California’s new temporary license tag law: for some car buyers, a nightmare on wheels

California car buyers face new headaches and hazards, thanks to a new law that took effect on January 1, 2019.  Some unlucky car buyers may end up losing their cars, and their jobs, or in prison — because someone else screwed up.

The new law requires car dealers to install temporary license tags that expire 90 days after consumers purchase a new or used car.

Until this year, dealers who sold cars without permanent plates taped a folded-up “report of sale” inside the back window, where the expiration date was difficult, or impossible, to read. The new temporary tags have prominent expiration dates and bar codes that make them easy for toll collectors, police, repossession companies, parking enforcement, and others to target, simply by scanning the tags with an inexpensive scanning tool.

In many other states, when you buy a car from a car dealer, the dealer must install permanent metal plates on your car before it leaves the lot. But in California, now dealers give you temporary tags, while you wait for the permanent plates to arrive.

Under California law, you must install the permanent plates as soon as you get them, or within that 90-day window. But here’s the catch:  if you don’t get the permanent plates on time, you can be pulled over by the police or Highway Patrol while you’re driving along and minding your own business, and ticketed for having expired tags — even if it’s not your fault.

You read that right. YOU are the one who suffers, even when it’s the car dealer, Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), or “first line service provider” chosen by the car dealer who failed to send you the permanent plates on time.

After 90 days are up, you are suddenly subject to being pulled over and ticketed, or worse.  The penalties don’t fit the “crime,” especially since the license numbers on the temp tags are clearly visible for an extended period, and may be legible for many more months, making your car easy for law enforcement, toll collectors, or others to spot.

Temporary tags may cause tickets to skyrocket

What will happen in California, now that temporary tags make it ridiculously easy for police, repossession companies, and others to track cars and scan the tags, so they can target consumers stuck with expired tags?

Here’s what happened in a small village on Long Island, New York, when police started using scanners to track cars: “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.”

When that’s what happens in a small village, how many more car owners will be ticketed, lose their cars, or be hauled into court in California?  Fasten your seatbelts. We’re in for a rough ride.

In response to a recent Public Records Act request from Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, the California Highway Patrol provided data showing that from January 1, 2018 through December 31, 2018, the CHP impounded 54,442 vehicles. Those numbers are likely to skyrocket.  Plus police and parking enforcement in cities, towns, and rural areas will issue more tickets and add even more cars to the pool of impounded vehicles.

No warning

The DMV fails to have a system in place to warn consumers about the potentially serious consequences of having an expired temp tag, or to remind hapless car buyers when the deadline is near. In fact, DMV officials tout being pulled over on the freeway, with traffic zooming by, or on a remote, isolated rural road, as an appropriate, effective way to learn your temp tags have expired and you are entering the twisted Twilight Zone of attempting to deal with deadbeat dealers and the DMV.

Serious risks

For most motorists, at a minimum, traffic stops cause anxiety and delays. The tickets are also costly and can cause real hardship.  For some, they can be fatal. What starts out as a routine traffic stop may escalate and rapidly spiral out of control. Relatively trivial violations sometimes lead to violent death. Especially when drivers are African-American, Latino, or other persons of color, they face a higher degree of serious, potentially life-threatening risks. Remember Philando Castile? And Sandra Bland?  They lost their lives during traffic stops for minor violations. But California’s DMV and other state officials blithely dismiss concerns about the safety of motorists who are pulled over by police or the CHP just because they have expired tags.

A fix-it ticket you cannot fix

The DMV also scoffs at the notion that being ticketed can have devastating economic consequences.  According to the DMV, “The fine amount can differ depending in the county where a violation occurs. The fines range from $25 with proof of correction up to $197 without proof of correction.” That may not seem like much to a highly paid, high-level DMV executive, but for many families struggling to make ends meet, that can be a real hit.

As if that’s not bad enough, the DMV adds: “Drivers may receive multiple tickets if they delay making the correction.” Uh-oh.

For many car buyers, trying to get “proof of correction” from the DMV is an exercise in extreme frustration. A common scenario: a car dealer goes out of business without submitting the registration documents, leaving hundreds of consumers unable to get their permanent plates.  When that happens, it can take the DMV more than a year to sort things out.

Meanwhile, YOU are the one waiting in line at the DMV, pleading for help, and getting hit with tickets — over and over again, sometimes until your car is towed away and impounded. Then you get hit with hefty towing and impound fees. Catch 22: If you’re not the registered owner, even if you pay all the fees, you still cannot reclaim your car.

Bottom line: Those tickets can add up. Fast. Even if you are trying desperately to get things fixed. Get too many citations, and your car is impounded by the police or CHP.  For someone who needs their vehicle to keep their job, or take their disabled child for medical treatments, or get their kids to day care or school, losing a car because it was impounded can be a disaster.

Whose idea was this absurdly unjust system?

Assemblymember Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo) authored this anti-consumer legislation (AB 516) at the behest of toll companies, car dealers, “service providers” chosen by car dealers, and police agencies.

In 2013, toll companies complained to Mullin that they were losing millions of dollars in revenue when scofflaws driving newly purchased cars with car dealer tags on them blew through toll booths without paying the tolls.  The car dealer tags typically trumpet the name of the dealership — like “Toyota of XXX” — but provide no identifying number so that toll operators can locate the drivers and collect.

The toll collectors convinced Mullin to carry a bill to require temp tags, to stop the scofflaws and increase their revenues. But the first version of Mullin’s legislation, introduced in 2014, failed to pass, because it was opposed by the California New Car Dealers Association.

The dealers view tags that display their names as a terrific way to advertise. Temp tags could interfere with their unique way of getting their names in front of more eyeballs, on the roads and in driveways.

To appease the car dealers, the next year Mullin added an increase in the so-called “document fee” and other fees that car dealers and their “service providers” are allowed to charge consumers.  He also allowed the dealers to include the name of their dealership on the temporary tags, for advertising purposes.

The toll company / car dealer legislation was opposed by non-profit pro-consumer and civil rights groups, who sought reasonable protections for car buyers who cannot get their vehicles registered, or get their permanent plates, through no fault of their own. Those groups and attorneys who represent victims of abusive car dealer / DMV practices cited numerous examples of totally innocent consumers who have been pulled over and ticketed, even before the new law was on the books.

Some victims were also threatened with arrest, or actually handcuffed and arrested. Some had their cars towed away and impounded. Then the DMV refused to allow them to get their cars out of impound, even if they paid all the tickets and the hefty impound fees, because they weren’t the registered owners.  All because a car dealer, “service provider,” or the DMV messed up or deliberately stalled handing over their permanent plates.

New law threatens to harm low-income consumers and communities of color

One of the civil rights non-profits opposed to Assemblymember Mullin’s legislation, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the Bay Area, wrote:

“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.”

Read more:  Letter from Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the Bay Area

Making matters worse: In California. car dealers are not required to provide car buyers their permanent plates within 90 days.  In fact, California’s DMV actually allows car dealers to have the plates sent to themselves, instead of the car buyers. This is an open invitation for dealers to cheat their customers.

Adding insult to injury: the car buyers pay the car dealer for the permanent plates and the registration when they buy the car. But they have no control over when their car is registered, or when they get their plates. They are at the mercy of the car dealers, the dealers’  “service providers,” and the DMV.  But it’s the car buyers who are penalized if the plates are late, or never arrive.  Obviously, this insane “Catch-22” system is rife for abuse.

Looking for help from the DMV? Good luck with that.

In response to complaints about abuses, DMV officials shrug and dismiss them, claiming that when a ticket is issued, it is merely a “fix-it” ticket.  But here’s the hitch: you cannot get it fixed.  Hapless car buyers have spent countless hours waiting in lines at the DMV, going back over and over again, pleading to have their registrations completed, only to be told:

  • “Sorry, there’s nothing the DMV can do.”
  • “Sorry, it’s under investigation and we have no idea how long that will take. It might take years.”
  • Sorry, before you can get the registration, and your plates, you need to post a bond.
  • “Sorry, there’s a problem with the registration, and you need to work it out with the dealer.”
  • “Sorry, someone needs to pay off a lien, that costs thousands of dollars, before the dealer can get the title and complete the registration.”
  • “Sorry, you need to pay off all the parking and speeding tickets — issued to the former owner — first.”
  • “Sorry, you need to pay the DMV for past registrations that were overdue, including the penalties.”

Temporary Operating Permits Scarce, Unpredictable

Occasionally, the DMV  doles out a “Temporary Operating Permit” to a consumer caught in this bind, but according to an official with the California State Transportation Agency, the DMV has no standards for deciding who gets a permit, or how long it lasts, leaving it up to the office manager’s “discretion.”  That lends itself to discrimination, based on whatever the manager’s biases may be.

However, before you can get a “Temporary Operating Permit,” the official wrote that “one requirement is that the registration fees have been paid”  — by the dealer. Good luck with that. That’s the deadbeat who ripped you off and went belly up without paying the fees to the DMV, or the arrogant characters in the gleaming palatial new car dealership who hang up on you whenever you call to inquire about when you can drive again without fear of being pulled over at gunpoint.

Why can’t you get your car registered, or get your permanent plates on time?

Common situations that lead to this nightmare scenario:

  • Glitches at the DMV, like entering the wrong Vehicle Identification Number, or losing track of the registration documentation.

 

  • Dealers who sell used vehicles without having the title, often because the former owner still owed money when he or she traded in their car. Their lender has a lien on the title, until the loan is paid in full. Until the dealer has a clear title, they may not be able to register the car.

 

  • Dealers who have the permanent license plates sent to them, instead of to the consumer.  The dealer refuses to send them the plates, and instead demands extra money  — holding the plates for ransom.

 

  • Dealers or “first line service providers” chosen by the dealer and approved by the DMV who fail to send the permanent plates on time, or send them to the wrong address

Dealers holding plates for ransom

Last year, a bus driver in Los Angeles  bought a used car from an independent used car lot.  As usual, she paid for the permanent plates and the registration. Without telling her, the dealer chose to have the permanent plates sent to the dealership, instead of to her. Over 90 days later, she was still waiting for her plates.  One day, the police pulled her over and handed her a so-called “fix-it” ticket. She explained the situation, but the officer was unsympathetic.

She called the dealership. The dealer said he had her permanent plates. But he refused to give her the plates, unless she paid nearly $300 extra for them. The dealer refused to put his demand in writing, or to accept a check or credit card. He told her to bring cash.

She was infuriated, and considered filing a lawsuit.  But her resistance wore down, after she was pulled over and ticketed again, and again. The tickets cost her hundreds of dollars.  But even worse — If she didn’t get the plates soon, she faced being arrested and having her car towed and impounded.  She finally paid the dealer nearly $300 more for permanent plates she had already paid for, when she bought the car.

Even Kansas has better laws against such practices

Consumers in other states, like Kansas, have better protections against car dealers who jerk consumers around and withhold car titles. For example, car dealers in Kansas are required to provide car buyers with title to their cars within 60 days. If the dealer fails to comply with the law, the transactions are void and consumers are entitled to a full refund.

Read more: Wichita car lot hit with $140,000 fine over business practices

Who opposed AB 516?

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

Courage Campaign

News reports

News reports highlight car buyers’ nightmarish experiences with dealers who failed to complete their registrations, even though they had paid the dealers to handle the paperwork, and were dependent on them to do their jobs. Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety alerted the news media about these cases:

ABC Channel 10 (San Diego): U.S. Military Veteran faces ordeal because of car dealer who failed to register his car

ABC Channel 30 (Fresno): Clovis car dealer leaves hundreds in limbo

NBC Bay Area (San Jose): Dealer can’t register car, woman wants refund

Roger Lanctot in LinkedIn: Car dealers making yo-yo’s out of legislators

 

San Francisco Chronicle Editorial calling for a “quick fix” to address “legitimate concerns” with Assemblymember Mullin’s legislation:

San Francisco Chronicle Editorial: “License plate bill needs a quick fix”

Change an expiration date, go to jail

Raising alarms among groups that oppose adding more laws that result in imprisonment for minor offenses — selectively criminalizing  low-income consumers and people of color — AB 516 would make altering 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 are a single mom with three kids. You have only one car. You keep being pulled over by the police and ticketed because you have not received your permanent plates. You take time from work and go to the DMV, waiting in line over and over again, to no avail. Each time, you lose desperately needed income.

If you are detained by the police one more time, making you late for work, you will lose your job. In your desperation, you take a magic marker and change just the expiration date on your temporary tags. You do NOT alter the number on the tags, so toll agencies and law enforcement officers can still readily identify the car, for toll collection or public safety purposes.  For this offense, you could be heavily fined, convicted of a FELONY, and sent to prison for 2- 3 years.

Law enforcement agrees: consumers should not be punished for the wrongs committed by car dealers or the DMV

Consumer groups and the California Police Officers Association worked together and drafted amendments to AB 516 that would have addressed the 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 pulled over or issued a citation.

 

  • It would be an infraction — not a wobbler / felony —  to alter just the expiration date on a single 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 anxious 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. The DMV has a history of rejecting car buyers’ attempts to fill out and submit those forms, unless their registration is already complete, and in their names. But that’s the problem. It’s up to the dealer to complete the registration.  Gotcha.

 

 

 

 

It IS against the law for car dealers to sell used cars with unrepaired safety recalls

Contrary to the spin from unscrupulous car dealers, and erroneous reports in the news, it is illegal for car dealers to sell dangerous used cars with unrepaired safety recalls. Injured or misled consumers and their surviving family members who sue dealers that engage in such reckless practices usually win confidential settlements. The dealers insist on confidentiality to cover up their illegal activity.The legal settlements also are a telltale sign that the dealers know perfectly well what they are doing is illegal.

So if you discover that a crooked car dealer sold you an unrepaired recalled used car, you should get expert legal advice and fight back.

Here’s the scoop: There is a FEDERAL law against car dealers selling recalled NEW cars. There is a FEDERAL law against car dealers with fleets of 35 or more rental cars from renting, selling, or loaning recalled rental cars.  But — while there is no FEDERAL law against car dealers selling recalled USED cars, if they do, they risk being held accountable under various STATE laws.

No less an authority than the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has noted:

“…state product safety, tort, and other consumer protection laws, provide important safeguards to consumers affected by defective cars.”

An attorney who advises auto dealers has also warned them that if they sell used recalled cars, they face serious sanctions under state laws. According to a report in Automotive News:

“There are theories of liability that plaintiff attorneys may attempt to attach to these vehicles, even if dealers are using good-faith efforts to identify potential open recalls,” says Shawn Mercer, a partner at Bass Sox Mercer, a Tallahassee, Fla., law firm that specializes in dealership franchise law. There is no federal law against selling a vehicle with an open recall. But “depending on the jurisdiction,” Mercer says, “potential liability can stem from violations of state laws or common law tort claims.”  (Emphasis added)

The article also cautions car dealers:

“Selling a vehicle with an undisclosed safety problem makes for dissatisfied customers and can have legal repercussions, even if the dealership was unaware of the recall.” (Emphasis added)

One legal case that stands out, making the point that state law prohibits dealers and other businesses from failing to exercise due care, or acting with negligence, is Houck vs. Enterprise.  Sisters Raechel and Jacqueline Houck were ages 20 and 24 when they visited their parents in Ojai, California.  On their way back home to Santa Cruz, they were killed by an unrepaired recalled rental car — a Chrysler PT Cruiser that caught on fire, and also lost steering.  They ended up colliding with an 18-wheeler semi-trailer truck.

Their parents sued Chrysler and Enterprise under state laws, for failing to exercise the common law duty of care, and for negligence, resulting in wrongful death.  Eventually, on the eve of trial, Enterprise admitted 100% liability — under state laws.  A jury awarded the Houcks $15 million in compensatory damages.

Years later, the President of the California New Car Dealers Association made the false claim that it wasn’t illegal for dealers to sell unrepaired recalled used cars. The Houcks’ attorneys wrote a scathing letter pointing out that violating state civil laws is illegal. The attorneys cited the unanimous jury decision in the Houcks’ favor, and also cited state laws against negligence and common law torts.

CARS worked closely with Cally Houck, Raechel and Jacqueline’s mother, to get a new federal law enacted to prohibit rental car companies or car dealers from renting, loaning, or selling unrepaired recalled cars. The battle lasted for years, with auto manufacturers and dealers actively opposing the bill, even after the rental car industry had dropped its opposition.  But eventually we won.

That victory means that not only do rental car companies remain liable under state laws, but they also face enforcement by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the nation’s premier auto safety agency.

Thanks to the passage of the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act, NHTSA now has the authority to issue fines or take other action if a rental car company with a fleet of 35 or more vehicles violates the law — even if no one is injured or killed as a result.  Thus, the federal law works to help prevent more tragedies from happening.

CARS supports the ongoing efforts of Senators Blumenthal and Markey, and U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky, to enact federal legislation to make it a violation of federal law, enforceable by NHTSA, for car dealers to sell unrepaired recalled used cars.

Meanwhile, victims of crooked dealers who play “recalled used car roulette” with their customers’ lives, should get legal advice and fight back, using existing state laws. It’s also important for state attorneys general to enforce the existing state laws against fraud, violations of express and implied warranties, and other provisions of law.

CARS applauds the District Attorney in Sedgwick County Kansas — one of the few law enforcement officials in the nation who is standing up to the powerful car dealer lobby in order to protect car buyers and others who share the roads.

Read More: The Wichita Eagle:  Wichita car lot hit with $140,000 fine over business practices

 

Dealers increase profits at customers’ expense

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

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

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

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

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

Trump throws military under car dealer bus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Pennsylvania passes Car Dealer “License to Kill” Law

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

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

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

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

Their letters of opposition:

Alexander Brangman, father of Jewel Brangman

Ralph Nader

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

Center for Auto Safety

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News report by Consumer Affairs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why don’t consumers get unsafe recalled cars fixed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

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….

How serious are safety recalls?

How serious are auto safety recalls?  Ask anyone who has lost a family member, or been severely burned or rendered quadriplegic, as a result of a safety defect, and they can tell you that auto safety recalls should not be ignored.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is working to improve safety recall repair rates. Their goal:  getting 100% of recalled vehicles repaired, the sooner the better. Auto manufacturers are joining in that effort and turning to social media, offering discount coupons, and advertising about safety recalls in multiple languages. All in an effort to persuade consumers take their cars for recall repairs.

However, car dealers in California are so intent on maximizing their profits, they are doing something breathtakingly irresponsible. They are claiming, publicly, that only about 1% of safety recalls are serious. Seriously. Why? They don’t want to frighten people from buying millions of cars with lethal safety defects, like air bags that are prone to exploding with excessive force, spewing metal fragments into drivers’ and passengers’ faces and necks, and blinding them or severing arteries, so they bleed to death.

Just because the cars are unsafe, and there aren’t enough repair parts available to replace the defective air bags, dealers argue that shouldn’t interfere with their selling the unsafe cars to teenagers as their first cars, or to families with young children.

All the more reason not to by a used car from a dealer. Who wants to spend 4 hours on a car lot dickering over cars, only to end up with a vehicle that has a lethal safety defect, and no repair parts available for months on end?

Read more: CBS News: Feds seek ideas on getting more safety recalls done

Caught on video: new car dealer lobbyist admits why they killed bill that would have improved the law against dealers selling unsafe, recalled used cars to consumers.

CARS’ tips for buying a safe, reliable used car without having to set foot on a car dealer’s lot

 

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