KIYC: Car recall bill to be rewritten after controversy

Posted: Updated:

One of the sponsors of a controversial car recall bill is promising to rewrite the legislation, which was the subject of a Kane In Your Corner investigation.

"The bill in its current form isn't going to move,” says Assemblyman Lou Greenwald (D – Mount Holly). “Meetings are ongoing with all of the groups to see if we can reach an agreement on a version that works for everyone."

The bill, which had passed the Senate but had not yet been scheduled for an Assembly vote, would require car dealers to inform consumers if a used car they are purchasing has an open recall. But consumer groups from across the country have been opposing the legislation.

“It's continually disappointing to see bills that are dressed up as consumer protection bills that are actually bills that are going to harm consumer protections,” says Adam Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.

RELATED: Groups oppose bill to require car dealerships to notify buyers about recalls
RELATED: Consumer Alert: Government’s handling of car recalls

His group and others are upset by other provisions in the bill that would cap attorney fees and limit plaintiff payouts in some consumer fraud lawsuits against car dealers, whether they involve recalls or not. Levine also says the protections in the bill don’t go nearly far enough. “You shouldn't be able to sell a car with a recall on it, whether it's a used car, a new car or a rental car,” Levine says.

Trinity Wixner of Toms River agrees. She bought a used Dodge Challenger in 2017, not knowing it had an open recall, which Dodge was unable to fix. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s recall database, a diode in the alternator could overheat, causing a fire. 

Wixner says the dealer gave her a vehicle report, which showed no open recalls, but the report was dated two months before she purchased the car, and the recall had occurred during the interim. She’s now suing the dealer. Her attorney, Michael Niznik, contends that if the proposed bill had been law, she would not be able to. “It would allow a dealership to check on the status of a recall when they (first) offer the vehicle for sale. After that, their hands are clean, and the dealer would be able to continue to offer that vehicle for sale for as long as it was on their lot,” Niznik says.

The New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, which represents car dealers across New Jersey, agrees the bill may need some fine-tuning, but contends that even in its current form, it would still provide important protections to used car buyers. “A retailer can't sell a customer something that is substandard without providing the customer with notice at the time of sale,” NJCAR president Jim Appleton says.

Appleton also argues that banning the sale of used cars with recalls, as consumer groups advocate, could hurt consumers in the end. “If I as a retailer can't sell your used car if it’s under recall, then I also can't take it in trade,” he says. “And if I can't take it in trade, you're stuck in that car until a retail fix is available.”

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