Buy a car, go to jail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the Bay Area writes:  “LLCR recently published, in collaboration with other groups, a report entitled Not Just a Ferguson Problem: How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California, which shows the many ways that low-income California drivers, and particularly communities of color, are impacted by unfair laws that result in license suspensions, and hefty fines, and that lead people into an endless cycle of debt and court involvement from which they cannot extricate themselves. Rather than reverse this trend, AB 516 would contribute to it.”

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

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GM “certified” cars face Federal scrutiny

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has confirmed that it is investigating advertising of General Motors’ “certified” used cars, regarding their safety recall status. The FTC is the first federal agency to take action to protect the public from car dealers’ sales of unrepaired recalled used cars. CARS applauds the FTC for acting to police vehicle safety in the used car market, under existing laws.

According to the Detroit News, “GM said it was notified June 3 of the investigation by the FTC that concerned “certified pre-owned vehicle advertising where dealers had certified vehicles allegedly needing recall repairs.”

CARS and our consumer group allies have been urging the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on CarMax, over its sales of unsafe, recalled used cars. CarMax is the largest retailer of used cars in the U.S. CarMax advertises that all its vehicles must pass a rigorous “125 – point inspection” to qualify to be sold as “CarMax Quality Certified” vehicles.

However, CarMax openly admits that it knowingly and deliberately sells cars that are being recalled by the manufacturer because they have lethal safety defects. CarMax neglects to ensure that the cars are repaired and safe to drive, before offering them for sale. The CARS Foundation and CALPIRG Education Fund recently issued the report “CarMax Is Endangering Lives in California” about the unsafe, recalled cars CarMax offered for sale in Oxnard and South Sacramento, CA.

New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs was the first local agency to crack down on car dealers’ sales of unsafe, recalled used cars, under a law in New York that requires dealers to certify that vehicles they offer for sale are roadworthy.

Read more: Detroit News: GM Faces FTC Investigation

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Takata air bags: take this recall seriously

How risky is the Takata exploding air bag defect? Some commentators are downplaying the risk, and may mislead consumers into thinking they can ignore the safety recall. They point to reports about the number of known fatalities linked to the faulty air bags, which have been pegged at 6, with another 100 people suffering serious injuries.

However, as the GM ignition switch defect has taught us, the initial numbers can be deceiving. GM acknowledged only 13 fatalities. But we now know that the toll was actually much higher, numbering over 100 lives lost. Plus many more people suffered serious injuries.

In addition, the Takata air bag defect is getting worse. The problem with the air bags is linked to exposure to the elements. Over time, the number of air bags that are prone to exploding with excessive force will inevitably rise.  So will the risk to drivers and front-seat passengers.

If you own a car that is among those equipped with Takata air bags, here are some steps you can take to stay as safe as possible:

1. Check your car’s safety recall status by entering the Vehicle Identification Number on the website for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, here:  https://vinrcl.safercar.gov/vin/

2. Register to receive updates about any changes in your car’s recall status, here: http://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/subscriptions/index.cfm

3. If your car is being recalled to replace one or both front air bags, contact a local new car dealer and get on the list for repair parts.

4. If the repair parts are not yet available, insist that the manufacturer provide you with a rental car from a rental car company that ensures that its rental cars are not subject to a safety recall, such as Hertz, Enterprise, Avis, Dollar Thrifty, Alamo, and other major rental car companies or smaller companies (except Rent-a-Wreck).

5. Be wary of loaner cars, which dealers have on their lots. Dealers argue that they should be able to foist off unsafe, unrepaired recalled cars to consumers as loaner cars. Yes, it’s nuts. But hey, they’re car dealers.

6. If a manufacturer refuses to provide you with a safe rental car, pending repairs, let CARS know. We’re going to publicize stories about manufacturers refusing to provide safe alternative transportation, like they have promised members of Congress and the media.  Sometimes a bit of sunshine can go a long way toward convincing a company to do the right thing.

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CA on track to have the worst auto safety recall law in the nation

Greedy, unscrupulous car dealers are high-fiving themselves, as Democratic and Republic legislators in California continue to vote unanimously to legalize dealers’ sales of unsafe, recalled used cars with lethal safety defects to consumers.

Testifying against the car dealers’ bill: Cally Houck, who lost her two daughters, Raechel and Jacqueline, ages 24 and 20, due to a recalled car.  A steering hose leaked, causing an under-hood fire and a loss of steering control.  The two sisters ended up colliding head-on with an 18-wheeler truck.

As their mother, Cally Houck, told legislators:  AB 287, the car dealers bill, “would protect dealers, not consumers.” The bill is being authored by Assemblymember Richard Gordon, who has said that his father and grandfather were car dealers.

Also testifying against the bill:  Mark Anderson, who testified on behalf of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. According to NACA, if the dealers win, California will become a dumping ground for unsafe, recalled cars that would be illegal for dealers to sell in other states.  That would translate into more fatalities and injuries, and higher risk for everyone who shares the roads.

According to the car dealers’ bill, the defect that killed Raechel and Jacquie would not be considered “serious.”

Read more:

Orange County Register: A record 64 million cars were recalled last year: Here’s what’s being done to make buying safer used cars

Ventura County Star: Capps introduces rental car bill named for Ojai sisters killed in crash

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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

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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

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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

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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!

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