A law that critics say puts drivers at risk may be changing in the wake of a KARE 11 investigation that found Minnesota has some of the weakest auto titling laws in the country.
Cars that have been smashed, totaled or flooded often wind up back on the roads with clean titles that can hide their history. It’s because of a provision in Minnesota law that exempts many older cars from being branded "salvage." A national expert called that a "state-sanctioned loophole."
Marissa Cartwright and her father fell into that loophole when she got her first car, a used GMC Jimmy.
Her father purchased the car for her 16th birthday. Lindsey Cartwright says he asked about the car’s history and saw it had a clean title.
In reality, the car had been totaled and never fully repaired. The Cartwrights didn’t know that Marissa had been driving around without working airbags.
"I was risking my own life every time I got in my car," Marissa said.
"If something would have happened, I don’t know if I could have forgiven myself," her father said.
Why didn’t they know the car’s true history?
Under existing Minnesota law, cars six years or older or worth $9,000 or less can get clean titles, no matter how badly damaged they are.
Unlike vehicles that have been branded "salvage," they do not need to be inspected if they’re rebuilt and re-sold.
"Without that inspection, the dysfunctional airbags went right underneath the line," Marissa said.
Rep. Jon Koznick (R-Lakeville) believes that needs to change. He has proposed a bill he says "closes that loophole."
"People need to understand what they’re buying and be well informed. And I think that’s what this bill does," he said.
Rep. Koznick’s bill and a companion measure in the state Senate eliminate the exemptions for older and less valuable cars, ensuring that any car that’s totaled in Minnesota will be branded “salvage."
Both bills have cleared their committees despite objections from Insurance Auto Auctions, a private auction company. Their spokeswoman Nancy Haas told a Senate committee that the move will lower trade-in values for both car owners and insurance companies.
"The amount they will receive for the car will be significantly reduced simply because this change requires that the vehicles be branded with a salvage title," Haas said.
The issue came into sharper focus this year after devastating hurricanes sent as many as a million flood cars into the used car market.
Laws with titling loopholes like Minnesota’s can allow flood cars to get clean titles and be sold to unsuspecting buyers.
For Rep. Koznick, changing the law is a matter of safety.
"If you want a good deal, you still can. But we want to make sure the cars are safe," he said.
Both the Senate and House bills are now awaiting a floor vote.