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BBB cautions about price in emails

December 20, 2013
The Better Business Bureau, which monitors all vehicle advertising by area dealers, reports that some salespeople, in quoting vehicle prices via email, are doing the math and deducting limited and general rebates. That’s a no-no.
The practice violates Rule 475.310 of the Motor Vehicle Advertising Regulations, which states "Purchasers shall be able to purchase all vehicles described by the advertisement at the advertised price." That means all advertised prices, without exception or any condition, must be available to every possible consumer. 
Patricia Kelly, senior counsel of the BBB of Chicago and northern Indiana, said salespeople likely don’t know what, if any, rebates for which a consumer is eligible, when an inquiry is made online. Nevertheless, she said, some replies deduct all available limited rebates from the quoted prices.
"This usually happens online," Kelly said, "after a consumer has inquired about a specific vehicle through the dealer website.  The return email from the dealer, in a standard form, quotes a price for the vehicle wherein limited rebates are deducted. The consumer relies on this price and, upon arriving at the dealer, learns that the price is not available to the consumer because he or she does not qualify for all the rebates.  
"In some cases, no consumer can qualify for all the rebates, so the price is not available to anyone at all."
To the extent that an email to a consumer is a general communication about prices available to most, if not all consumers, it is an "advertisement" rather than an individual conversation or negotiation, under the Illinois rules on vehicle advertising and must comply with the rules, which state a vehicle can’t be advertised with different prices in different ads. An individual conversation about price would take into account the available rebates for the specific consumer and the individually quoted price would include only those rebates for which the consumer qualifies.
Kelly said the BBB has written letters to offending dealerships and handled complaints on this issue and will continue to do so. The BBB-CATA Advertising Review Program, begun in 1996, can help dealers avoid a suit. The BBB reviews dealer ads and sends a dealer notice of a rule infraction. If a dealer fails to shore up the ad within 30 days, the BBB forwards the matter to the Illinois attorney general’s office.
The BBB efforts also strive to maintain a level playing field for dealers to advertise prices, and to help consumers understand price offers.