Who's Watching Your Back?
    As I read through dealer websites, I’m often surprised at how
    many advertising violations I find. You would think that website
    providers would make sure that this doesn’t occur, right?
Copyright© 2008-2010 Automotive Dealers Network. All rights reserved.
Jim Radogna is the President of Dealer Compliance
Consultants, Inc., a San Diego, California training and
consulting firm. He has more than 20 years of
broad-based management, training and consulting
experience in the automotive industry.
Jim Radogna
President/Dealer Compliance Consultants
AutoPro Training Solutions            I               Motorcycle Dealers Network
You should never assume that the company that creates and maintains your
website follows all the laws and regulations governing advertising compliance. State
advertising laws vary and the responsibility for compliance lies with the dealership,
not the vendor. Here are some examples of what I’ve run into and issues to look for:

  • Disclaimers - Website providers sometimes include boilerplate factory
    disclaimers on inventory pages that identify vehicles by a specific VIN and
    price, such as:
  • Advertised vehicles are subject to actual dealer availability. Certain
    vehicles listed may not be available, or May have different prices.”
  • Pricing and availability varies by dealership.”
  • “Prices do not include dealer charges", such as advertising, that can
    vary by manufacturer or region, or costs for selling, preparing,
    displaying or financing the vehicle.
  • “Images displayed may not be representative of the actual trim level of
    the vehicle.”
  • “Information provided is believed to be accurate but all specifications,
    pricing and availability must be confirmed in writing (directly) with the
    dealer to be binding.”

While these types of disclaimers may be appropriate when advertising a
model line, they probably shouldn’t be associated with specific vehicles.
Advertised vehicles that are identified by VIN are subject to prior sale, but
they certainly should not be subject to “different prices”. You should also
determine which charges are allowed to be excluded from an advertised
price in your state.

  • Check to determine if all necessary disclosures are present on your site. For
example, “advertised prices exclude tax, government fees, etc.” Again, do not
assume that your website provider is utilizing language that is acceptable in
your particular state or including all of the required disclosures.

  • Be sure that all disclaimers are clearly and conspicuously displayed and not
buried away in a difficult-to-find link elsewhere on the site.

  • If payments, downpayments or interest rates are advertised, make sure that
all of the proper Truth in Lending and state disclosures are included.

  • Ensure that lease programs are properly disclosed. Many factory national
    lease programs contain generic information that may not be sufficient or
    appropriate in your state.
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It’s never a bad idea to have your website thoroughly reviewed by a compliance professional. Remember, advertising
violations can be easy for regulators to spot and difficult to defend against.
  • Some states require that vehicle history, such as prior rental or demonstrator, is disclosed on vehicle
    advertisements. Does your website provide a way to include these disclosures?

  • Ensure that vehicles are promptly removed from the website after they have been sold. Some sites are linked
    to the dealer’s DMS and will remove sold units automatically, while others require vehicles to be removed
    manually. Sold units should always be removed promptly to avoid potential bait and switch advertising claims.