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Consumer VIEWS

Red Tape Can Snag a Car's Second Life

January 22, 1987|DON G. CAMPBELL | Times Staff Writer

Question: As a result of a minor auto accident, I submitted estimated repair bills to my insurance company. They decided the repair cost exceeded the value of the car and "totaled" it, but reimbursed me a percentage because I wanted to keep the car. It looks great and runs perfectly. It was not involved in a collision, and I was able to repair it inexpensively.

The Department of Motor Vehicles, however, demands that I surrender my pink slip in exchange for a document declaring the car totaled. This certainly restricts its resale value. Both DMV and my insurance company say the law is the law. Is there any way of getting around this? I have not surrendered my pink slip, but when license-renewal time comes, I'm afraid that I will have to.--N.N.P.

Answer: Ah, the love of a boy for his dog, or, in this case, his car.

Yes, I'm afraid that the law is the law is the law. You might as well bite the bullet, send the pink slip in and apply for a "Salvage Certificate." Not only is the law quite specific on the subject, but, contrary to your present feelings, there's a very sound, consumer-protection reason for the procedure.

Here's how it works, according to Richard Wright, manager of the DMV's public inquiry division in Sacramento: Once an insurance carrier (as in your case) decides that it's uneconomical to repair an auto and makes this kind of settlement with the owner, the company is beholden to send the pink slip in--within 10 days--to the DMV. If the owner keeps the car, though (as in your case), the company still must notify both you and the DMV, and then it becomes your responsibility to send in the owner's certificate. The insurance company had no alternative but to squeal on you. It then becomes a non-car, and you (or the insurance company, whoever retains physical possession of it) are issued a salvage certificate.

What good does this do you?

Well, the car can experience a rebirth--it can become a born-again car. You can apply for a re-registration, and if the car passes the brake and light standards at a state-approved inspection station, Wright adds, a brand new title will be issued.

What, you may ask, is behind all of this hocus pocus if you end up back at "Go" with the same old car but a brand new registration?

Very simple: The new registration you receive will note that it is a "salvaged" car. And, Wright comments: "I'd have to suppose that it could, very well, affect its resale value."

In officialdom, this process is known as "banding" (as in banding the leg of an endangered bird), and it came about, Wright notes, "because people were buying used cars unaware that they'd been in a serious accident--or were salvaged." Not only are totaled, born-again, cars banded, but certain types of vehicles are automatically banded before they can be resold--taxis, law enforcement cars and foreign cars that were never intended for use in the United States.

In no way does it stop you (or anyone else) from getting a new registration and then selling the car, but it effectively ends the consumer's worry of buying a used car only to find that he's ended up with a retiree from the California Highway Patrol's motor pool that has experienced one too many 120-mile-an-hour, bullet-punctuated chases on the state's freeways.

Q: By what right do publishers send you magazines or books that you haven't ordered and then get very nasty when you object to paying for them?

I had an offer from Inc. magazine for a sample copy and a free book. If I didn't want it, I was to mark "cancel" on the card (it was prepaid) and send it back. I threw the card away, but the sample copy came anyway as well as an invoice for a year's subscription. When I protested that I hadn't ordered it, I was told that I would have to contact my "subscription fulfillment" company. I don't even know who that is, and meanwhile they are threatening to turn the bill over to a collection agency.

At about the same time, I got a notice from Better Homes and Gardens magazine that they were going to send me a copy of their cookbook (price about $24) unless I returned the card within so many days and this one wasn't prepaid. I already have the book, for one thing, so why do I have to notify them not to send me a second one? Isn't it true that anything sent to me that I didn't order is considered a gift?--M.W.

A: Why does this remind me of that apocryphal story about the politician who was stung by a particularly bitter and hostile letter from a constituent and wrote the following note to the sender: "Dear Mr. Blank: I think it is only fair to tell you that some illiterate nut is sending gibberish to me and signing your name to his letters."

Which is another way of suggesting that someone with access to your mail is playing fast and loose with it. Neither publishing firm plying you with offers is in the habit of sending material not ordered.

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