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BBB identifies more website issues for dealers

February 23, 2018
By Patricia Kelly, general counsel, Better Business Bureau of Chicago and northern Illinois
In the Jan. 15 edition of this newsletter, the Better Business Bureau emphasized to dealers that their websites can be the source of continuing compliance issues with the Illinois Motor Vehicle Advertising Regulations. We discussed advertised prices, limited rebates and price disclosures being limited to tax, title, and license and doc fee amounts.
The BBB sees other issues on websites and would like to point these out to help dealers monitor their websites for problems.
We all know very well that dealers cannot offer free gifts, prizes or other incentives in connection with the sale of motor vehicles when the price is arrived at through bargaining or negotiation per Rule 475.590. Free gifts, prices and other incentives can be as obvious as free TVs and other products but can also include many other things.
The BBB lately is seeing that many website providers add free items on their own, and dealers in Illinois must watch for them. A common item is trade-in assistance in a dollar amount coming from the dealer for new or used cars. Of course, this cannot be done. Only a manufacturer can offer trade-in assistance to consumers.  
We occasionally see that dealers offer to double the manufacturer trade-in assistance or double a different manufacturer incentive. This practice creates the same problem under the rule.  
Occasionally, the BBB encounters match promotions as coupons or pop-ups on dealer websites. Coupons from dealers in connection with the retail sale of vehicles is prohibited by the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, as we know, so that a separate issue arises here.
Now that tax season is upon us, the BBB wants to encourage dealers to avoid offering to match consumers’ tax refunds as down payments if consumers bring in their refund checks. Tax season provides the opportunity for consumers to have their taxes prepared, by tax preparers separate from dealers, on dealer premises.
There are two issues with this practice. First, dealers cannot offer such services for free or at no cost.  Rule 475.590 is implicated once again.  Tax preparers charge a fee. The dealer cannot absorb that fee and then offer a free service.
Second, the money that consumers obtain immediately from a tax preparer is not a tax refund; it is a refund anticipation loan, an amount smaller than the actual tax refund due to fees and interest.
In no circumstance should dealers claim, directly or indirectly, that such funds are tax refunds to be applied to the sale of vehicles as down payments. The funds are loan proceeds that are applied as down payments not tax refunds.  This should be made clear in all advertisements.
Finally, the BBB lately has observed dealers offering free remote starters, incentives clearly within the prohibitions of Rule 475.590.
The BBB hopes that the information discussed in this article is helpful as dealers move forward with advertising campaigns in 2018. The BBB is a resource for dealers who have questions about specific programs they may want to do.
We hope that this year is a successful one for dealers and that the BBB can be part of that success.