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Car Dealers Attack Massachusetts Protections Against Dangerous Recalled Used Cars
Leading consumer advocates testified before the State House Joint Committee on Consumer Protection today against a bill that would drastically weaken state consumer protection laws by allowing car dealers to sell dangerous used cars with unrepaired safety recalls. The bill, which is part of a nationwide push by car dealers and their trade associations, allows car dealers to sell recalled used cars if they merely provide a “written disclosure” (in English only) “at the time of sale” that the vehicles have an unrepaired safety recall.
“This special interest bill poses a serious threat to the safety of everyone who shares the roads in our state – not only used car buyers and their families, but also pedestrians, bicyclists and other motorists,” said Deirdre Cummings, Legislative Director for MASSPIRG, the state’s leading non-profit consumer advocacy organization. “If this bill were to pass, our state would become a dumping ground for unsafe recalled cars.”
Cars under open safety recalls can be deadly. For example, a General Motors recall for a defective ignition switch has been linked to at least 124 deaths. Defective Takata airbag inflators have been linked to at least 23 deaths and more than 230 injuries, including blindness.
“Automakers are only required to recall if a defect represents an unreasonable safety risk to motorists. If a defect doesn’t rise to this level, manufacturers issue technical bulletins or customer satisfaction campaigns. This means that every recall represents a serious safety hazard.” said Sean Kane, President of the Board of Directors of The Safety Institute, one of the nation’s leading auto safety experts.
(left to right) Andrew Nebenzahl, consumer attorney, Deirdre Cummings, MASSPIRG, Sean Kane Safety Institute
Under the proposed legislation, dealers could legally sell recalled used vehicles with defects such as:
- Brake failure
- Catching on fire
- Sticking accelerator pedals
- Steering wheels that come off in the driver’s hands
- Wheels that fall off
- Takata airbags that explode and spew metal shrapnel into people’s faces and necks, causing blindness, or making them bleed to death
- Hoods that fly up without warning and obscure the driver’s vision
“Massachusetts' consumer protection laws have helped protect consumers in the commonwealth for approximately a half a century. To allow an exception for car dealers to sell used cars without repairing known defects would drive a large, dangerous hole in Massachusetts law,” said Andrew Nebenzahl, a consumer attorney in Sharon, MA, who represents victims and survivors of auto safety defects, testifying on behalf of the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys.
Consumers in Massachusetts and other states have been suing car dealers who sold them recalled used cars, citing various state laws, and winning in court or receiving confidential settlements. According to the Federal Trade Commission, “…state product safety, tort, and other consumer protection laws, provide important safeguards to consumers affected by defective cars.” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey also cracked down on a car dealer who repeatedly sold used cars that were defective and unsafe, in violation of existing state laws against such practices.
Under current law, Massachusetts requires car dealers to warrant that the used cars they sell for over $700 are “safe to operate on the roads.” State laws also prohibit dealers from engaging in unfair and deceptive acts and practices, such as claiming a vehicle has passed a rigorous inspection when in reality it has potentially lethal safety defects. In addition, car dealers are prohibited from violating express or implied warranties, acting with negligence, failing to comply with the common law duty of care, or causing wrongful death.
“This bill is an open invitation for car dealers to play ‘recalled car roulette’ with their customers’ lives,” said Rosemary Shahan, President of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS), a non-profit auto safety and consumer advocacy organization based in Sacramento, Calif. CARS has been on the forefront in opposing similar car dealer “license to kill” legislation in Massachusetts and other states.
Dealers have pushed similar legislation in California, New Jersey, Virginia, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Maryland. Faced with a firestorm of opposition from safety advocates and parents of children killed by recalled cars, those bills were either defeated or amended to remove the harmful provisions in all the states except for Pennsylvania and Tennessee. The car dealers’ strategy to undermine state consumer protection laws was recently exposed in a USA Today/Public Integrity report, The Multi State Push to Let Dealers Get Away With Selling You a Defective Car.
Polling by Public Policy Polling has repeatedly shown, in state after state, including Massachusetts, that likely voters overwhelmingly oppose allowing dealers to sell unrepaired recalled cars, with or without "disclosure,” with over 88% opposing such legislation.
Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Edward Markey and Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal recently introduced legislation to add a federal prohibition against car dealers selling, leasing or loaning unrepaired recalled used cars.
Click here for full testimony and supporting organizations.
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