Lawmakers seek to protect car buyers from ‘title-washing’

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DENVER -- Anyone who's ever walked onto a used car lot and drove off with a lemon can relate to Marlene Tiffany's story.

Ten years ago, she bought a Lexus IS 300 that seemed to be in good condition.

Then she started driving it.

"I could tell something just wasn't right," said Tiffany, who had two trusted mechanics take a look at the vehicle.

"They went into the trunk, underneath the spare tire and found a ton of putty. When I had it inspected, they said it would have taken about $12,000 in repairs to make it safe."

Tiffany bought the car with a clean title that showed no indication that it had ever been damaged in an accident -- something that happens quite a bit in Colorado, where lax laws make it easy for theft rings or chop shops to wash titles clean on salvage vehicles that they want to sell at auctions.

"It was declared an unsafe vehicle -- after they sold it to me with a clean title," Tiffany said.

On Tuesday, Tiffany testified in support of House Bill 1299, which will remove a current exemption that allows vehicles that are more than six model years old from being titled as salvage, which means the cost of repairing that car exceeds its worth.

The current law is counter-intuitive in that the only vehicles able to reflect a salvage title are six years old or younger; the older vehicles, which are more likely to be deemed salvage, aren't subject to that classification.

H.B. 1299, which already passed the House on a 43-22 vote, is being heard Tuesday by the Senate Transportation Committee.

Proponents, which include the Colorado Auto Dealers Association and Colorado State Patrol, believe classifying older damaged cars as salvage will protect consumers and enhance public safety, while making it harder for shady salvage buyers to take advantage of Colorado's laws by selling damaged cars here that they buy at low cost in other states.

They also note that the bill is all the more important after last year's catastrophic floods, in which thousands of vehicles were damaged.

Insurance groups opposing the proposal argue that listing more vehicles as salvage would force car owners to get rid of their older vehicles with minor damage because they'd be considered salvage.

UPDATE: After three hours of testimony and debate, the Senate Transportation Committee approved H.B. 1299 on a 4-1 bipartisan vote.

Only Sen. George Rivera, R-Pueblo, voted against the measure, which now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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