Have you ever experienced the occasion where something was a really good idea, but turns out to be frustrating and impractical to implement? For many California dealers, the tire chain disclosure requirement is just that. The idea behind the tire chain disclosure law is incredibly simple and straightforward—to tell customers which vehicles can and cannot be operated with tire chains. However, for some time now, it has been one of the most frustrating, and perhaps confusing, laws for dealers to implement. While the obligations under the law should be nothing new to you in the general sense, the goal of this article is to be a refresher on the tire chain disclosure requirement for California dealers.
In order to determine a dealer’s obligations under the law, we must first examine the responsibilities of the manufacturer. This initial step can be the source of much frustration because a dealer must rely on the manufacturer meeting its responsibilities in order for the dealer to fulfill its own under the law.
Vehicle Code section 9953 requires that every manufacturer of a new motor vehicle which, as equipped, may not be operated with tire chains must:
- Note this fact in the vehicle owner’s manual.
- Provide each of its franchised dealers with a list of the affected vehicle models on an annual basis and prior to the introduction of its new model year vehicles. The list specifically must include sufficient information (including tire sizes, where necessary) to allow the dealer to determine when the dealer is required to use a tire chain disclosure.
The list is especially critical for dealers to comply with their own obligations under the law because, as many of you who have had any experience with owner’s manuals may know, the manuals sometimes are not that clear when it comes to whether the vehicle can or cannot be operated with tire chains as equipped. If you have not been provided a list, reach out to your factory rep for one. If for some reason your rep does not know what you are talking about, escalate the issue up the chain of command until the list is provided. Remember, the disclosure responsibility ultimately falls upon the dealer’s shoulders, and so being proactive about obtaining this list is a must.
If the new vehicle, as equipped, cannot be operated with tire chains (i.e., the vehicle is on the list obtained from the factory), Vehicle Code section 11713.6 requires the selling (or leasing) dealer to provide the customer with a written disclosure. Specifically, the disclosure:
- Must be printed in at least 14-point boldface type on a single sheet of paper that contains no other information other than the disclosure.
- Must include the following language in ALL CAPS: AS EQUIPPED, THIS VEHICLE MAY NOT BE OPERATED WITH TIRE CHAINS BUT MAY ACCOMMODATE SOME OTHER TYPE OF TIRE TRACTION DEVICE. SEE THE OWNER’S MANUAL FOR DETAILS.
The disclosure must be signed by the customer and retained by the dealer prior to the consummation of the sale or lease, and a signed copy must be provided to the customer.
Common Mistakes Made Regarding Tire Chain Disclosure
Other than the obvious mistake of forgetting to provide a tire chain disclosure when required, here are some of the most common mistakes/issues our auditors have been seeing recently regarding the disclosure.
Providing disclosure for new vehicles that can be operated with tire chains
Perhaps the most common mistake that we have been seeing recently is when a dealer provides a tire chain disclosure for a new vehicle that can be operated with tire chains. In our experience, this misstep can typically be chalked up to bad dealership policy/procedures. We have heard of dealers providing tire chain disclosure forms blanketly on all new car deals. Some of these dealers have the mentality that “the customer can always read the owner’s manual to find out whether the vehicle actually can be operated with tire chains, and so it is best to provide the disclosure on every new car deal so as not to miss anything.” Remember, if a new vehicle can actually be operated with tire chains, inappropriately providing a tire chain disclosure form can be construed as a misrepresentation to the customer.
Modifying new vehicles that otherwise may be operated with tire chains
This potential mistake is coming up more frequently during the current climate where dealers are starting to preload accessories on many new vehicles. Remember, even if a new vehicle delivered from the factory can be operated with tire chains, be careful if you preload any accessories/upgrades (especially related to the vehicle’s tires or wheels), or if you make any modifications to the vehicle that results in the vehicle no longer being able to be driven with tire chains. Doing so may trigger the tire chain disclosure requirement because the statute requires dealers to make the disclosure if the new vehicle “as equipped” cannot be operated with tire chains. If you have any uncertainty, you may want to check with the manufacturer regarding whether your upgrades or modifications will affect the vehicle’s ability to be operated with tire chains.
Providing the disclosure for used vehicles
Recently, we have been seeing more and more issues with dealers inadvertently using tire chain disclosures on used vehicles. Doing so can cause several problems. Remember, having the form signed in any used vehicle deal constitutes a misuse of the disclosure form and could create the impression that the dealer had positively investigated with the manufacturer the status of the vehicle’s operability with tire chains. By doing so, the dealer may also be found to have a duty to investigate other facts about the used vehicle related to the appropriate traction device, such as its condition, or any modifications made by previous owners. Furthermore, any customer who, based on an inappropriate warning, needlessly spends money on a more expensive or less safe alternative tire traction device may have a claim against the dealer.
Using “combo” disclosure forms or forms without proper disclosure language
Remember, per Vehicle Code section 11713.6, the disclosure must be on a single sheet of paper with no information other than the disclosure. In other words, the disclosure must be standalone, and cannot be lumped in on a “combo” form with multiple disclosures. Similarly, make sure that your tire chain disclosure form includes the statutory language in ALL CAPS, as the law requires that any tire chain disclosure include the language. Softening or changing the language is not allowed.
Anecdotally, we have observed many of these problems on “homemade” dealership forms. Accordingly, as with all forms, we recommend that dealers obtain their tire chain disclosure form from a reputable forms provider and/or consult with competent legal counsel on the matter.
If you have any questions regarding this, or any other situation that may arise in your sales or service departments, hotline clients are invited to contact us at (800) 785-2880 (then press “4” for hotline) or firstname.lastname@example.org.