State officials have announced multiple legal actions to protect the public from the sale of tampered vehicles that release excessive amounts of air pollution.
To protect the environment and public health, automobile manufacturers are required to install state-of-the-art emissions control technology that meets air quality standards set by environmental regulators.
Despite these clean air requirements, some auto dealers, auctioneers, repair shops and individuals tamper with vehicles by altering or removing the emission control systems or installing software that can disrupt their operation.
This tampering violates the law, depletes air quality and threatens public health.
In the first action, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe announced a lawsuit against Manheim Remarketing Inc., the nation’s largest vehicle auction company, alleging that it violated New Jersey’s pollution control laws by facilitating the sale of hundreds of tampered vehicles in the state.
According to the Complaint, DEP identified over 200 vehicles offered or sold through Manheim that were clearly disclosed as tampered, and a surprise DEP inspection at a Manheim facility last year found that 28 percent of inspected vehicles were unlawfully tampered with.
The Complaint seeks to prevent Manheim from allowing sales of tampered vehicles, which would significantly disrupt the resale market for tampered vehicles.
The lawsuit also asserts claims against three vehicle dealers that have repeatedly sold tampered vehicles through Manheim.
At the same time, Attorney General Grewal and Division of Consumer Affairs (DCA) Director Paul R. Rodriguez announced that DCA issued Notices of Violation to eight auto dealers who sold tampered cars directly to consumers.
“I’m proud to once again announce bold actions against irresponsible polluters, the result of years of hard investigative work to uncover rampant violations of New Jersey’s environmental laws,” Attorney General Grewal said. “Environmental protection is directly tied to the public’s health, including for environmental justice communities. Tampered vehicles in particular release harmful air emissions that affect our residents’ well-being, but national companies like Manheim refuse to protect our residents from this problem."
“When someone intentionally tampers with emissions controls, they are not just cheating the market—they are cheating our environment and the health of our communities,” Commissioner McCabe said. “Whether facilitated by a vehicle manufacturer, dealer, reseller, auctioneer, or repair shop, emissions tampering is intolerable.”
“By filing Notices of Violations against these dealerships, the Division of Consumer Affairs is sending a clear message that we will not permit the sale of dangerous, unlawful vehicles in the State,” Director Rodríguez said. “New Jersey motor vehicle dealerships have a responsibility to ensure that their vehicles comply with all environmental law. We cannot allow businesses to take advantage of consumers and undermine public health and safety.”
**DEP Lawsuit Against Vehicle Dealerships**
Manheim operates nearly 80 vehicle auction facilities across the U.S., including two in New Jersey. Together, the two auction sites offer hundreds of thousands of vehicles for sale annually, many of them allegedly tampered in violation of the State’s pollution control laws.
The State’s lawsuit alleges that Manheim either sold or offered for sale hundreds of tampered vehicles between December 2016 and March 2019 – some of which were “clearly and explicitly” listing vehicles with missing pollution control devices or containing deliberately compromised pollution controls.
The complaint also names three New Jersey auto dealerships as defendants – Murphy’s Motors of Fairview, Fargo Auto Sales & Services of Delran and Rezzetti Enterprises of Vineland.
The lawsuit accuses each dealership of selling multiple tampered vehicles through Manheim’s New Jersey locations in violation of pollution control laws.
The allegations against the defendants are based on a two-year DEP investigation focused on the sale of unlawfully tampered vehicles.
DEP’s work included extensive reviews of vehicle sales records, as well as unannounced on-site DEP inspections at Manheim and at various New Jersey auto dealerships registered to conduct vehicle sales transactions using Manheim.
These sales have serious impacts on public health. Excessive levels of such emissions can contribute to reduced lung function, asthma attacks and other respiratory issues, as well as serious cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks and arrhythmia.
Today’s lawsuit alleges that, based on an analysis of Manheim’s records for the period on which DEP focused, Manheim either sold or offered for sale at least 214 vehicles that were “clearly and explicitly” disclosed in sales listings as emissions tampered. The sales listing disclosures that flagged the 214 vehicles as tampered included such statements as “NO CATS,” “ALTERED EMISSIONS” or “EGR DELETE.”
The complaint alleges that the actual number of tampered vehicles offered for sale at Manheim’s two auction facilities “was most likely much higher” than 214 during the period focused on by investigators because “only a fraction” of tampered vehicles are actually identified as tampered.
Also named in today’s five-count lawsuit is defendant Murphy’s Motors of Fairview, which allegedly sold or offered for sale at Manheim’s in-state locations five diesel-powered trucks with tampered emissions.
Defendant Fargo Auto Sales & Services of Delran allegedly sold or advertised three tampered diesel trucks and one tampered, gasoline-powered Subaru sedan at those in-state Manheim locations, and defendant Rezzetti Enterprises Inc. of Vineland allegedly sold or advertised four tampered diesel-powered trucks.
The lawsuit seeks an order requiring Manheim to take critical steps to avoid the sale of tampered vehicles to New Jersey buyers in the future. Those precautions include screening vehicle listings for common tampering indicators, and performing basic visual inspections of vehicles at its in-state facilities.
At the same time, the complaint also seeks the imposition of civil penalties against Manheim and the three defendant auto dealerships.
First-time violators of the Air Pollution Control Act are subject to a maximum $10,000 civil penalty. The penalty increases to $25,000 for a second offense and to $50,000 for a third or subsequent violation.
**DCA Notices of Violation**
In a related action, the State also filed Notices of Violation (NOV) against eight auto dealerships in New Jersey alleging pollution control and Consumer Fraud Act violations.
In each case, the NOVs alleges that the dealer in question bought at least one tampered vehicle through a Manheim auction and then unlawfully resold that vehicle or advertised it for sale.