TRENTON – When cars are traded in or turned in at the end of a lease, they’re usually resold – sometimes with personal data from the prior driver still in their computer systems.

A bill moving through the state Legislature seeks to make sure dealers delete that data, essentially resetting a vehicle’s computers back to factory settings.

Jim Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, said deleting customer information from a vehicle’s computer system is standard industry best practice – when car makers cooperate.

“The problem is that it’s easier said than done and requiring business owners to do something that they can’t do or which is ill-defined exposes them to civil penalties,” Appleton said.

The bill would impose penalties of $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for multiple offenses.

Appleton said if it’s going to made a law, dealers should get paid for it.

“Permit dealers to charge a reasonable fee for the service when they’re taking the vehicle in trade and to also impose the obligation to delete person information on the leasing or finance company when the vehicle is a lease return,” he said.

Appleton said car dealers get paid at the front end of a lease but can’t charge a fee for the inspection at the back end.

He said about half of vehicles in New Jersey are leased, not purchased.

“Requiring the dealer to perform service on that vehicle without compensation from the finance source would be unfair,” Appleton said.

The Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee unanimously advanced the bill, which was sent not to the Assembly floor for a possible vote but to the Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology Committee to await another hearing.

“I’ve gotten cars back that had other people’s phone books still there,” said Assemblyman Kevin Rooney, R-Bergen.

Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, D-Gloucester, said it should be expanded to cover car rental companies, too.

“I find that I’m renting cars and people’s phone information is already in the car, maybe the last three people that rented the car,” Moriarty said.

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Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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