On January 9, 2013 the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) announced enforcement actions against nine automobile dealerships over allegations of deceptive and unfair trade practices. The FTC alleged that these dealers violated the FTC Act, which prohibits businesses from making false or misleading statements regarding products and services. The complaints filed by the FTC also included allegations that the dealers violated the Consumer Leasing Act and the Truth in Lending Act by failing to disclose fees, interest rates, and other credit related terms.
Of particular interest is the FTC’s complaint involving a dealer’s advertisement of a purchase price reduced by a down payment. For example, the dealership advertised a 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe for $17,995 and included in the disclosure that the price was “after $5000 down.” Even though the advertisement disclosed that the price was conditioned upon the consumer making a down payment of $5000, the FTC alleged that the advertisement was deceptive because the vehicles “are not available for purchase at the prices prominently advertised” since consumers “must pay an additional $5000 to purchase the advertised vehicle.” Based on anecdotal observation, this practice is far more common than many dealers may believe.
Dealers should closely review their own advertisements to see whether they may be deemed deceptive. If you have advertisements that show a price contingent upon making a down payment, you should avoid making these kinds of offers. If you advertise lease or installment payments, you must make sure that you properly disclose any “trigger terms,” such as APR, duration of the loan, and any additional fees associated with the purchase or lease. Payments that are “No Money Down” must really be no money down. If the consumer must pay more to obtain the advertised payment or price, then the offer may be deceptive.