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.