By PHIL KABLER
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A nearly perennial bill has resurfaced in the Legislature this session, to allow car dealers to sell older, higher mileage vehicles “as is,” without warranties (SB216).
On Thursday, attorney Dave McMahon told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he’s been lobbying on behalf of low-income West Virginians since 1987, and has dealt with “as is” bills almost every year.
Most recently, the bill received heightened scrutiny in 2015, since it was taken up soon after car dealer Bill Cole became Senate president.
Thursday’s arguments on the bill were familiar, with consumer advocates saying the legislation could potentially leave low-income West Virginians stuck with poorly running and unsafe vehicles, while industry representatives said the current law prevents them from providing those residents with cheap, efficient transportation.
McMahon said the state’s implied warranty law has for years assured that low-income residents could have reliable transportation.
“It may mean that they pay a little bit more money for a car, but it means they get a car that will run,” he said.
Kristina Whiteaker, consumer attorney in Charleston, said buyers go to car dealerships for peace of mind, knowing that with the implied warranty, they are guaranteed the car they buy will run and will pass state inspection.
Ruth Lemmon, with the state Automobile and Truck Dealers Association, said current law puts West Virginia dealers at a competitive disadvantage, since all surrounding states permit “as is” sales, while state dealers are frequently barred from re-selling cars they take in as trade-ins. She said it also makes it difficult for some residents to afford a vehicle.
She said car dealers are not likely to sell vehicles they know are dangerous or are likely to break down.
“Our members have so much invested. They want to take care of the consumers,” she said, adding that dealers’ livelihoods depend on good reputation, noting, “Word of mouth is the best advertising.”
Sean Banks, general manager of the I-77 Auto Group, agreed.
“The intent of this legislation is not to deceive consumers,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to sell those cars we otherwise have to wholesale.”
Committee members advanced the bill to the full Senate, after adopting amendments offered by Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, intended to make the legislation more consumer friendly.
Those changes include requiring dealers to disclose known defects on “as is” vehicles, and to require dealers to provide consumers with a vehicle history reports on all “as is” vehicles.
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