So you really dig the Honda Civic you saw advertised for $7100 online. But at the dealership you suddenly learn its take home price is now $8100. This really happened to me and I was furious. Turns out, the sales guy wanted to charge me an additional $599 “dealer fee” along with the taxes and title fees.
So what are dealer fees? Can car dealers legally tack them on to the price they advertised? The answer to the last question is NO. This practice is totally illegal in Georgia (See dealer fee restrictions in GA and other states).
A dealer’s fee is nothing more than a clever way for a car salesman to grab your money. Dealer fees may show up as “administrative fees,” “document fees,” “processing fees,” or “customer service fees,. They could also be called reconditioning or “recon fees”, or “protection fees” etc. It’s all left to the car dealer’s imagination. Bottom Line: A dealer fee is any non-governmental fee a car dealer tacks on.
Dealer fees are not per se illegal. Georgia law allows car dealers to charge whatever they like for these fees. But here’s the catch! It’s TOTALLY ILLEGAL to advertise a price and then tack these fees on later. THAT’S RIGHT! The price they show you must include any and all dealer fees or they’re ripping you off! This pricing requirement extends to any advertised price in any medium. So if they advertised the car for $7100, the law says this price must include all dealer fees. The car dealer can’t slip them in later. Even if their website disclaimer says “price does not include dealer fees.”
So if Stone Mountain Toyota decides to show you a computer screen showing the car’s price, they’ve published it! The only fees they can add to this price are the fees they must pay the government.
Other types of charges that MUST be included in the vehicle’s advertised price include “freight charges”, “transportation charges”, “destination charges”, “dealer preparation charges”, “overhead charges”, and any other terms of similar import.
Fees New and Used Car Dealers Don’t Have To Include In The Price
The only fees dealers DON’T have to list in the advertised price are government fees, which include tax, tag, title, Georgia Lemon Law, and Warranty Rights Act (“WRA”) fees. The GA Lemon Law fee is just $3 and applies only to new vehicles.
So be sure to ask the car salesman “What’s the full price when I walk out the door.” And don’t let them get away with tacking on dealer fees not already included in the advertised price.
How To Verify You’re Not Being Overcharged For Government Fees
If government fees are being added to the price of the car, be sure to ask what each fee is for and how it was calculated. You can ask them “Is this the exact amount you pay the government or is it more than that?” If the dealer inflates the title fee or tax amount, it’s nothing but an illegal dealer fee in disguise.
Don’t confuse the government’s title fee of $18 with the more expensive “Titling Fee” often charged by new and used car dealers. The latter is often five times the amount charged by the state. So the dealer’s titling fee also needs to part of the published price of the car. It can’t be extra.
Government Fees The Dealer Can Add To The Price Of The Car
GA License Plate Fees= $20 (car or light pickup truck)
Examples of Legal And Illegal Dealer Fees
ILLEGAL The car is advertised for $7,100 with a $600 dealer fee not included. But a big disclaimer says THIS PRICE DOES NOT INCLUDE DEALER FEES”. Illegal (all dealer fees must be included in price).
LEGAL An old beat up car is advertised for $7,100. Price includes dealer service charge of $599 and “title service” fee of $198. Legal (both fees are steep but allowed because they are part of the car’s published price and not added as an extra fee).
ILLEGAL The car is advertised for $7,100. Price includes dealer service charge of $599 but not title service fee of $98. Illegal as the actual title fee charged by the government is less than $98 (dealer fee in disguise).
The Advertised Price Must Include Options Already Installed or Those Things “You’re Required To Have” to Buy The Vehicle
ILLEGAL “A dealer policy where all new vehicles must receive a paint protection package and vehicle floor mats for an additional $1,000. (illegally forces you to pay an extra fee beyond the published price or you can’t buy the vehicle).
ILLEGAL A car dealership website invites you to click a button on the website, and communicate with your dealership in order to receive a special “E-Price.” This “E-Price” does not include your mandatory dealership fee which is tacked on later. The “E-Price” must include all required non-government charges, including your dealer fee, according to The Georgia Department of Law-Consumer Protection Unit (CPU).
ILLEGAL “This car has a GPS built in so you need to pay an additional $200 beyond what was advertised.” Not by a long shot! Like any other dealer fee, if this option is already installed, this “dealer addendum charge” must be included in the advertised vehicle price.
So when the dealer gives you a line on how “the rules require” a particular option to be installed, or “it has already been installed”, you get to tell them, “Great! The rules also say it’s you who will eat the cost! Now remove the charge!”
Negotiating The Best Deal With Your Car Dealership
(and convincing them not to back out once you expose them)
If you tell the sales person upfront about the illegal dealer fees, two things may happen:
- The dealer may not sell you the car;
- The dealer may remove the illegal dealer fees but then jack the price up with other fees/offer you second rate discounts.
For example: To recoup their losses, the dealer could decide to lower the price of your trade in, give you a terrible deal on auto financing and warranties, or jack up their insurance or other service products.
To be safe, DO NOT OBJECT TO THEIR ILLEGAL FEES UNTIL THE END WHEN THE DEALER HAS PRESENTED YOU WITH THE PAPERWORK LISTING ALL THEIR DISCOUNTS AND CHARGES. Yes, ask to see their final paperwork so that you know your absolute takeaway costs.
This is the time to make sure the dealer won’t back out when you expose them. They may try to do so simply because the deal is no longer a moneymaker. To ensure the deal goes through:
- Circle the illegal dealer fees, illegal add ons, and anything else illegal;
- Quickly take a photo of the finance page with your circles: Make sure to get their logo or anything else that proves this is from their car dealership;
- Object to the fees, and give the dealer the 3 pre printed, highlighted copies of the GA Department of Law pamphlets found in this blog under the Georgia Law section (listed under YOUR TOOLBOX: Helpful Resources)
Better yet: Use their business card to email or text them. Be sure to attach the snapshot of the illegal fees along with the links to the GA law brochures. (might get the sales person personally on the hook by proving they knew of the illegality.)
- If the dealer still won’t sell you the car, no need to raise your voice or make empty threats. Simply explain that they are all on legal notice. They have wasted your valuable time, padded the bill with almost a thousand dollars in illegal fees, and you need to warn the whole state of GA so they won’t become victims. IF YOU WON’T SELL ME THE CAR SANS THE ILLEGAL FEES, I’LL SIMPLY SPREAD THE WORD BY SENDING THIS TEXT/EMAIL TO THE GA DEPARTMENT OF LAW, THE BBB COMPLAINT DATABASE, FOX 5, and WSB NEWS. I’LL ALSO SEND IT TO THE VARIOUS AUTO FRAUD CLASS ACTION ATTORNEYS WHO WILL ADVERTISE THIS ONLINE SO THEY CAN ROUND UP ALL THE OTHER VICTIMS AND SUE YOU FOR MILLIONS.
- THE CHOICE IS YOURS BUT PLEASE DECIDE IN THE NEXT FIVE MINUTES. I’VE WASTED ENOUGH TIME HERE.
Help For Victims Who Were Cheated with Illegal Dealer Fees
You’ve heard that the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Well, mamma was right! Big companies including car dealerships are extremely sensitive to bad publicity.
But it’s best to use a flyswatter before you use dynamite. Your first step should be to contact the general manager and get them to fix the problem. After all, if you were in charge, wouldn’t you want people to come to you first, rather than go over your head?
But sometimes it’s necessary to go beyond the GM and even beyond the owner of the dealership.
For example: Say you were cheated by a dealership like
Nalley Infiniti or Stone Mountain Toyota, and the general manager doesn’t return your calls. These dealerships have to worry not only about their own reputation, but also about the reputation of Infiniti or Toyota (which allows them to sell their brand name cars).
So in the above example: if the franchise finds out the dealership is besmirching their good name, guess what happens? It means that the dealership could lose their right to sell Toyotas or Infinitis! That would cost them a lot more than a thousand dealer fees.
Keep that in mind if you think the dealership is not playing fair with you. Your next step may be to call Toyota’s or Infiniti’s pubic relations department. You can bet they’ll be keenly interested in what the dealer is doing with their good name.
(In case you’re wondering, Infiniti is owned by Nissan; Toyota Stone Mountain is owned by Sonic Automotive.)
If this doesn’t work, try your local TV station for even more exposure. Be sure to Google if the car dealer has had prior complaints. Reporters eat this up. You can also lodge a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. A little bad press can give your dealer a seven figure lesson on freakenomics.
And don’t forget our government friends. You can also contact the GA Department of Law (404-651-8600) regarding any Fair Business Practices Act violation of the above. The GA Department of Law is part of the GA Attorney General’s office. They have the power to fine a crooked dealer and shut them down.
Finally, if you’re really really mad, find a class action lawyer who will gather other angry plaintiffs who have also been cheated.
I’d do this last, because if it were me, I’d first sue in the court of public opinion so the dealership would immediately lose millions and millions. But if you simply want your money back, it may be worth your while to deal with them pesky lawyers.
Getting Proof They’re Cheating Others
It’s always good to have proof this is not an isolated incident. After all, repeat offenses could peak the interest of the media or your U.S. or local representative. First try Googling the name of the dealership with any of the following words:
For example, you could paste in Google all these terms in red: “Nalley Infiniti” complaint OR fraud OR BBB OR unfair OR deceptive. You could also do the same search of complaint OR fraud OR BBB OR unfair OR deceptive with “Stone Mountain Toyota” or “Hodges Ford.”
Also, be sure to monitor your dealer for further wrongdoing through Google Alerts. Yes, you can create a Google Alert with the same terms as above so future complaints appear in your email in box!
Next, fax an open records request to the Georgia Department of Law so they can email you a printout of any allegations of fraud against the dealership. You can fax (not email or text) these requests to 404-651-9018. If the request is simple, they’ll email you the results in just 3 business days. (free of charge). I just verified this with a lawyer who works there!
Sample Open Records Requests To Fax The GA Dept. of Law
“In regards to Gravity Auto throughout the state of GA, please send me a list of all complaints against them in the last three years (formal or informal, substantiated or merely alleged) that involved deceptive pricing.”
“In Regards To Nalley Infiniti, please list any fines or settlements in the last three years that relate to deceptive practices.”
Making The Story More Newsworthy
Aside from how you were cheated, your story will gain more traction if you can show reporters that virtually every driver has or will become a victim.
The facts and figures below show the number of people who buy new and used cars from dealerships, and how much $ the dealerships make from selling these cars. Dishonest dealerships are a problem for everyone. This issue affects the rich, the poor, the elderly, the disabled, immigrants, democrats, republicans, the black, the white, Latinos and anyone who buys a new or used car from a GA dealer.
- 6 million more new cars on the road each year (sold by a dealer who may be ripping off consumers)
- Sales Broken down by type or MFG
- US Auto Sales By Year (from 1999-2018)
- Top Ten Cars bought in 2019
- 281 million cars registered in the US (prediction for 2019)
Total # of Licensed Drivers By State (2017)
With 3.5 million annual registrations, Georgia ranks in the top 8 of all 50 states.
Sales of Used Cars By Dealers in GA (2014-2019)
Your Toolbox: Helpful Resources Below To Stop False or Misleading Car Dealers and Crooked Auto Dealerships
Georgia Consumer Protection Division (Formerly The GA Dept. of Law) 404-651-8600
Complaints filed with this office alleging fraud may form the basis for an investigation into a company’s business practices. A significant quantity of complaints about a business may give rise to legal action—not on behalf of the individual complainants, but to enforce state law.
Georgia Auto Informer Government Pamphlets Below
The Georgia Department of Law-Consumer Protection Unit enforces the Georgia’s Fair Business Practices Act (FBPA) which prohibits unfair and deceptive acts or practices within the context of consumer transactions. These news letters are part of their efforts to raise awareness among auto dealers and advertisers regarding the FBPA, as well as the GA Government’s Auto Advertising and Sales Practices Enforcement Policies (AAEP). Although the policies found in the AAEP are not actual law, they highlight those industry practices that the GA government considered to be unfair and deceptive, and thus violations of the FBPA.
What’s The Deal With Dealer Fees (Government Pamphlet Issue #12) Governor’s office of Consumer Protection newsletter: a dealer’s claim of ignorance or confusion regarding this matter will not mitigate OCP’s actions for noncompliance. In 2013, Fox 5 Atlanta conducted numerous undercover visits to Atlanta area dealers in order to investigate dealer compliance with this policy. All of the dealers visited during these undercover shops were adding fees to advertised prices.
Pricing Representations: Dealer Fees, Options & Discounts (Government Pamphlet issue #13) 1/22/16
Georgia Department of Law’s new bulletin: 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. This pricing requirement extends to any advertised price in any medium, but most commonly becomes an issue on your dealer website or a third party site such as Autotrader.
GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF LAW: AUTO ADVERTISING AND SALES PRACTICES ENFORCEMENT POLICIES (2007)
Learn how the GA Dept of law determines what is deceptive and illegal in regard to automobile advertising and auto sales. This agency enforces the Fair Business Practice Act (FBPA) which protects consumers against tacking on to the sales price, things like illegal dealer fees, and dealer add ons, like “mandatory safety treatments”, etc.
GA Law On Mandatory Arbitration Clauses (Forum Selection Clauses)
In 2022 it’s still touch and go. The courts still have some leeway to decide that a clause forcing you to arbitrate (forbidding court or a class action law suit) are void. And some dealerships do not have these clauses in their contract anyway. Every case can turn on the facts, the judge or the jurisdiction. So consult an experienced GA class action attorney.
Select Dealerships: (Their Public Relations and Franchise Owners)
See also Reviews and Complaints against Stone Mountain Toyota.
Asbury Automotive Group Investor Relations
Owns Nalley Infinity.
Nissan North America and Worldwide Communications (Public Relations Contacts)
TV Stations, Magazines, Blogs & Legal Help
FOX 5 Call For Action 404-879-4500
Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m
Volunteers at Fox 5 Call for Action center try to resolve your problem by calling the bad auto dealer to work it out. Bad car dealers may want to respond to them, because if, not, their story could soon be on FOX news. Be sure to explain to the volunteer how many millions this affects so the story will interest a reporter, This will help the volunteer feel more confident to forward your story to a reporter if the car dealership remains uncooperative.
WXIA-11 Alive 404-892-1611
Call in or fill out their form.
AutoDealer (Publishes Deceptive Car Dealership Practices) Use them to give the dealer negative publicity, or to explain to the dealer what you will do if they don’t play fair.
Top Ten Car Magazines
Perhaps they’ll do a story on your dealer’s misconduct.
Top Auto Blogs
A post in the right place will spread the word to other car buyers.
Better Business Bureau. (GA)
Warn other victims. Get the word out so car a dealer’s wrongdoing appears in Google searches.
GA Consumer Protection Division (Formerly The Ga Department of Law)
This is the enforcement division of the Georgia Attorney General’s office.
Federal Trade Commission
Regulates auto financing and false advertising.
GA Class Action Lawyers (Lawyers For Auto Fraud)
Even if you’ve been cheated only a little bit, the dollars add up when thousands like you have also been defrauded. Class action lawyers can file a mega lawsuit that punches the crooked dealer in the pocket book. Car dealers must learn that charging illegal doc fees, security fees and other illegal markups ain’t worth the trouble.
Consumer Advocacy To Report Safety Issues Or Shady Dealings
Great resources for when you’ve been taken advantage of by your manufacturer or dealer, or if there’s a serious defect with your vehicle.
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