WASHINGTON -- Congress will try again to enact a federal remedy to the title-washing problem that vexes consumers and auto dealers, a key lawmaker predicts.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Wednesday that he will work with other committee leaders to draft legislation.
The goal is to keep vehicles that have been stolen or severely damaged in crashes or floods from being resold in other states with titles that have been washed of "brands" that record their histories.
The issue is back on the congressional agenda because of worries that vehicles damaged last year by Hurricane Katrina or other natural disasters will wind up on dealership lots and in family driveways.
The National Automobile Dealers Association argues that consumers deserve to be protected not only from the thousands of vehicles that were flooded last year but also from the millions of cars and trucks that are wrecked each year.
The proposed legislation is likely to be far different from measures that failed to win congressional approval over the past decade. Those bills sought to persuade states to develop uniform title brands and to carry brands forward from other states.
At a hearing Wednesday of the House subcommittee on consumer protection, NADA officials asked Congress to require insurers to report immediately when they determine a vehicle is a total loss, whatever the cause.
Under the proposal, the information would go into a national database available to dealers, consumers and others.
With such information, a dealer or customer could avoid unknowingly acquiring a rebuilt wreck or flood vehicle, whether or not its title is branded.
David Regan, NADA's vice president for legislative affairs, told the subcommittee that Congress should direct the Justice Department to issue rules that would create a total-loss database.
He said Congress has legal authority for such a move under a 1992 law aimed at combating vehicle theft.
Regan told Automotive News that the request represents an evolution in NADA's position. NADA previously called on state motor vehicle bureaus and private providers of vehicle history reports to cooperate on delivering accurate and up-to-date information.
After Katrina, the National Insurance Crime Bureau showed it could quickly post online hundreds of thousands of vehicle identification numbers for last year's flood-damaged cars and trucks.
Regan said it is just as important for consumers to be aware of the car or truck that was wrecked on the interstate this week.
Added Regan: "If it takes legislation to get there, then, yes, we will pursue legislation aggressively."
You may e-mail Harry Stoffer at [email protected]