California bill would give consumers protection from flooded vehicles

| Thursday, July 27, 2006

When California state lawmakers return to Sacramento Aug. 7 to finish up their work for the year, a bill that likely will draw consideration is intended to provide car and truck buyers with greater assurances that used vehicles have not been water-damaged.

The Assembly-approved measure would prohibit the reselling or transferring ownership of a vehicle damaged by a flood unless that fact is disclosed on the vehicle’s title. It also would require the removal of any of the vehicle’s “structural, mechanical, electronic, electrical, fuel, brake, safety systems or its computer-based components” that had water damage.

Sponsored by Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza, D-Carson, the bill – AB1854 – is awaiting consideration in the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee.

Oropeza said the effort is needed to combat vehicles, including large trucks, damaged by flooding from sources like hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as recent California floods, from being sold to unsuspecting consumers.

“(The bill would) protect consumers by making it a misdemeanor to resell or transfer ownership of a vehicle that has been flooded, water damaged or the title reregistered so often the salvage label has been dropped, or ‘washed’ to hide its true history,” Oropeza said.

“Caveat emptor may mean ‘buyer beware’ but when the title of the vehicle itself is fraudulent, consumers need strong government protection.”

She said that as many as 600,000 water-damaged vehicles from Hurricane Katrina may have been sent to used lots nationwide.

Anyone found in violation would face fines of $1,000. Repeat offenders would face a $5,000 fine. A third or subsequent offense would result in a $10,000 fine.

The bill must be approved by both chambers before the regular session is scheduled to wrap up Aug. 31.