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BBB sees ad gaffes on dealer sites

July 6, 2012
The Better Business Bureau reports seeing a spate of area dealer Internet ads which improperly list vehicle sales prices and which don’t indicate that trade-in allowances are estimates only.
 
Patricia Kelly, senior counsel of the BBB’s Chicago office, said that in her office’s recent reviews of dealer ads, monitors have seen amounts being deducted from some advertised prices resulting in prices not available to all; price disclosures that deduct amounts in addition to taxes, license, title and a $161.39 documentary service fee; and claims about the value of consumer trade-ins without language qualifying the amounts as estimates.
 
Rule 310 of the Illinois motor vehicle advertising regulations states that dealers must include in advertised prices “all costs to the purchaser at the time of the sale, or which are necessary or usual prior to delivery … including any costs of delivery, dealer preparation and any other charges of any nature; provided, however, taxes, license and title fees and a documentary service fee … may be excluded from the advertised price if clearly and conspicuously disclosed in the advertisement that these costs are excluded from the advertised price.” 
 
Kelly said BBB monitors are seeing price disclosures on websites that include deductions in addition to those set out in Rule 310. She advises dealers to be careful with their websites to make sure that proper amounts are being excluded from the advertised price.
 
The BBB is also seeing links on websites through which consumers can “Value Your Trade” or find out “What Is My Trade Worth” and similar claims. Rule 540 of the advertising regulations prohibits dealers from offering a “specific trade-in allowance” or stating that the “trade-in will be valued as a specific amount.” In accessing these links, after being told they can obtain a value for the trade-in, consumers complete online forms and then obtain values based upon whatever information they entered on the forms. 
 
“Dealers all know that the value of a trade-in is not established until after the dealer actually inspects the proposed trade-in and assigns a value after inspection,” Kelly said.
 
“General information about used car prices can be useful but only if that information is not characterized as a ‘value’ or with similar language. 
 
“Consumers need to understand that they are only obtaining a general estimate and that they cannot rely upon any number obtained through a link to actually determine the value of their trade-ins. The BBB cautions dealers to be careful with the language used to describe the information obtained by consumers through such links.”
 
As advertising trends evolve, the BBB tries to help dealers work through new issues in applying the state’s automobile advertising regulations, with an ultimate goal of ensuring a level competitive playing field.
 
 

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