A national database that allows consumers to view the history of used vehicles is up and running, but officials say four states — including Kansas — are not contributing records to the system.
The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System — or NMVTIS (pronounced "nim-VEE-tis") —allows potential car buyers to check the title, odometer reading, accident history and other information for a fee of less than $5.
Kansas did not meet a Jan. 1 deadline to comply with the program. State officials say it's because they're in the midst of a massive computer upgrade, and that they'll be part of the system by July 2011.
"We agree (with the program) 100 percent, but right now ... it's a resource and timing issue," said Carmen Alldritt, director of vehicles for the Kansas Department of Revenue.
"We're smack dab in the middle of this huge undertaking," she said. "We didn't want to pull resources away from that, try to put something together to comply with this on the side, and then have to redo everything again.
"I'm calling it Kansas common sense."
Sarah Matz, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice, which administers the national database, said her agency is "working with states to encourage participation ... because the system is only as good as what's in it."
Federal law required all states, insurance carriers and salvage yards to report vehicle history information at least monthly beginning this year. The District of Columbia and four states — Kansas, Illinois, Mississippi and Oregon — have yet to submit records.
Roughly 80 percent of registered vehicles in the U.S. are included in the database. The regulations "are silent on the enforcement mechanism right now," Matz said, so there are no fines or other consequences levied against states that haven't complied.
States unable to meet the Jan. 1 deadline were asked to submit plans for compliance, Matz said. Kansas officials indicated that the state would participate when its computer upgrade was complete.
"We think that's great, that they're working toward that," Matz said.
Kansas car buyers still have access to the database, at www.vehiclehistory.gov. It just doesn't include cars from Kansas.
Dealers say once complete, the system will help guard against stolen, totaled, flood-damaged or lemon cars being resold to unknowing consumers.
"Right now, the concern is the holes," said Don McNeely, president of the Kansas Automobile Dealers Association. Once the national database is fully implemented, "it will be as close to real-time data as you'll be able to obtain," he said.
"It's going to be a great benefit to not only the consumers, but also the dealers."
Many consumers access vehicle histories through private services such as Carfax and Experian. Matz, of the Justice Department, said the new nationwide database will be "more comprehensive and would complement what you pull up" from private vendors.
"We suggest to consumers wanting to make an informed purchase that they call up both Carfax and NMVTIS," she said.
The nationwide database was first proposed in the early 1990s but stalled until consumer protection agencies took legal action forcing the federal government to enact the program.
Kansas' overhaul of its driver's license and vehicle registration system was not connected to the nationwide database project. But when finished, it will allow officials to submit records more quickly and completely, said state Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita.
"If it does even two-thirds of what they say it's going to do, it will be a serious improvement," said Donovan, a Wichita car dealer who supported the $40 million state project.
The upgrade is being funded through a $4 fee that is charged when Kansans register a new or used car.
"I think it's vital that we get it done," Donovan said. "We've been playing around with this thing too long. ... and it's extremely important to people. It's critical to know the history of that car you're buying."