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:

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buy a car – surrender your rights?

One more reason not to buy a car from a car dealer:  when you do, they force you to give up your right to sue them if they cheat you.  So say good-bye to being able to take advantage of consumer protection laws.

Think a dealer wouldn’t dare roll back the odometer? Think again. They just slip a clause in your contract that says you can’t sue. Then when you find out your low-mileage car actually has over 100,000 extra miles that “disappeared” from the odometer — good luck trying to sue them under the Federal Odometer Act.

Car dealers used to face tough sanctions, including punitive damages, for ripping off consumers. But with rare exceptions, those days are gone.  That’s because car dealers insert “arbitration” clauses into their contracts. Then, after you’ve been shopping, test-driving cars, and negotiating for an average of 4 hours, they shove a stack of documents across a desk and tell you to “sign here, here and here.”

What they don’t tell you is that when you sign, you are giving up your rights under state and federal consumer protection laws. So forget hauling them before a judge or jury, who can throw the book at them. Instead, if you get any hearing at all, it’s before an “arbitrator” whose company just happens to be paid by — you guessed it — the dealer.

Under rulings by the Republican majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, this is perfectly legal.

Ironically, the dealers got a special exemption from Congress that allows them to sue anyone they please. They’re free to use the courts. But you can’t.

Evidence is mounting about how biased and unfair arbitration is. Check out this new report, issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. No wonder car dealers HATE this consumer watchdog agency. It shows how rigged the game is, when you buy a car from a dealer:

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report

Don’t end up like Jon Perz, who has been waiting over 7 years for justice, after a car dealer in San Diego sold him an unsafe car.

YouTube Video of used car nightmare — over 1.3 million views

Be a smart shopper. Check out CARS’ car-buying tips for how to get a safe, reliable used car — without having the hassle or risk of buying from a dealer:

CARS Used Car Buying Tips

Happy, safe car shopping!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Used car buyers have friends in the White House in auto safety battle

America’s used car buyers and our nation’s roads will be a lot safer if the Obama Administration wins the battle against shady car dealers who sell unsafe, recalled cars to used car buyers.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and the Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Dr. Mark Rosekind, are urging Congress to make it illegal for car dealers to sell unsafe, recalled used cars to consumers.

They joined the President of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety at a press conference in Richmond, VA, along with representatives of Hertz, Enterprise, and Avis, and the American Car Rental Association, who have been working together with CARS to enact federal rental car safety legislation. Auto manufacturers (except GM) and car dealers are blocking the rental car safety bill, and lobbying Congress to weaken protections for America’s car buyers.

It is historic for a President and his safety team to call for people who rent cars, or purchase used cars, to have the same level of protection as new car buyers. Under federal law, it is illegal for car dealers to sell recalled cars with lethal safety defects to NEW car buyers. That has been the law since the 1960’s. But there is no similar federal law to protect people who rent cars or purchase used cars.

“What we need now is for Congress to step up, and to make renting or selling a recalled vehicle [to a consumer] illegal,” said Secretary Foxx.

Read more: US DOT safety recall news

Are car dealers providing unsafe loaner cars to owners of recalled cars?

U.S. Senators, like Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, have been urging Honda and Toyota and their dealers to provide loaner cars to customers with faulty Takata air bags, while they wait for repair parts to become available. Sounds like a good idea, right?

But — new car dealers have been vehemently opposing attempts to stop them from loaning out cars that have the exact same safety defects, or different defects, that have triggered a federal safety recall.

So — if you turn in your recalled Honda or Toyota at a Honda or Toyota dealership, and they hand you the keys to a loaner car, is it guaranteed to be any safer? NO!!!!

Here’s video of lobbyists for the new car dealers and CarMax opposing legislation in California that would have prohibited them from renting, selling or loaning unsafe, recalled used cars to consumers:

Car dealer lobbyists oppose safety bill in California

 

 

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.

ABC 30 investigation finds dangerous recalled cars for sale on dealer lots

“A record number of vehicles are getting recalled this year. Car makers have pulled about one of every five vehicles on the road, 58 million of them. But many of the potentially dangerous cars are hiding in plain sight on used car lots here in the [Central] Valley.

The truth is: they’re all over the place, and you may never know it until it’s too late.”

ABC 30 investigation finds dangerous recalled cars for sale on dealer lots

 

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’