Auto DefenseJames S. SifersUsed-Car Dealerships

Pitfalls in Non-English Deals

Pitfalls in Non-English Deals

In California, it is not unusual for dealerships to find customers who speak little or no English. According to the 2010 Census, for California residents age 5 and older, 42.98% spoke a language other than English as their primary language at home. (“Qualifying Urban Areas for the 2010 Census” Federal Register.) In 1976, the California Legislature enacted Cal. Civ. Code § 1632, which was done in light of “the state’s sizeable and growing Spanish-speaking population.” (Cal. Civ. Code § 1632(a)(1).) Section 1632 requires dealers who primarily negotiate a deal in Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, or Korean to provide a translation of the “contract or agreement” in the language the deal was negotiated prior to signing the English version of the “contract or agreement.” While a number of companies provide translations in each of the required languages for many of the common documents used by dealers, e.g. the Retail Installment Sale Contract, many of the documents that are generated by dealers and/or their software, are oftentimes only in English. These additional documents oftentimes contain very important terms, such as negative vehicle history, which must be properly disclosed to customers prior to purchase.

If a dealer is found to violate Section 1632, a court or arbitrator can order the contract unwound. Section 1632 claims are usually accompanied by an Automobile Sales Finance Act claim (Cal. Civ. Code § 2981, et seq.) and/or a Consumers Legal Remedies Act claim (Cal. Civ. Code § 1750, et seq.), which can provide additional remedies to the customer, including the imposition of an injunction, punitive damages, and an award of attorneys’ fees.

We all know that in every deal a dealership should utilize a Translated Contract Acknowledgement, even if it is just to check the box that the transaction was conducted solely in English. The form utilized should state, where applicable, that fully filled-in translated copies of all documents signed by the customer were provided to the customer prior to the signing of the English language versions of the documents. However, many dealers still obtain signatures on disclosures that are only in English. This begs the question, if the deal is primarily negotiated in a language other than English, how can an English only disclosure be effective? The answer is that disclosure probably is not effective.

If your dealership does not carry a translation for every document signed by the customer for each language in which your dealership negotiates, you are setting your dealership up for a claim of improper and/or non-disclosure.

Many attorneys, myself included, advise our clients to utilize documents that contain both English and Spanish (or whatever other language the dealership also negotiates in) versions of the common disclosures made to customers prior to purchase. This not only will cut down on the number of translated documents the dealership will have to utilize, but it will also severely cut down on the possibility of dealership staff making mistakes in failure to utilize the correct documents to make the necessary disclosures. If there is only one form that can be utilized, and that form contains both English and Spanish, the dealership will have set itself up to defend any claims of improper and/or non-disclosure of negative vehicle history on a claim that a disclosure was in the wrong language.

James S. Sifers, Esq.