Soapbox

You can sign electronically at banks. Why not car dealerships?

A potential car buyer test drives a Volkswagen Golf at dealership in Hawthorne in 2016. The California New Car Dealers Association wants buyers to be able to sign sales and lease contracts electronically.
A potential car buyer test drives a Volkswagen Golf at dealership in Hawthorne in 2016. The California New Car Dealers Association wants buyers to be able to sign sales and lease contracts electronically. Bloomberg

In a state so eager to be first, it’s difficult to imagine that California is dead last on something as elementary as consumer choice in the car-buying process.

California is the only state in the country where car buyers do not have the option to electronically sign a sales or lease contract, even in an age where consumers rely on electronic transactions in nearly all aspects of their lives, including banking, health care and insurance.

By passing Assembly Bill 380, lawmakers have an opportunity to rectify this stranger-than-fiction reality.

AB 380, introduced by Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, a Los Angeles Democrat, would remove language that excludes electronic transactions in auto sales and leasing. Voluntary paperless contracting not only will save time and resources, but can lead to a more enjoyable buying experience. Perhaps that’s why 75 percent of California voters agree that it’s time to allow e-contracting.

Federal law already permits car sales to be conducted electronically, and over the last decade, the practice has become more common in dealerships across the country.

It’s time for car buying in our state to better reflect what consumers expect. Otherwise, they may look to unlicensed markets, preventing local dealers from staying competitive and undercutting the important contribution they make to California’s economy.

Car dealers know that not all shoppers will be interested in electronic signatures. That’s why AB 380 is clear that they are entirely voluntary and that dealers are prohibited from penalizing customers for the method they choose.

Some argue that offering an e-signature option could take away consumer safeguards. This is simply untrue. AB 380 upholds all existing protections and mandatory disclosures and prevents sellers from modifying terms after a contract has been executed. The bill also requires that an exact copy of the contract be provided before buyers drive off the dealership lot.

In a state that prides itself on a culture of innovation, California drivers deserve a better, more efficient car-buying experience.

Brian Maas is president of the California New Car Dealers Association. He can be contacted at bmaas@cncda.org.

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