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Bill permitting used-car sales without warranties advances

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State Senate Judiciary Committee members advanced a bill Monday that would allow auto dealers to sell older, high-mileage vehicles without warranties.

Advocates for low-income West Virginians said the bill (SB459) would allow unscrupulous used-car dealers to sell unsafe clunkers with no repercussions.

"They have an incentive to look the other way," said Dave McMahon, lobbyist for Mountain State Justice, a group that represents consumers. "Right now you're protecting low-income consumers. This bill would no longer protect low-income consumers."

But state senators and auto-dealer lobbyists said the bill would help low-income people, giving them an opportunity to purchase affordable cars.

The warranty requirement drives up the cost of used cars, they said.

"This is a service for those low-income people, not a disservice, not in any way, shape or form," said Sen. Bill Cole, R-Mercer, a car dealer in Bluefield.

Judiciary Committee members passed the legislation by a non-unanimous voice vote.

Under the bill, used-car dealers would have to disclose vehicles' safety and mechanical problems in a written report. The dealerships only could sell warranty-less cars that cost less than $2,500, or have more than 80,000 miles, or are older than seven years.

States surrounding West Virginia already allow dealers to sell "as is" vehicles without warranties, said Ruth Lemmon, president of the West Virginia Auto and Truck Dealers Association. Many West Virginians buy the low-priced, high-mileage vehicles in those states, she said. 

Also, individual sellers, banks and auction houses can sell vehicles without warranties in West Virginia, Lemmon noted. The current law requiring warranties only applies to car dealerships.

"We simply just want to be able to compete on this type of vehicle," Lemmon told lawmakers.

Chris Hedges, a former lawyer with the West Virginia Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division, said he fielded numerous calls from people who bought used cars that broke down quickly.

Hedges said most consumers -- rich and poor -- don't read reports that detail vehicle deficiencies. He also predicted that more unsafe cars would wind up on West Virginia roads. 

"This bill would hurt one sector of the population: the low-income sector," Hedges said.

Senate Judiciary Committee members also advanced:

* A bill (SB90) that makes it a felony crime for someone who drives under the influence and has an accident that causes bodily injury to another person. The crime now is treated as a misdemeanor offense.

* Legislation (SB656) that requires the state lawmakers to set up a committee to analyze the financial impact of new gambling casinos in surrounding states. The new casinos compete against gaming facilities in West Virginia.

"We've lost an edge," said Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson. "We were the only game in town. That has changed."

* A bill (SB437) designed to crack down on illegal "puppy mills." The bill limits the number of breeding dogs such facilities may house. Commercial breeders also would have to obtain licenses and pay fees. Their facilities would be inspected twice a year. Breeders could only sell dogs as household pets. 

The bills now go to the full Senate for a vote.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.

 

 


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