Car history database set to go live

January 29, 2009 7:00:56 PM PST
It has been 16 years in the making. Friday, car buyers will gain access to information that could protect them against fraud and theft.

7 On Your Side first reported on this story Monday. California is so far still not committed to releasing its data to the public.

Car buyers for the first time will now have information about the complete history of a vehicle. It will include information about the car's title, odometer reading, and theft history. That information will come from salvage yards, insurance companies and the DMV.

"It's exciting. It's a real victory for car buyers," says an elated Rosemary Shahan of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates the database will save taxpayers $4 billion to $11 billion each year. That is because it is expected to reduce the market for stolen cars and protect consumers from odometer and title fraud.

Congress mandated this database in 1992, but Deepak Gupta of Public Citizen had to sue the Department of Justice to get it going.

It comes too late for Bobby Ellsworth. He died in a head-on collision in San Diego five years ago. He was riding in a salvaged vehicle and the air bag compartments had been stuffed with paper.

"This is so outrageous of an act that it shouldn't happen again," says Bobby's father Robert Ellsworth. "No parent ever wants their children to go before them in this life -- especially how quickly it happened. There weren't time for goodbyes."

His family recently won a $15 million judgment against the salvage yard.

Right now the database contains information from 73 percent of all cars on the road nationwide. Thirteen states have so far refused to participate and California is refusing to allow its information to be released to the public citing privacy concerns.

"That's bogus because the rules that the Department of Justice just issued specifically prohibit any consumer personal information from being released under the new database," says Shahan.

By court order, the DMV has until the end of February to change its mind or it could be facing a lawsuit.

The database goes online Friday at 6 a.m. The cost to car buyers accessing the database will be about $2.50 per vehicle. The data is being handled by private vendors who will likely try to sell you additional services you are under no obligation to buy.

You can view the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System database at