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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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