Reports

Report | USPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

From Deceit to Transformation

Volkswagen (VW) perpetuated a fraud on the American people, deceiving consumers into believing that they were getting the best possible combination of performance and sustainability. But VW’s promises were nothing more than lies that significantly harmed our collective health and the health of our environment. As a result of the settlement that followed this fraud, an Environmental Mitigation Trust (EMT) was set up with $2.9 billion dollars to be distributed to states to reduce transportation emissions. In effect, VW’s deceit now represents a historic opportunity to drastically reduce harmful pollution that makes us sick and destroys the planet, while also providing an essential down payment toward the transition to a clean and modern 21st century transportation system. 

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Following the Money 2019

Citizens’ ability to understand how their tax dollars are spent is fundamental to democracy. Budget and spending transparency holds government officials accountable for making smart decisions, checks corruption, and provides citizens an opportunity to affect how government dollars are spent.

State and local governments spend billions of dollars every year on economic development programs in the form of forgone tax revenue and direct cash grant payments to corporations in an effort to stoke investment and job creation in a particular city, state or industry.

A review of economic development subsidy reporting in all 50 states finds that a majority of states fail to meet minimum standards of online transparency, leaving residents, watchdogs and public officials in the dark about key public expenditures. States should shine light on economic development subsidies by requiring the online publication of key transparency reports and inclusion of economic development spending in the state’s online checkbook portal to meet the expectations of citizens seeking information in the 21st century.

Economic development subsidies – be they tax exemptions, credits, or direct cash grant payments – are a form of public spending, but are rarely held to the same transparency standards as other government expenditures.

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health

Chain Reaction V

The Chain Reaction V report grades the top fast food and fast casual chanins on antibiotic use policies for their beef supply chains. 

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Unsafe Used Cars for Sale

AutoNation, which bills itself as “America’s Largest Auto Retailer,” is selling recalled used vehicles that contain dangerous safety defects. In a survey of over 2,400 used vehicles for sale at 28 AutoNation locations, 1 in 9 were found to have unrepaired safety recalls. Those vehicles are potentially hazardous to the people who buy them, their passengers and everyone else on the road. Vehicles with defects subject to safety recalls – including malfunctioning Takata airbags and General Motors ignition switches – have been responsible for thousands of injuries and deaths.

Every AutoNation location surveyed was found to have unsafe, recalled used vehicles for sale.

• Researchers surveyed used vehicles for sale at 28 AutoNation locations in 16 metro areas across the nation during July and August 2019. Out of 2,429 vehicles surveyed, 285 had unrepaired safety recalls. 

• Some dealerships had a significantly greater proportion of used vehicles under recall than others. At the Chrysler Jeep West (CO) location, nearly 1 in 5 used vehicles had an unrepaired safety recall. At the Honda Fremont (CA), Hyundai Denver (CO), Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram and Fiat Johnson City (TN) and Subaru Spokane Valley (WA) dealerships, more than 1 in 6 used vehicles contained an unrepaired safety recall.

• Even “certified” pre-owned vehicles often have unresolved recalls. Our survey found 14 instances of “certified” cars with unrepaired safety recalls.

All vehicle safety recalls should be taken seriously, and vehicles should be repaired before sale to consumers for use on the roads. Some victims have been killed within hours of when a dealer handed them the key to a defective car.

69 of the 2,429 used vehicles surveyed contained recalled Takata airbags that have been linked to 24 deaths and over 200 injuries globally. Exploding shrapnel from defective airbags has caused blindness and brain injury, as well as death from blood loss.

Some recalled used vehicles at AutoNation had no remedy available. 

Of the vehicles surveyed, 47 (16 percent of recalled vehicles) had an unrepaired safety recall for which a remedy wasn’t available at the time of the analysis. Consumers who purchase such a vehicle may have to wait for months or longer before their unsafe recalled vehicle can be repaired.

AutoNation advertises that its used vehicles are “worry free.”

AutoNation claims on its website that “we take the risk out of buying a pre-owned vehicle,” and that “as an industry leader we hold ourselves to higher standards.” It also purports to “provide promises and processes you won’t find anywhere else,” and advertises its pre-owned vehicles as “worry free.”

However, former AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson has admitted that vehicles with safety recalls are far from “worry free.” In 2016, Automotive News reported that he said: 

"These are not that the wrong tire-pressure sticker is on the car or some other little minor item. …These are significant safety recalls, and we feel the time has passed that it's appropriate to take a vehicle in trade with a significant safety recall and turn around the next day and sell it to consumers.”

His statement was referencing the promise that AutoNation made in 2015 not to sell used vehicles with unrepaired recalls. But this pledge lasted less than 18 months. On November 28, 2016, AutoNation walked back on its promise and began to market recalled vehicles.

Many recalled vehicles are at dealers with service shops capable of making repairs in-house.

Most AutoNation dealerships are franchisees which sell new cars that are affiliated with a specific manufacturer and have service shops that specialize in fixing that manufacturer’s vehicles. Since recalled vehicles typically must be returned to an authorized dealer for repairs, this should make it easier for those dealerships to make repairs to used recalled vehicles of the same brand, as a service department capable of making the repairs often exists on site. But, our survey found 62 used vehicles that were being sold by AutoNation dealerships of the same make as the vehicle under recall. 

Dealers’ sales of used vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls may be illegal. 

All states prohibit licensed dealers, including those that sell used vehicles, from engaging in practices such as bait and switch, false advertising, unfair and deceptive acts and practices, fraud, violating express or implied warranties and the common law duty of care, negligence or causing wrongful death. AutoNation’s failure to repair recalled cars despite promising that it is selling vehicles that are of high quality may violate these provisions. 

Auto dealers should not sell unrepaired recalled used cars to consumers. To help address the risks posed by AutoNation’s sales of unsafe recalled vehicles to consumers:

Policy recommendations

  • The U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., should grant the relief requested by Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, U.S. PIRG, and the Center for Auto Safety, and overturn the Federal Trade Commission’s consent orders with GM and with the automotive dealership chains CarMax, Lithia, Koons, West-Herr and Asbury that allows them to advertise that unsafe vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls are "safe," "subject to rigorous inspections," "repaired for safety," and "certified," as long as they merely disclose that the vehicles may have an open safety recall.

  • The Federal Trade Commission should prohibit AutoNation and other dealers from engaging in deceptive and unfair practices, such as advertising its used vehicles as “worry free” and high-quality when they have unrepaired safety recalls. 

  • State attorneys general should investigate AutoNation and other dealers who engage in such practices, and enforce existing state laws that prohibit them from selling unsafe, unrepaired recalled vehicles to the motoring public. 

  • AutoNation should honor the commitment it made in 2015 and re-institute its former policy of not selling used cars with unrepaired recalls. Dealerships across the country should follow suit and implement policies that prevent the sale of used vehicles with unrepaired safety recalls. 

For consumers

  • As long as dealers continue to sell vehicles with unrepaired recalls, consumers should investigate any used vehicle they plan on purchasing to make sure that it does not contain unrepaired recalls. If the vehicle does have an unrepaired recall, consumers should refuse to buy it until it has been repaired by the seller at an authorized dealership.

  • If you recently purchased a used car, you should look up the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) at www.safecar.gov. If there is an unrepaired recall, go to any of the manufacturer’s authorized dealerships to have it fixed. 

  • If you own a vehicle that is subject to a safety recall, and the parts are not available to fix the recall, insist on getting a safe loaner or rental vehicle from the manufacturer. 

  • Consumers or surviving family members harmed by dealers who sold unrepaired, recalled used cars should consult an attorney in their state who specializes in representing consumers in auto warranty and auto fraud litigation.

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles 5

America’s aging roads and bridges need fixing. Our car-dependent transportation system is dangerous, harms our communities, and is the nation’s leading source of global warming pollution. And more than ever before, it is clear that America needs to invest in giving people healthier, more sustainable transportation options.

Yet year after year, state and local governments propose billions of dollars’ worth of new and expanded highways that often do little to reduce congestion or address real transportation challenges, while diverting scarce funding from infrastructure repairs and key transportation priorities. Highway Boondoggles 5 finds nine new budget-eating highway projects slated to cost a total of $25 billion that will harm communities and the environment, while likely failing to achieve meaningful transportation goals.

Highway expansion costs transportation agencies billions of dollars, driving them further into debt, while failing to address our long-term transportation challenges.

·         Highway expansions are expensive and saddle states with debt.

o   In 2012, the latest year for which data is available, federal, state and local governments spent $27.2 billion on highway expansion projects – sucking money away from road repair, transit, and other local needs.

o   From 2008 to 2015, the highway debt of state transportation agencies nearly doubled, from $111 billion to $217 billion.

o   New roadway is expensive to maintain, and represents a lasting financial burden. The average lane mile costs $24,000 per year to keep in a state of good repair.

·         Highway expansion doesn’t solve congestion.

o   Expanding a highway sets off a chain reaction of societal decisions that ultimately lead the highway to become congested again – often in only a short time. Since 1980, the nation has added more than 800,000 lane-miles of highway – paving more than 1,500 square miles, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island – and yet congestion today is worse than it was in the early 1980s.

·         Highway expansion damages the environment and our communities.

o   Highway expansion fuels additional driving that contributes to climate change. In 2017, transportation was the nation’s number one source of global warming pollution.

o   Highway expansion can also cause irreparable harm to communities – forcing the relocation of homes and businesses, widening “dead zones” alongside highways, severing street connections for pedestrians and cars, and reducing the city’s base of taxable property.

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