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Californians could pay more in document fees when buying cars -- but perhaps sleep sounder if the vehicle is a used one - under legislation that is receiving bipartisan support in the Legislature.

The wide-ranging measure, Assembly Bill 1215, has won support from two traditional industry rivals -- the California New Car Dealers Association and Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS).

"For sides that have been fighting each other for a long time to come together, and work together, pushing a bill toward a common end, it's really nice," said Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, a Woodland Hills Democrat who proposed the measure.

The measure would allow car dealers to increase their maximum document-processing fee from $55 to $80, beginning in July 2012. The increase would apply both to new and used vehicles.

For consumers, the bill would require dealers when selling a used car to obtain a report from the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, a federally mandated vehicle history database. A sticker would be posted to notify buyers of vehicles that had been junked, salvaged, or branded as flooded, rebuilt or non-repairable in years past.

The provision is the first of its kind in the nation, said Rosemary Shahan, CARS president. The goal is to discourage sales fraud in which buyers pay far more than a car is worth because they are not fully aware of its history - perhaps it was flooded by the 2005 Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, for example.

"Most of the time they're unsafe," Shahan said of flood-damaged or previously junked vehicles. "They're not worth nearly what an undamaged car is worth, and if you take out a loan on one of these cars, you're upside down from the get-go."

AB 1215 also would require dealers to register cars electronically through the Department of Motor Vehicles, a provision that is designed to speed up the registration process and save the state millions of dollars annually. Consumers would be required to install new license plates within 90 days.

AB 1215 was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, 5-0, and is headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee. The basic concept, though not recent amendments, passed the Assembly 75-3.

Opponents include CarFax and Experian, which provide vehicle history reports that include accident and other consumer information. Their service is more in-depth than a title check, they contend.

By requiring only that the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System be used, AB 1215 could allow unscrupulous dealers to hide the fact that a used car has had hazardous frame damage or an airbag deployment, according to a letter of opposition from CarFax's lobbying firm, Lang Hansen O'Malley & Miller.

"Limiting choice by mandating a single source will actually limit and not expand disclosure," the letter said.

Car Fax and Experian, in separate letters of opposition, propose that AB 1215 be amended to provide dealers with the option of using any commercially available vehicle history report.

Opponents also include the California Taxpayers Association, which represents corporate taxpayers, and two groups representing underserved communities in Sacramento, the Greater Sacramento Urban League and the Roberts Family Development Center.

Editor's note: This post was updated to list additional opponents to the bill. Updated 11:52 a.m., Aug. 9, 2011.


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