Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Used car dealers hope for a sales boost from newly licensed immigrant drivers



Used cars at Discount Auto Plaza, one of several used car dealerships along Firestone Boulevard in South Gate. Some used car dealers that cater to an immigrant clientele are hoping for a boost in sales due to California's AB 60, which allows immigrants without legal status to apply for driver's licenses.
Used cars at Discount Auto Plaza, one of several used car dealerships along Firestone Boulevard in South Gate. Some used car dealers that cater to an immigrant clientele are hoping for a boost in sales due to California's AB 60, which allows immigrants without legal status to apply for driver's licenses.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

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There's a stretch of Firestone Boulevard in South Gate that’s lined with used car lots, advertising precios bajos – Spanish for low prices – and salespeople there are preparing for what they hope will be a boom in sales.

"They're going to buy Hondas, Chevys, also Nissans," said Jose Rodriguez, a manager at Discount Auto Plaza on Firestone, one of many small used car dealerships on the commercial strip, in the heart of a long-established Latin American immigrant neighborhood.

When he says "they" - he's referring to newly licensed drivers under AB 60, the new California law that allows immigrants without legal status apply for special driver's licenses. In the past, he says many unlicensed drivers preferred to buy cars that were fairly cheap and disposable. They worried that their car might be impounded if they were caught without a driver's license.

Now, with a license in hand, they might opt to drive something a little nicer. "The licenses gives an opportunity to the people to buy more cars - expensive," said Rodriguez.

Immigrants hopeful of obtaining a license have been browsing the lot in recent weeks, Rodriguez said, promising to return.

Used car dealers contacted by KPCC in other largely immigrant neighborhoods, including Huntington Park, Paramount and East L.A., reported similar anecdotes - and salespeople had similar hopes for a sales boom.

Some used car dealerships have long catered to immigrants, accepting consular ID cards and other identification for financing. But buying brand new cars might not be so easy. 

Ken Jellerson manages the Central Ford dealership in South Gate, not far from the row of used dealers. He said his dealership hasn't seen much traffic from hopeful AB 60 drivers, and his financing rules are stricter.

“If they do show up, they’ll still have to have legal documentation for us to finance them," Jellerson said. "A social security number is required on all credit applications.”

There's been huge demand from AB 60 license applicants ever since the California Department of Motor Vehicles began accepting applications Jan. 2. Between then and the close of business Monday, the DMV saw more than 46,000 applicants.