State investigates dozens of car dealerships for possibly violating stay-home order

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SEATTLE -- The state is investigating dozens of car dealerships for possibly violating the governor's stay-home order in April, according to documents obtained by Q13 News.

Most vehicle dealerships across the state have been collecting dust the past six weeks to comply with the stay-home order, with some reporting its sales have dropped more than 90 percent. Dealerships were allowed to sell vehicles on a very limited basis during this time.

But the Department of Licensing confirmed it is looking into about 25 dealerships where the number of title transfers raised red flags. Those dealerships processed more than 100 vehicle title applications between April 1 and April 16.

In a letter sent directly to the dealerships in question, the DOL wrote that after reviewing title applications, "it appears your business...is conducting business outside of the directives in Governor Inslee's Stay Home -- Stay Healthy Proclamation."

At the bottom of the letter, the DOL noted that "violators of the Governor's Proclamation may be subject to criminal penalties."

The state has asked those dealerships to provide a list of every vehicle sold during those two weeks and justification for each sale, proving it met the criteria for doing business under the stay-home guidance.

Dealers could only sell vehicles once the stay-home order went into effect March 25, 2020, if it met one of the following criteria:

  • Closing a pending transaction that began before the governor's order
  • Replacing a totaled vehicle or damaged vehicle that is impractical to repair
  • Extending an expired lease
  • Selling a vehicle to an essential worker if that worker had no other means of transportation

A DOL spokeswoman told Q13 News that some dealerships returned the requested information within three days and said the agency is encouraged by the response but is still awaiting documentation from other dealers.

Since dealerships have 45 days to process title transactions, it's possible some of the sales were made before the stay-home order went into effect. That's why DOL said it's just seeking information at this point related to these transactions.

However, if dealerships are found guilty of violating the proclamation, DOL has the authority to suspend or revoke business licenses or pursue a criminal penalty, which would be a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in county jail and a $5,000 fine.

If the Attorney General's Office decided to pursue violations of the Consumer Protection Act, a court could impose a $2,000 fine for each violation.

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