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BBB finding 'was $___, now $___' infractions in area dealer ads

November 7, 2014
The Illinois Motor Vehicle Advertising Regulations prescribe that there is only one way to advertise a price comparison for a used car. The only comparison that can be made is to a retail value listed in a current, nationally recognized and published price guide book from the current regional issue from the trade area where the advertisement appears.
The advertisement must clearly and conspicuously disclose which book is quoted in close proximity to the advertised price. There also is a required disclosure in at least 10 point bold -faced type: "The value of used vehicles varies with mileage, usage and condition. Book values should be considered estimates only." Of course, the original MSRP of the vehicle when it was new can never be used as a price comparison for a used vehicle.
Rule 475.360(d) of the state’s Illinois Motor Vehicle Advertising Regulations governs such price comparisons and bans "was/is" pricing. 
A dealer cannot compare a current price for a used vehicle to a price which the dealer set for the same vehicle in the past. Dealers rarely do direct price comparisons in a "was/is" format, although the monitors from the Better Business Bureau detect it from time to time and subsequently issue letters of violation.
The BBB has become aware of current advertising practices in the Chicago market that may violate this rule in a different way.
Some advertisements claim a price savings event for a limited duration — "3-day price slash," for example — and apply this event to both new and used vehicles in the same advertisement.
Patricia Kelly, general counsel of the BBB’s Chicago office, warns that dealers must be careful to eliminate such a claim with respect to used cars. "Any general claim of a special lower price event should be applied to new inventory only and not to the used inventory of that dealer," she said.  
Advertisements often feature both new and used vehicles in the same ad. Dealers should ensure that, as to the portion of the advertisement referencing used vehicles, there is no inference to the reader that the used vehicles are also being offered at lower prices during the price savings event. 
Such practice, Kelly said, essentially is "was/is" pricing because the impression for consumers is that the used vehicles have lower prices for the duration of the event than they did before the event and will have after the event is over.
The BBB continues to ensure that dealers have an even playing field in the northern Illinois market so that competition is fair among all dealers.