By PHIL KABLER
CHARLESTON - After nearly three decades of successfully fighting legislation to permit "as is" sales of used cars and trucks in West Virginia, consumer attorney David McMahon had one key bit of advice Monday as the state's first "as is" law went into effect:
"Take it to a mechanic before you buy it, or before the three days are out, and have it checked out," he said Monday.
Under the new law, which allows auto dealers to sell vehicles "as is" without warranties, buyers can return vehicles within three business days for a full refund if the vehicle is found to have a significant mechanical issue or issues.
The legislation (Senate Bill 543), introduced perennially since the 1980s, passed during this year's regular session, clearing the Senate on a 31-3 vote, and the House of Delegates by a 78-21 margin.
McMahon has long fought the bill, which he believes will exploit working poor who need reliable transportation.
"It kind of red-lines people into poverty," he said. "If they sell you a car that doesn't necessarily run, how do you get to work?"
Before Monday, used cars sold by auto dealers, by law, came with an implied warranty assuring that the vehicle was in "good working order" and would "operate properly in normal usage for a reasonable period of time."
Proponents of the bill contended that the warranty requirement made it impractical to sell older, high mileage vehicles, resulting in dealers selling such vehicles to wholesalers or to auction houses.
Jared Wyrick, president of the West Virginia Automobile and Truck Dealers Association, said many of those vehicles ended up being sold in border states, all of which permit "as is" sales.
"About 80,000 used cars sold out-of-state were registered with the DMV," he said Monday. "I would say a good number of those were 'as is' vehicles."
Wyrick said the association supported the legislation, even though its members are new car dealerships, for whom "as is" vehicles will make up a tiny fraction of sales. He noted that, in testimony before the House Finance Committee, dealership owner Joe Holland indicated that, out of more than 200 used cars on his lots at the time, only about three or four would qualify to be sold "as is."
Under the new law, vehicles may be sold "as is" if they are priced at under $4,000, have more than 100,000 total miles or are more than seven years old.
Wyrick said he recognizes that, if a corner used car lot sells clunkers under the "as is" law, it could reflect badly on the industry as a whole. He said he agrees with McMahon that potential buyers of "as is" vehicles should have them inspected.
"It doesn't hurt to go to a mechanic and have them check it out," Wyrick said.
He said he thinks many buyers of "as is" vehicles will be people who want low-cost transportation and who have the know-how to make vehicle repairs themselves.
"I'm optimistic," Wyrick said of the law. "I think it's going to work out for the dealer community, and for consumers, as well."
McMahon said that, in lieu of buying "as is" vehicles from used car dealerships, consumers should consider using various online services, such as cars.com, to find low-cost used cars.
"I'm sure the used car lots will jump on this in a big way," he said of the new law, adding, "There will be more potentially problematic cars on the lots, and they don't have to guarantee that they'll run for more than three days."