There’s an old joke that goes “What’s the difference between a used car salesman and [insert any type of salesman, consultant, agent or other professional 'persuader.']? A. The used car salesman knows when he’s lying.”
I know, nasty stereotype. On the other hand, it’s easy to imagine how used car dealers’ unique “persuasion” skills, so suitable for selling used cars, might be just as helpful to them in the political world.
We’re all (hopefully) aware of the record-breaking number of car recalls over the past year due to tens of millions of cars being manufactured and sold with lethal defects. Explains The American Prospect: “Nearly 64 million vehicles were recalled in 2014—a new record—and Carfax, a company that provides vehicle history reports, estimated that 46 million cars with unfixed safety recalls were still on the road.”
However, they also point out, “While it has long been against federal law for new cars to be sold with safety recalls, there is no similar legislation to protect individuals who drive used or rental cars. Reformers want to change this, and make it illegal to sell or lease all recalled vehicles until they have been repaired.”
Unfortunately, federal legislation has (so far) stalled, so “In the meantime, auto dealers have shifted their attention to state legislatures, where lawmakers in California and New Jersey are now considering bills that would require car dealers to disclose whether a used car has an open safety recall at the time of purchase.” The car dealers call this measure “pro-consumer” with supporters making proud statements like, “Consumers have a right to all background information about their vehicles, particularly when that information can help them protect themselves and their families. This measure will promote transparency at used car dealerships and help put buyers at ease.”
Who could argue with that? Except when you understand what this bill really means: car dealers will be able to deliberately sell their customers vehicles with lethal safety defects.
Bernard Brown, “a founding member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, a consumer attorney organization that opposes New Jersey and California’s bills,” told The American Prospect, “The reason for these bills is to effectively make it legal to sell recalled cars.… These [disclosure] bills would greatly undermine existing protections. On its face it may seem like they’re better, but they’re not. …They’re decidedly worse.”
“These laws are effectively ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ cars for dealers,” concurred Taras Rudnitsky, a former car safety engineer who now works as a lawyer for victims of vehicle defects. Under current negligence law, dealers have to demonstrate that they have acted in a reasonable and prudent way—which victims can argue includes selling safe vehicles to consumers. Introducing disclosure notices, Rudnitsky believes, could become the new legal burden a prudent dealer must meet in court.
In California’s case, for example, this bill would provide dealers with a loophole to get around a bunch of other laws that protect motorists. The Sacramento Bee has editorialized against the bill, noting “We err on the side of caution, especially on matters of auto safety. A defective car threatens more than the driver. It’s a safety issue for passengers and other motorists.”
We should note that bill supporters like New Jersey’s Assembly Sponsor Paul Moriarty, have an argument. He says:
[H]e had originally sought to prohibit retail sales of used cars with open recalls, but changed his mind after learning that used car dealers could unfairly lose a lot of business and perhaps face ruin as a result of a large, unexpected recall by a vehicle manufacturer. "Theoretically, you could wake up one morning and have half of your inventory unsalable," he said. "If they've got 100 cars that need to be fixed by Honda, how fast do you think the Honda dealer is going to take care of those cars when [Honda has its] own customers to take care of?" Moriarty said.
Ok so in order to keep a used car dealer in business, people are supposed to drive around in unsafe vehicles and perhaps die? This mentality is perhaps fitting for apocalyptic fantasies like Mad Max: Fury Road. Not New Jersey.