CLEVELAND, Ohio — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, one of the most active AGs in the automotive space, started 2014 by filing five lawsuits against used car dealers who failed to deliver vehicle titles to customers.

DeWine is seeking more than $32,000 in reimbursements from AutoBahn, The Car Shack, R&M Auto Service & Sales, Selective Auto Mart and Y-Town Auto Sales.

“The majority of complaints that we get in regard to automobiles come from people who bought a used car; and the majority of those cases have to do with failure to get a clear title or to get any title at all,” DeWine told F&I and Showroom.  

He pointed out that of the 5,581 motor vehicle complaints in Ohio this past year, 3,883 — or 70% — were related to used-car sales. “We’ve got a few bad apples in the used-car industry,” DeWine said, noting “there is a big, big difference” in the franchised and independent dealer complaints received by his office.

“Some of these used-car dealers set up shop for a while, and then they move on. And that’s the bulk of our problems,” the attorney general noted. “A reputable car dealer, we can usually work something out with them. It’s the ones who aren’t reputable — and there are very few of those, particularly in the used-car business — that set up shop and don’t deliver titles and they don’t do what they say they’re going to do. And that’s a problem.”

The AG claims in his suits that the dealers violated the state’s Consumer Sales Practice Act when they failed to deliver titles within 30 days of each sale. The lawsuits seek injunctive relief, civil penalties and reimbursement to the Title Defect Rescission Fund, a self-funded program state lawmakers created in 2001.

“It enables [used-car dealers] to expedite the process if a person does not get their title within X number of days, then that consumer can be reimbursed out of that fund,” DeWine said.

Despite DeWine’s five most recent lawsuits and nine dealer-related suits his office filed in 2013, the attorney general said it is not the norm for his office to file suit. “We first try to mediate it,” he explained, citing a recently implemented process under Automotive Consumer Action Program (AUTOCAP), an informal dispute resolution process that involves members of the auto industry, including the Ohio Automobile Dealers Association, and the his office. “Normally it gets resolved.”

According to DeWine, automotive is the No. 1 generator of consumer complaints in Ohio, a distinction he said is the result of the volume of car purchases in the state. “That is to be expected just because of the volume of car purchases. And because it’s a major purchase, you really focus on it,” he said. “If you buy a $20 product, and it doesn’t work, is it worth your while to call the AG? A lot of times people just throw it away and move on. But people are paying $20,000, $25,000, $30,000 for a car. That’s a major purchase for people.”

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