SEATTLE – Washington auto dealers, beware. The Attorney General’s Office today announced its third settlement in recent months involving car advertisements and says it is seeing an increase in out-of-state firms marketing new and used cars for local dealerships who don’t understand state laws.
“Just as there are rules of the road, there are rules for car advertising,” said Assistant Attorney General Mary Lobdell, of the Consumer Protection Division. “Washington dealers need to accept responsibility to assure that marketing firms they hire understand our state laws. Both dealers and ad firms can be sued and fined if their promotions fail to include all legally required disclosures.”
The Attorney General’s Office has created a Web page at www.atg.wa.gov/auto-dealer-guidelines with tips to help dealers comply with advertising laws.
The Attorney General’s Office sued Automotive Consultant Group of Metairie, La., along with company president Craig A. Stowe and his wife, Carolyn F. Stowe, last August, alleging the company misrepresented the nature of sales events, the availability of financing and vehicle values. The state also accused the company of using “simulated checks” and contest promotions that could mislead consumers. The Attorney General’s Office claimed the actions violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act, Prizes and Promotions Act and Department of Licensing statutes.
The parties reached an agreement filed today in Thurston County Superior Court in which Automotive Consultant Group agreed to comply with injunctive provisions that limit how the company can advertise vehicles for sale in Washington State. The defendants will also pay $8,000 in attorneys’ fees. The agreement does not include a finding or admission of wrongdoing.
Under the settlement terms, the company is prevented from doing any of the following:
- Misrepresenting the number of vehicles offered at an advertised price,
- Failing to disclose information that affects a buyer’s decision to purchase a vehicle, such as limitations related to ability to obtain credit or related to the condition of a trade-in vehicle,
- Generating ads that create a false sense of urgency or that guarantee credit or a minimum trade-in value,
- Using words, phases or initials in ads that aren’t easily understood by consumers or using a font size that’s difficult to read,
- Collecting a vehicle documentary fee without advertising that it may be added to the sale price,
- Failing to state the odds of a winning a prize, the value of that prize and all material conditions required to obtain a prize,
- Advertising “free” merchandise with the purchase of a vehicle,
- Failing to include other required disclosures, indicate that an offer is only available with a vehicle lease or clearly stating vehicle sale prices in ads.
Should the company fail to comply with the terms, the agreement allows the state to seek a civil penalty of up to $25,000.
In October, the office reached a similar agreements with Level 10 Marketing, Inc., based in Slidell, La., and Bruce Titus Automotive Group, which operates dealerships in Thurston and Pierce counties.
Media Contacts: Kristin Alexander, Media Relations Manager – Seattle, (206) 464-6432
Mary Lobdell, Assistant Attorney General, (253) 593-2256