Car dealer charging more than advertised price

September 30, 2016

Dear Consumer Ed:

A dealership advertised a car for $15,800. When I went to purchase the car, my contract had the car listed as $17,995. Does this qualify as false advertising?

Consumer Ed says:

It appears that this may qualify as false advertising. In Georgia, all advertised vehicle prices must include all non-government charges that a consumer is required to pay in order to purchase a vehicle, including but not limited to, dealer fees, previously installed dealer options, and electronic titling fees. Only taxes, tag, title, and Lemon Law fees may be added to this price. Any other amounts of money that the dealership collects as part of the sale must be included in the advertised price. This pricing requirement extends to any advertised price in any medium, whether it’s newspaper or other print ads, billboards, television or radio spot, a dealer website, or a third party site such as Autotrader.

If a consumer is required to present a particular ad in order to receive an advertised price, then the ad must clearly and conspicuously state that fact. Fine print disclosures at the bottom of an advertisement are not sufficient. If there is no such requirement, the consumer must receive the advertised price.

If the dealership chooses to include any pricing disclosures with the advertised price, the disclosure may contain a statement telling customers what is included in the advertised price (e.g. “Price includes our dealer fee”). But, the dealership may not provide a disclosure which informs the consumer that she will be required to pay additional non-government charges upon purchase (e.g. “Price plus dealer fee”).

While there is no requirement that dealerships charge “doc,” dealer, administrative, transportation, prep or any other fee, should dealerships choose to collect such a charge, that fee must be advertised correctly. For example, if a vehicle is offered at $15,000 and the dealership fee is $500, then the vehicle must be advertised at $15,500. It is not acceptable to indicate the price and then include a disclosure “plus fees.” So, issues arise when dealers begin adding required charges to advertised prices at the time of purchase.

If you believe a dealership has charged you unfairly based upon the advertised price, you can file a complaint with the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit by calling (404) 651-8600 or going to www.consumer.ga.gov. You can also contact the FTC by visiting www.ftc.gov, or calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).