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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Dealers Say They Already Meet Standards of New Law

Despite all the fanfare, the passage of AB 68, the so-called Car Buyers Bill of Rights, has barely registered among local auto dealers. The dealers say manufacturers’ standards for calling used cars “certified,” are already higher than those imposed by the legislation, their profit margins on loans are already at the limits set by the law, and many already provide a written menu of additional products and services at the point of sale that customers can either select or reject before signing on the dotted line. Even the highly touted cooling off period is little more than a formalization of policies most dealers say they have followed for years. “Outside of whatever extra paperwork is involved, I don’t think it’s going to change much at all,” said Jeff Kemp, owner of Kemp Ford and president of the Thousand Oaks Auto Mall Association. “The return provision doesn’t worry me. Heck, we do it already.” AB 68, signed into law several weeks ago, and set to go into effect next July, was designed to protect consumers from excessive auto loan interest rates and from improper practices. It requires dealers to provide customers with their credit scores and itemize the cost of additional products and services included in the price of the vehicle. It limits the percentage of profit dealers can charge over the bank’s loan price to 2.5 percent for financing up to 60 months or 2 percent for longer loans. And it sets standards that prevent dealers from calling a used car certified if, for example, it has sustained major damage or the odometer has been altered. The bill also requires dealers to offer a two-day cooling off period on used cars under $40,000 provided the car hasn’t been driven more than 250 miles. Consumers can purchase the protection for a sliding scale that ranges from $75 to $500 depending on the cost of the car. But even the bill’s creators admit that the legislation was necessary largely because of a class system that mostly affects those in low income areas who lack information or access to more reputable dealerships. “You have some that target certain communities with predatory practices against young people buying a car or people who are not native English-speakers or the elderly,” said Assemblywoman Cindy Montanez (D-San Fernando) who authored AB 68. “That’s what we’re going to stop.” Problems with car purchases are some of the most widely heard complaints at the assemblywoman’s district offices, said Steve Veres, district director, who has heard numerous stories of consumers charged interest rates of 18 percent and more. To be sure, there have been some large dealerships implicated in these practices. Gunderson Chevrolet in El Monte, which has since been acquired by Power, was forced to pay back nearly $2 million in paybacks it received from exploitative financing contracts. And a lawsuit against El Cajon Ford charged that the dealership sold a vehicle as certified when it had frame damage. But for the most part, the large dealers say their policies are set by a higher authority, their customers. “My basic customer base is right here in my hometown,” said Darrell Coletto, president and owner of First Honda, First Nissan and First Kia in Simi Valley. “If I don’t treat you right, it’s going to hurt me 10 times over for one deal.” Most already itemize all their offerings in writing for customers and loan rates on new cars are typically set by the manufacturer. Used car rates too do not exceed those proscribed by the new law, the dealers say. According to the California Motor Car Dealers Association, one-quarter of its members already offer a cooling off period that ranges between one day and five days, and they do not charge anything for the service. And even those who do not have a written return policy, say they accommodate customers on the few occasions a year when someone wants to return a car. “To be honest, we work with customers if there’s a compelling reason in helping them get out of one car and into another,” said Tim Smith, president and CEO of Bob Smith BMW/MINI in Calabasas. “If somebody came in and said I brought it home and my wife is so mad at me, we generally work with them and figure out a way.”

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