Amend AB 1215 and put California consumers and safety first

Alan Autry
Former Mayor of Fresno

California has the seventh largest economy in the world. And what drives this economy is the willingness of consumers to take risks and buy products. To guard against risk, consumers often rely on commercial data to tell them the history of a product. So, for example, when someone is buying a house, he or she can see the history of the house: its property tax values, its renovations and what it sold for in the past. Shouldn’t the same process apply when buying a car? It should but it doesn’t.

A new piece of legislation, AB 1215, aims to protect consumers in the market for a used car by giving them information on the car’s history. The bill asks the right question: how can we protect consumers? Unfortunately, it provides the wrong answer: it relies on the National Motor Vehicle Titling Information System. Essentially, the NMVTIS is a program developed by the Justice Department to help keep track of car titles. But if you are looking for information on how many wrecks a car has had or how much work has been done to it over the years, the NMVTIS isn’t much use.

Trust is an important part of the marketplace. And people who enter a car dealership need to have the trust that they are getting right information. Disclosing prior damage, including total loss and brand data, is important to protect used car consumers. Unfortunately mandating NMVTIS alone may provide used car consumers with a false sense of security as unscrupulous sellers will leverage this mandate to their benefit.

Here is the way this will likely work: this mandate will shield sellers from completing true due diligence since they are not obligated to run any other vehicle history report apart from NMVTIS. Vehicles may have hazardous frame damage or have had airbag deployments- both of which NMVTIS does not report. As a result, businesses may inadvertently sell bad products to consumers, consumers who can’t afford any mistakes.

We know that in Fresno, as well as in the rest of California, families have to depend on used cars. With limited disposable incomes, they need to find a car that fights their budget. But they shouldn’t have to sacrifice safety to do it. Incredibly, AB 1215 fails to bring up that other vehicle history reports exist that give consumers a more detailed history of a car and yet offers no incentive for the seller to research beyond NMVTIS and include other vehicle history reports that may provide more comprehensive safety information.

California consumers will be increasingly vulnerable under the impression everything has been properly done to protect them when in fact only about 2.5-4% of all cars on the road have been given a branded title or declared a total loss. No one wants to put their family in a car that isn’t safe to be on the road.

The solution to protecting consumers is disclosure and choice. In disclosing prior damage, used car sellers are best able to provide accurate information when given the choice to use the paramount product available on the market. And families, particularly those in underserved communities where opportunity is minimal, need to be able to trust their vehicles to get them to jobs, grocery stores and school. They need the most information and the ability to choose what works best for them.

Californians deserve a bill that doesn’t close off opportunities for transparency, choice and safety. The simple solution is to amend AB 1215 so that it encourages choices.

If the goal is to protect consumers, then let’s do it. Let’s amend AB 1215 and put California consumers and safety first.

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