Car history database launches in California

February 18, 2010 7:08:10 PM PST
For the first time, information is now available to used car buyers in California that could protect them from buying a totaled or salvaged car.

Consumer advocates have been waiting 18 years for a national data base of used cars. The DMV announced it's now made public information about all 33 million vehicles registered in California.

The database comes too late for Terrence Holman of Discovery Bay. He unknowingly bought a salvaged vehicle from San Leandro Motors in 2008. The DMV has since found the dealership guilty of failing to disclose the salvage title before selling it to Holman.

San Leandro Motors is now closed.

"I was taken advantage of because they sold me the car without informing me that it had salvage title," Holman said.

"Car repairs on major wrecked damage these days are not done properly and there are almost always some safety issues with a badly wrecked car. With a totaled car, you have big safety issues, almost always," Bernard Brown from the International Association of Consumer Advocates said.

Holman doesn't feel safe driving his car, but says he has no choice.

"Considering my financial situation, I'm really forced to continue to drive the car because I can't really afford to purchase another car and I'm stuck in this contract," he said.

Starting in February, you can go to and find a list of ten million totaled and salvaged vehicles in the U.S.

Rosemary Shahan of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety fought for 18 years to get this data base in place.

"It's the world's largest depository of information on total loss and salvage cars," she said.

The data base costs less than $5 to access. That's considerably less than Carfax and other similar for-profit data bases which don't include totaled cars not branded in the title.

Lezlie Simmons of Los Banos bought a used Toyota Camry after receiving a clean Carfax report on the vehicle. She later found out her vehicle had been in a major wreck.

"I was really upset because I purchased this car with trust. You know, I'm a single mother and I wanted something safe and reliable," she said.

She's hired an attorney to try to get her dealership to take the car back for a full refund.

"She specifically asked for a safe car. She's relying on them to give her a safe car," attorney Scott Kaufman said.

The federal database does not include accident history reports for cars not totaled or salvaged.

For that, consumers will have to rely on other for profit databases. But a class action lawsuit filed against car fax accuses the company of misleading the public into thinking its accident history information is complete.

Carfax counters that each of its reports includes a disclaimer that not all information has been provided to it. Both Carfax and Consumer Advocates agree, that used car buyers should get an independent vehicle inspection before making a purchase.

"Listen, people, do have your car inspected by a body shop before you buy it," Brown said.

The database war originally mandated by Congress in 1992, but the Department of Transportation delayed implementation until consumers groups successfully sued and finally won last year.