If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. And maybe even try something else.
That, it would seem, is the new motto the National Automobile Dealers Association has adopted in its attempts to protect members and their customers from inadvertent purchases and sales of rebuilt wrecks.
The association hasn't given up on trying to get Congress to enact a national title-branding law, but it is also exploring other ways to reach the same goals without a federal law.
And, thanks in part to the growth of electronic communications, there are promising alternatives, said Tom Greene, NADA's COO for legislative affairs.
Under a pilot program funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and run by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, car and truck registration records of participating states (see box) are being linked by computer.
The program, called the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, was designed to thwart car thieves but also could be used to create permanent records of accident and repair histories, said Larry Greenberg, vice president of the administrators group.
Ultimately, if the program works out, a dealer or consumer would be able to go online, enter a vehicle identification number, and see the records for every state in which the used car or truck had ever been registered, Greene said.
NADA also is hoping that states, either through laws or regulations, agree to label the title of every car and truck that is totaled by an insurance company and agree to carry forward the labels from other states.
The combination of steps could be 'equally or more effective than this federal bill,' Greene said.
Dealers have been especially frustrated by the failure of their proposal for national title-branding legislation. It would have provided incentives to the states to adopt uniform title-branding requirements for severely damaged late-model vehicles so that the vehicles could not simply be moved from one state to another and given clean titles.
The House of Representatives passed two different versions of the dealer-backed bill and the Senate passed a third in the 1997-98 Congress. But the measure was dropped from a session-ending catch-all bill during closed-door negotiations between congressional leaders and administration officials.
While the scope of the proposal had been limited by a U.S. Supreme Court decision, consumer groups and some state attorneys general accused dealers of backing weak provisions in order to take advantage of car buyers.
'That still baffles us,' Greene said.
NADA still favors federal legislation but is pursuing on a parallel track the alternatives made feasible by computerization and possible state laws or regulations, Greene said.
He declined to label the approach a new strategy but called it 'an evolution of where we have been' on the issue.
'We are still committed to solving this problem,' Greene said. 'We ran up against a bridge that was out, and we've got to figure out how to get across the river.'