wake of the largest financial meltdown since the great Depression.

Since then, Republicans in Congress have tried repeatedly to weaken the agency and put it under their thumbs. That way, they could tie it in knots and keep it from doing its job.  Republican senators had blocked Cordray’s nomination for years, and relented only when Democratic Senators forced their hand, by threatening to change the filibuster rules that had allowed the Republican minority, at the behest of powerful, unscrupulous special interests, to block a vote on Cordray’s nomination and other nominations to vitally important posts that directly affect the lives of  ordinary Americans.

Cordray’s confirmation is a huge victory for President Obama, US Senator Elizabeth Warren,  the consumer and labor movements and allied groups, and other pro-consumer forces who joined together to form Americans for Financial Reform. And for all the individual consumers who petitioned Congress and spoke up for letting the agency do its job.

Republican members of Congress, and some Democratic members, led by US Rep. Gary Peters of Michigan, granted auto dealers a special exemption from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s authority, under the false claims that they don’t engage in lending themselves (they do), and that they’re not traded on Wall Street (many of them are).

However, the CFPB does have authority to police auto lending. It may also act to curb lenders from taking away consumers’ Constitutional rights when they purchase a car, trapping them with “arbitration” clauses that keep them captive to a secret, private “arbitration” system that the lenders control.

This is welcome news indeed for the car-buying public. The agency has already issued a warning to auto lenders not to keep engaging in discriminatory lending practices that result in minority car buyers paying more for financing — not based on their creditworthiness, but on race.

The agency may also issue rules to curb auto dealer markups on interest rates, that cost car buyers over $25.8 billion annually in excessive interest charges pocketed by dealers and lenders — money that could be spent on technology that saves lives and helps clean the air and slow climate change.

If you have a complaint about auto lending, here’s where to complain at the CFPB:

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau–file a complaint here