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BBB has issues with dealer websites

January 12, 2018
By Steve Bernas, President, BBB of Chicago and Northern Illinois
As we start the new year, it may be time to discuss the issues the BBB encounters with respect to dealer websites prepared by third parties or manufacturers. The main message is that these are not always compliant with the Illinois Motor Vehicle Advertising Regulations and dealers must consistently monitor their websites for compliance. The BBB has found that, even when dealers change the content for compliance, websites revert to problematic content when incentives change. This can be fairly often, as we know.
The main issues we see relate to advertised prices and disclosures.  
Rule 475.310, Advertised Price, requires that all costs to consumers at the time of sale be included in advertised prices except for tax, title, license and the documentation fee, which in 2018 is a maximum $175.94. The rule also requires that purchasers shall be able to purchase all advertised vehicles at the advertised price.  
A related concept is included in Rule 475.530, Rebates, which requires that all rebates come only from the manufacturer and that only general rebates available to all consumers may be included in advertised prices. Under no circumstance may limited rebates, not available to all consumers, be included in advertised prices.
The BBB often sees disclosures on websites such as "Sale price does not include taxes, license, title fees, dealer-installed accessories, emissions charges, finance charges, destination charges, documentation fees and all other fees allowed by law."
Since the only amounts that can be excluded from advertised prices are tax, title, license and the doc fee, this disclosure obviously excludes many impermissible amounts. The BBB writes letters on this issue frequently.
Another disclosure the BBB sees regularly: "Sale prices include all manufacturer rebates and incentives. Must qualify."
This disclosure says that limited rebates are included in advertised prices. The BBB frequently writes letters on this issue as well. What we find, however, is that dealers, in some cases, are actually not including limited rebates in prices but have not changed the provided disclosure language to reflect that.
At the same time, we find that, yes, limited rebates have been included in advertised prices. The BBB reminds dealers that this is a zero tolerance issue that will result in a referral to the AG.
The BBB suggests that dealers monitor advertised prices to include only general rebates and that they also review disclosures on a regular basis to ensure the disclosures are consistent with actual practices. 
The price disclosure should be very simple in saying advertised prices exclude only tax, title, license and the doc fee.  Prices include rebates available to all consumers.
The above issues are the basis for many referrals to the BBB by dealers and advertisers.  
In all cases, the BBB does write a letter to ensure that each referral is handled in a way that promotes a fair marketplace for all dealers.  
The BBB will continue to do all it can to keep the dealer playing field level in 2018.