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Carfax pushing hard for accident data bill

November 22, 2010
Lobbyists for Carfax continue to solicit support for the Illinois Senate bill that would make available any accident reports related to a vehicle offered for sale in the state. Ten of the state's 59 senators have signed on as sponsors of SB 1839. The General Assembly is in the midst of a two-week break, but the CATA is contacting senators, to defeat the bill when senators reconvene. If SB 1839 becomes law, companies like Carfax, which markets vehicle history reports, would add accident information to their electronic reports. That would harm the values of used vehicles, including customer trade-ins. Information contained in Carfax reports is dubious. When Carfax Vice President Gerry Bayer visited the CATA board in December 2003, he heard an earful about inaccuracies in Carfax reports. Bayer assured the CATA directors that Carfax would not flag a vehicle if any information is found to be wrong. But, he conceded, an erroneous reading would not be removed from the report. Accident-scene damage reports merely establish whether the harm is above or below a $500 threshold. The reports do not indicate whether any damage should affect a vehicle's resale value. Moreover, police officers are not damage experts; their interest is in assigning fault for an accident. In less severe "fender benders," the drivers themselves often may complete the accident report, days later and with self-serving estimates of damage. And even though inaccurate accident reports are common, a dealer who sells a used vehicle without disclosing prior damage-known or unknown-can face demands of a refund by purchaser or a lawsuit. It can take months for an accident report to weave its way to vehicle history marketers. Dealers who retail a trade-in during that interim could be subject to a suit. Still, prosecuting attorneys in other states already point to Carfax reports as containing definitive information. The CATA and the Illinois Automobile Dealers Association in Springfield are working together to defeat the bill. Dealers should voice concerns to their senate contacts.