New bill to increase transparency in auto industry

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Some St. Albert auto businesses say legislation tabled this week is a step in the right direction.

On Nov. 30 the province tabled legislation aimed at increasing transparency in the auto industry and improving consumer trust.

Stephanie McLean, Minister of Service Alberta, said the bill would protect customers from being taken advantage of when purchasing a new vehicle or getting auto repairs.

“We want to build a trusted marketplace where customers feel confident to spent their money,” she said.

If Bill 31, A Better Deal for Consumers and Businesses Act, passes  auto businesses would be required to disclose vehicle history, adopt a standard bill of sale, provide minimum warranty protections for repairs and require repair shops to provide written estimates upon request prior to beginning work.

Matt York, manager of 3 Son’s Auto Centre in St. Albert, said he believes the bill is a step in the right direction to stomp out distrust among customers.

“The automotive industry is given a bad name,” he said. “It’s because you go to a dealership and you always feel like you’re being ripped off, you go to get your oil change and they’re always adding stuff on it. The act is pushing for better business practice.”

York said the bill wouldn’t change operations for the repair shop, since they already provide repair information up front before doing any work. If a problem is found along the way, the shop contacts the owner prior to completing any work.

This prevents owners from having to pay well over the expected repair price when they arrive to pick up their vehicle.

He said that the legislation would stomp out competition between certain types of auto businesses, but in the end it’s still not enough.

“I think it’s going to wean out the guys who are trying to be shady, but in the end who is going to blow the whistle? I’m going to say about 75 per cent of people know nothing about a vehicle, so how are they going to know the difference of what they needed or didn’t need?”

Keith Schmidthiesler, general manager of St. Albert Honda, said he was in support of the new legislation. He said he believes making a standard bill of sale will benefit dealerships the most.

“That’s going to be fantastic, because it’s not going to be so confusing for the customer when they are comparing one brand to another,” he said.

Schmidthiesler said when customers first walk into the dealership he’s often met with distrust caused by past experiences with other auto businesses.

“You always hear stories, and there are two sides to every pancake as they say,” he said. “But it’s really sad if we’re all painted with the same brush, because we certainly believe that we are different.”

The legislation would also change the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council (AMVIC) to a public agency. The council, which acts as a watchdog over Alberta’s auto industry, is currently an industry-based group.

If approved, the minister of Service Alberta would have greater oversight of AMVIC. The change came from an investigation completed by consultant George Cuff last year, who put forward 22 recommendations to alter the organization.

Cuff’s investigation stemmed from issues involving AMVIC and the now-defunct Treadz Auto dealership.

The owner of Treadz Auto is currently awaiting trial for a consignment-sale scam. He faces 163 fraud and theft charges totalling $1.8-million.

Following Cuff’s review AMVIC fired then-CEO John Bachinski.

In 2015 vehicle owners filed a $5-million class-action lawsuit against the dealership and AMVIC. Vehicle owners accused the industry council for not investigating their claims.

Cuff’s review found that AMVIC has only paid a small fraction of its compensation fund, which the industry council capped at $4 million.

With the government overseeing the council, McLean said consumer trust would improve with the council.

When it comes to enforcing the new legislation, McLean said it would still be up to AMVIC to investigate owners’ claims.

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Dayla Lahring

Dayla Lahring joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2017. She writes about business, health, general news and features. She also contributes photographs.