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March 14, 2002

Miller Sues Used Car Dealer for Not Disclosing Prior Damage and Missing Air Bags

"Air bags are a crucial safety issue," Miller says. "People deserve honest information."

DES MOINES. Attorney General Tom Miller filed a consumer protection lawsuit today alleging that a Des Moines used car dealer illegally sold a car without disclosing that the vehicle had substantial prior collision damage and did not have operable air bags. Miller also provided consumers with tips on how to check if a used vehicle has operable air bags.

Defendants named in the suit are The Auto Outlet, Inc., located at 1420 East 14th St. in Des Moines, and owner David Easter. Easter participated in the sale of the vehicle in question.

The suit alleges Auto Outlet purchased a damaged 1995 Pontiac Firebird for $3,320 last August, with prior damage and missing air bags disclosed at the time, and then sold the vehicle for $7,000 without disclosing the prior collision damage and the fact that the vehicle did not have operable air bags.

"Instead of installing air bags, we allege the defendants simply glued down air bag covers," Miller said. "We allege the sale violated the Consumer Fraud Act. Consumers want to know and deserve to know if there is prior damage or a vehicle has no air bags. Those are material facts for consumers deciding whether to purchase a vehicle and how much to pay. It's a very important safety issue for many consumers and a key pocketbook factor as well."

The lawsuit, which was filed in Polk County District Court, asks the Court to permanently prohibit any future violations, order restitution to any victims of the defendants' conduct, and assess a civil penalty up to $40,000 per violation of the Iowa Consumer Fraud Act.


Details alleged in the petition:

The 1995 Pontiac Firebird sustained damage during a collision with a truck. The driver- and passenger-side air bags were deployed. On August 7, 2001, the owner traded the vehicle to an auto dealer for $3,240 as a trade-in allowance, disclosing the prior damage.

The dealership chose not to sell the vehicle to the public due to the prior damage and missing air bags. The dealer disposed of the vehicle through ADESA auto auction in Grimes, disclosing the prior damage and missing air bags. The vehicle was bought by The Auto Outlet, Inc., for $3,320. Auto Outlet sold the vehicle to a Des Moines buyer for $7,000 without installing air bags and without disclosing the prior damage and the fact that the vehicle did not have operable air bags.

General facts about damaged vehicles and air bags:

"Vehicles being sold without working air bags is a growing problem," Miller said. The California Highway Alliance recently found that 1 in 25 previously-damaged vehicles inspected had phony or dummy air bags. Insurance industry statistics indicate that about 50,000 air bags are stolen each year. About 2 of 5 "totaled" vehicles are rebuilt and put back on the road (one million of 2.5 million "totaled" by insurance companies each year), and many might not have replaced air bags. It generally costs about $800 apiece to replace air bags.

"This a key safety issue," Miller said. "Most people want the protection and peace of mind of air bags. They shouldn't be misled to think they are driving with air bags if they are not. Consumers deserve honest information, especially when it comes to air bags."

Tips for consumers:

  • Check for working air bags. Turn on the ignition - the air bag indicator light should appear momentarily and then go out. If the light remains on or flashes, there could be a system problem and you should take the car to a qualified mechanic for further inspection. If the light never comes on, it is likely the air bag is missing or there is another serious problem.
  • Inspect the air bag cover to see if it appears to be a replacement cover only. See if the cover fits correctly and if colors match accurately. Most original-manufacturer air bag system covers contain an "SRS" or "S/R" mark or a manufacturer's logo; most replacement covers are plain and contain no marking.
  • Have a mechanic of your choice inspect a used vehicle you are considering - especially if you have any questions about the air bag.
  • Check a vehicle's title history to see if it was previously wrecked or salvaged. Carfax and AutoCheck are two commercial services that provide such vehicle history data.

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