You hear them every day on the radio and TV. Some have outrageous ads and sales pitches. “Push, pull or pull your trade for a minimum trade of $4000”, “Best price in the world!” “Best bumper-to-bumper warranty ever – we cover it all.” “Repo’d car sale today.” Bet you didn’t know that these ads can and are very misleading and illegal.
According to Leslie Anderson, AAA, deceptive advertising and marketing by car dealers has increased in recent years. Auto dealers resort to gray market sales tactics and ads in a struggling economy. Many of these ads are either borderline or even illegal. With all the publicity in recent years about fraud and illegal business activity by companies from every state, you would think most states would have tightened their laws and started cracking down on bad car dealers. Only one state, New York, has actually done anything.
There are already laws on the books making many of these ads and the like illegal, but few states will even investigate these activities. If you do a push, pull, or drag sale in New York, chances are you’ll be fined. The thinking behind New York law is that if you promise someone a fixed amount for their vehicle, that should not be included in the rebate or surcharge of the newer replacement vehicle. This is misleading advertising. And yet, in North Carolina and South Carolina, I keep hearing the same ads on the radio and television with even higher promised amounts. Then there is the issue of express and implied warranties.
Express and implied warranties are actually covered by federal law. Every car dealership must have a state-approved warranty statement in the window. This is to show if there is a warranty and what is actually covered. This happened because there have been too many discrepancies in the past, when car salespeople blurred the line of what is really covered and what isn’t. On a recent drive from North Carolina to South Carolina, I saw 11 used car dealerships that didn’t have them in their windows – we found one had them in the glove box. When we asked the seller why it wasn’t in the window, he said it wasn’t necessary. In New York these are prominently displayed at every car dealership you drive past or visit.
Then you have the usual lies – car dealers announcing a buyback sale, cream puffs, etc. They will lie about the provenance of cars, just like a recent Carfax ad. Oh, that was just a minor fender scratch (complete repaint after a 50 mph crash) or new upholstery (due to a flood and full submersion). These repossession sales, like Repo Joe, are doing a media blitz claiming they have all the repossessed vehicles for a great purchase. Although they probably don’t even have a repossessed car that’s for sale. Most car dealers source their cars either from dealers or from local auctions.
Despite what they claim, they most likely don’t know the vehicle’s history. You cannot even rely on Carfax 100% as many vehicles are repaired without full disclosure of residual values or even repair history. A Carfax report is only as good as the information actually entered into the system. Before you rely on that Carfax or what the dealer says is the car story, listen to this — Tennessee attorneys Frank Watson and David McLaughlin allege that Carfax’s ads promise more than they can deliver. “Carfax hides the limitations of its database,” says Watson. “People think they have a little insurance policy on their carfax report, and that’s just not correct,” says McLaughlin. Carfax is an online company that searches databases for a vehicle’s history and claims to be “your best protection against buying a used car with costly, hidden problems.” However, critics say online reporting companies fall short in many accidents. A class-action lawsuit against Carfax alleges that the company has no access to police accident data in 23 states.
This article should be a wake-up call for car buyers to be more aware of scams, lies and falsehoods from car dealers. It should also be a warning to states from Oregon to Florida that more needs to be done to curb poor auto sales tactics. Most car dealerships are not small mom and pop organizations. They’re big million or billion dollar companies that will do anything to make a buck. They even cross borders or blur what is legal and what is not. And according to a major dealership in Charlotte, North Carolina, who for obvious reasons didn’t want his name or dealership mentioned – “It’s all about the bottom line, and if we get caught, our attorneys are there for that.” According to another auto dealer, “It’s a buyer’s market: Buyers have to be careful and also be detectives.”