January 30, 2023

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California to institute stronger safety inspections for total loss vehicles after repair

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed into law AB 471, legislation that, among other things, will institute more stringent safety inspections for total loss vehicles that have been repaired and offered for sale.

The legislation, which was strongly supported by the California Autobody Association (CAA) and 10 other industry groups, will also make it easier for consumers to be informed about repair shops’ educational and training certifications; create a panel to hear informal appeals of citations issued against repair dealers; and set up a “traffic school” model for dealing with minor record keeping violations, preventing disclosure of the violations on the internet while requiring the shop to take remedial training.

The legislation applies to all automotive repair dealers in California, including body shops, independents and new car dealers. Written by Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley) and co-authored by Assemblymember Heath Flora (R-San Joaquin Valley), the bill was approved by the Assembly on Sept. 10, and signed into law by Newsom on Sept. 28.

“AB 471 is a very important piece of legislation for the repair industry, and the CAA was very supportive of the bill,” said Jack Molodanof, the organization’s head lobbyist.

“AB 471 is multi-faceted legislation that would, among other things, enhance the Bureau of Automotive Repair programs for consumers, protect consumers from unsafe salvage vehicle repairs, [and] improve the current citation and fine regulatory program,” reads a letter in support of the bill signed by CAA and 10 other organizations.

Salvage Vehicle Safety Inspection program

When a vehicle is determined by an insurer to be so badly damaged in a collision that it cannot be economically repaired to its pre-damaged condition, it is declared a total loss. Such vehicles are typically sold at auction as “junk,” and receive a “salvage” title to be dismantled and sold for parts. However, some total losses are bought by people who repair the car, usually with the intent of reselling it.

Until now, to be deemed safe for use on public roads, such vehicles have had to pass only a brake and lamp inspection and a smog check, and to be inspected by the California Highway Patrol to certify that there are no stolen parts on the vehicle.

“Many of these revived total loss salvage vehicles could have safety issues such as cracked windshield, illuminated air bag light, or defective seat belts, and still pass inspection,” a legislative analysis of the bill states.

The new law rolls the existing “lamp and brakes” inspection program into a new “Vehicle Safety Systems Inspection” program that would incorporate additional safety inspection criteria standards, as determined by the state’s Bureau of Auto Repair and established by regulation. The new rules are to be in place by Jan. 1, 2024.

As the regulations are developed, CAA “will continue working with BAR on this important effort,” Molodanof said.

“We applaud Assemblymember Low, BAR and Gov. Newsom for recognizing there is a safety concern with respect to salvage vehicles and taking action to protect consumers,” Rodney Pierini, president and CEO of CAWA, which convened the industry vehicle safety inspection task force, said in a statement.”

The signing into law of AB 471 will ensure consumers who purchase a salvage vehicle are purchasing a safe vehicle, Pierini said.

CAWA formed an advisory task force in 2019 to explore options to create a California Vehicle Safety Inspection Program. Led by CAWA, the task force includes ASCCA, Auto Care Association, Coalition for Automotive Repair Equality (CARE), Automotive Service Association (ASA), Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA), Motor Equipment Manufacturers’ Association (MEMA) and the Association for Sustainable Manufacturing (MERA) and other CAWA member automotive companies.

The relevant portion of the legislation reads:

9888.5. (a) The director shall develop inspection criteria and standards for specific safety systems and components of the vehicle in order to promote the safe and uniform installation, maintenance, and servicing of vehicle safety systems and components.

(b) The director shall issue vehicle safety systems inspection licenses to stations and technicians to conduct inspections of, and repairs to, safety systems of vehicles. The director may electronically issue these licenses.

(c) By January 1, 2024, the director shall adopt the regulations, in accordance with the rulemaking provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act (Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 11340) of Part 1 of Division 3 of Title 2 of the Government Code), including, but not limited to, all of the following:

(1) Inspection criteria and standards for specific safety systems and components of the vehicle in order to promote the safe and uniform installation, maintenance, and servicing of vehicle safety systems and components.

(2) The application fee and process for applicants, including any specialized application process for those licensees licensed pursuant to Article 5 (commencing with Section 9887.1) and Article 6 (commencing with Section 9888.1).

(3) The certificate of compliance fee and certification process for vehicles, including any specialized certification process for those vehicles certified pursuant to Article 8 (commencing with Section 9889.15). The director shall prescribe a form for the certificate of compliance that contains, at a minimum, the date of issuance, the make and registration number of the vehicle, the name of the owner of the vehicle, and the official license of the station.

(d) The vehicle safety systems inspection license shall replace licenses issued pursuant to Article 5 (commencing with Section 9887.1) and Article 6 (commencing with Section 9888.1). Licenses issued in accordance with those articles shall remain valid until six months after the director adopts regulations pursuant to subdivision

(c). A licensee with a license issued pursuant to Article 5 (commencing with Section 9887.1) or Article 6 (commencing with Section 9888.1) shall thereafter be regulated under this article and shall apply for and be issued a vehicle safety systems inspection license under this article.

(e) The vehicle safety systems inspection certificate shall replace certificates issued pursuant to Article 8 (commencing with Section 9889.15). Certificates issued in accordance with that article shall remain valid until six months after the director adopts regulations pursuant to subdivision (c).

Making shop certifications more visible

California law previously limited the amount of information that BAR can collect from automotive repair dealers. Under the new law, BAR is allowed to collect more information, including educational and training certifications that are nationally recognized and generally accepted by the auto repair industry (e.g., ASE, I-CAR and others), or any BAR-approved educational certificates.

This information will be collected voluntarily from the automotive repair dealers, and shared with consumers through the BAR Auto Shop Locator Program, a new mobile-friendly search tool that allows consumers to perform location-based searches for auto body shops and other automotive repair dealers.

The legislation states that repairers are to provide the information when they register with the BAR.

“The forms shall include any applicable nationally recognized and industry-accepted educational certifications and any bureau-approved educational certifications,” it states.

Automotive repair dealers are required to renew their licenses annually.

“Automotive repair professionals spend a considerable amount of time and money training automotive service technicians to properly and safely repair vehicles,” Dave Kusa, chair of the Automotive Service Councils of California (ASCCA) Governmental Affairs Committee, said in a statement. “Under AB 471, these training certifications would be included on the BAR public website to assist consumers to easily identify auto repair shops that have proper training and certification credentials. I think it’s a win-win for both consumers and automotive repair shops.”

The relevant portion of the legislation reads:

Section 9884. (a) An automotive repair dealer shall pay the fee required by this chapter for each place of business operated by the dealer in this state and shall register with the director upon forms prescribed by the director.

(b) (1) The forms shall contain sufficient information to identify the automotive repair dealer, including all of the following:

(A) Name.

(B) Telephone number.

(C) Email address.

(D) Address of each location.

(E) A statement by the dealer that each location is in an area that, pursuant to local zoning ordinances, permits the operation of a facility for the repair of motor vehicles.

(F) The dealer’s retail seller’s permit number, if a permit is required under the Sales and Use Tax Law (Part 1 (commencing with Section 6001) of Division 2 of the Revenue and Taxation Code).

(G) Motor vehicle license plate number, if engaged in mobile automotive repairs.

(H) Other identifying data that are prescribed by the director.

(2) If the business is to be carried on under a fictitious name, the fictitious name shall be stated.

(3) To the extent prescribed by the director, an automotive repair dealer shall identify the owners, directors, officers, partners, members, trustees, managers, and any other persons who directly or indirectly control or conduct the business.

(4) The forms shall include any applicable nationally recognized and industry-accepted educational certifications and any bureau-approved educational certifications.

(5) The forms shall include a statement signed by the dealer under penalty of perjury that the information provided is true.

(c) A state agency is not authorized or required by this section to enforce a city, county, regional, air pollution control district, or air quality management district rule or regulation regarding the site or operation of a facility that repairs motor vehicles.

Independent appeals panel

Automotive repair dealers with licensed smog check stations and those who are performing unlicensed repairs can be cited and fined by the BAR. Previously, any appeals to those actions would be heard by a single BAR representative in an Informal Citation Conference (ICC) under Bureau regulations permitted by state law.

The new law expands the ICC process for automotive repair dealers that receive citations, and establishes a three-member panel to hear these informal appeals. The panel is to consist of one representative of the BAR, one from the general public and one from the automotive repair industry, all appointed by the BAR chief.

The relevant portion of the legislation reads:

9882. (a) (1) There is in the Department of Consumer Affairs a Bureau of Automotive Repair under the supervision and control of the director. The duty of enforcing and administering this chapter is vested in the chief who is responsible to the director. The director may adopt and enforce those rules and regulations that the director determines are reasonably necessary to carry out the purposes of this chapter and declare the policy of the bureau, including a system for the issuance of citations for violations of this chapter as specified in Section 125.9.

(2) (A) On or after July 1, 2023, the director may include in the citation system a process for informal review of and recommendation on citations, including establishment of an informal citation conference conducted by a panel of independent representatives appointed by the chief. The informal citation conference panel shall consist of three members, with one representative each from the bureau, the public, and the automotive repair industry.

(B) (i) The director may include in the citation system a process for an automotive repair dealer, upon successful completion of remedial training conducted by a provider certified pursuant to subdivision (d) of Section 9884.7, to prevent disclosure of the citation on the internet as provided in Section 27.

(ii) To be eligible for citation nondisclosure under this subparagraph, the automotive repair dealer shall not have attended remedial training in the prior 18-month period from the effective date of citation.

(3) Rules and regulations adopted pursuant to this subdivision shall be adopted pursuant to Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 11340) of Part 1 of Division 3 of Title 2 of the Government Code.

(b) (1) Notwithstanding any other law, the powers and duties of the bureau, as set forth in this article and under the Automotive Repair Act, shall be subject to review by the appropriate policy committees of the Legislature. In that review, the bureau shall have the burden of demonstrating a compelling public need for the continued existence of the bureau and its regulatory program, and that its function is the least restrictive regulation consistent with the public health, safety, and welfare.

(2) The review required by this subdivision shall be performed as if this chapter were scheduled to be repealed as of January 1, 2024.

(c) This section shall be effective only until July 1, 2026, and as of that date is repealed.

Remedial training for minor citations

All citations, including those for minor record keeping violations, have been a matter of public record, published on the BAR’s website. The new law gives shops that have been cited for non-fraud related documentation, record keeping or other minor types of violations to attend remedial training as certified by BAR.

Successful completion of the training would prevent the disclosure of the citation on the internet. To be eligible, shops must not have attended remedial training in the previous 18 months.

The relevant portion of the legislation reads:

Section 9884.7. (a) The director, if the automotive repair dealer cannot show there was a bona fide error, may deny, suspend, revoke, or place on probation the registration of an automotive repair dealer for any of the following acts or omissions related to the conduct of the business of the automotive repair dealer, which are done by the automotive repair dealer or any automotive technician, employee, partner, officer, or member of the automotive repair dealer:

(1) Making or authorizing in any manner or by any means whatever any statement written or oral which is untrue or misleading, and which is known, or which by the exercise of reasonable care should be known, to be untrue or misleading.

(2) Causing or allowing a customer to sign any work order that does not state the repairs requested by the customer or the automobile’s odometer reading at the time of repair.

(3) Failing or refusing to give to a customer a copy of any document requiring the customer’s signature as soon as the customer signs the document.

(4) Any other conduct that constitutes fraud.

(5) Conduct constituting gross negligence.

(6) Failure in any material respect to comply with the provisions of this chapter or regulations adopted pursuant to it.

(7) Any willful departure from or disregard of accepted trade standards for good and workmanlike repair in any material respect, which is prejudicial to another without consent of the owner or the owner’s duly authorized representative.

(8) Making false promises of a character likely to influence, persuade, or induce a customer to authorize the repair, service, or maintenance of automobiles.

(9) Having repair work done by someone other than the dealer or the dealer’s employees without the knowledge or consent of the customer unless the dealer can demonstrate that the customer could not reasonably have been notified.

(10) Conviction of a violation of Section 551 of the Penal Code.
Upon denying a registration, the director shall notify the applicant thereof, in writing, by personal service or mail addressed to the address of the applicant set forth in the application, and the applicant shall be given a hearing under Section 9884.12 if, within 30 days thereafter, the applicant files with the bureau a written request for hearing, otherwise the denial is deemed affirmed.

(b) Except as provided for in subdivision (c), if an automotive repair dealer operates more than one place of business in this state, the director pursuant to subdivision (a) shall only suspend, revoke, or place on probation the registration of the specific place of business which has violated any of the provisions of this chapter. This violation, or action by the director, shall not affect in any manner the right of the automotive repair dealer to operate the automotive repair dealer’s other places of business.

(c) Notwithstanding subdivision (b), the director may suspend, revoke, or place on probation the registration for all places of business operated in this state by an automotive repair dealer upon a finding that the automotive repair dealer has, or is, engaged in a course of repeated and willful violations of this chapter, or regulations adopted pursuant to it.

(d) (1) The director shall establish through regulation a program to certify providers of remedial training for automotive repair dealers who have violated this chapter, employees of automotive repair dealers who have violated this chapter, and persons identified pursuant to Section 9884 as directly or indirectly controlling or conducting an automotive repair dealer business that has violated this chapter.

(2) Remedial training shall be available only for violations involving documentation or recordkeeping, or that the bureau determines to be minor in nature. Remedial training shall not be available if the violation constitutes fraud.

(e) For purposes of this section, “fraud” includes, but is not limited to, violations of this chapter involving misrepresentations and all of the following:

(1) Any act or omission that is included within the definition of either “actual fraud” or “constructive fraud,” as those terms are defined in Sections 1572 and 1573 of the Civil Code.

(2) A misrepresentation in any manner, whether intentionally false or due to gross negligence, of a material fact.

(3) A promise or representation not made honestly and in good faith.

(4) An intentional failure to disclose a material fact.

(5) Any act in violation of Section 484 of the Penal Code.

Lien reform

Under the previous law, any person required to have a valid registration under state law must do so in order to be able to benefit from a lien for labor or materials, or the right to sue on a contract for motor vehicle repairs. The new law now includes the ability to charge storage fees.

The relevant portion of the legislation reads:

9884.16. A person required to have a valid registration under the provisions of this chapter shall not have the benefit of any lien for labor or materials, including the ability to charge storage fees in accordance with applicable laws, or the right to sue on a contract for motor vehicle repairs unless the person possesses a valid registration.

Images:

Featured image: The signing of AB 471 has the potential to increase the safety of California motorists, the legislation’s supporters say. (polybutmono/iStockphoto)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is shown. (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia)

More information:

Text of Assembly Bill No. 471:

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220AB471