By on April 10, 2017

Couple buying cat Courtesy

Fine print exist almost entirely to float something egregious under the radar. People get law degrees and spend countless hours decrypting the tiny text to see who got the better of who in a courtroom. If you see fine print in an advertisement, it usually means the drug you desperately need has life-ruining side effects, or the deal that seems too good to be true has horrible stipulations. It’s more or less a legal way to lie to you.

Dealerships use this all the time with the classic triple zero gimmick: NO Money Down, NO Factory Financing, and NO payments until October!

However, if you take a peek below the giant block lettering promising you the greatest deal of a lifetime, you’ll see infinitesimal print that reads, “With Approved Credit to Qualified Buyers.” If you have to wonder if you are a qualified buyer, I can already assure you that you are not. Blessedly, a new website called Disclaimers Online wants to give consumers a sturdier leg to stand on. 

The intended purpose of the website is to provide marketing transparency while also providing dealerships an opportunity to build or restore their reputations. According to Perry Hines, the CEO of Disclaimers Online, the Federal Trade Commission considers the service a boon and thinks it could avoid needless litigation. The site works by providing dealer ads with the fine print enlarged, along with links to the store and relevant information.

“Once the ad is run [on the website], that tiny print you couldn’t see is there. I see it as a warehouse for all of this information where consumers can now research that print as part of their ongoing research before they walk into a store,” Hines told Automotive News in an interview. “I think this could be a natural progression as it relates to how consumers are researching items before they go out and make a purchase.”

Even though savvy shoppers already read the fine print, the idea to have a central location for transparent advertising is a good one. However, the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

Taking into account that this is a new service that began as a partnership with Kentucky-based outlets, Disclaimers Online didn’t have any of the East Coast or Midwestern dealerships that I am familiar with. They were in the search results but there was no appreciable information on any of them. Selecting random dealerships across the nation also yielded nothing. When I finally did locate a dealer with an advertisement, the disclaimer information was clearly laid out and easy to understand. But that isn’t particularly useful when the shop is hundreds of miles away from where I live.

If Disclaimers Online is to become a serious tool for consumers, dealerships will have to be willing to participate en masse or it will need to begin indexing ads without them. While some stores have participated on the local level, mainly in Kentucky where the website is based, others may not bother since they have no incentive to do so. Hines normally charges $99 a month but says he wants to begin letting dealers use the site for free. While that does provide them with the opportunity to tout their business as transparent, it also goes against the entire point of including fine print in your ad.

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34 Comments on “Website Takes Aim at the Fine Print in Automotive Advertising...”

  • avatar

    Nice article. Good topic.

    • 0 avatar

      Right? This seems like a not-all-the-way thought out idea.

      If they developed an algorithm that detects fine print it finds in ads it scans, and reports it automatically on, say every ad run on Google and other mainstream advertising companies, then they’ll have something.

      So you search Jack-Azz Dodge/Kia/Mitsubishi of 1 Autoshitsky Way in Home Town, USA and find out that free 2nd new car in the 0.9% Durango BOGO sale is actually a 3 year old unsold Dart automatic 1.4L *before* you make an unfortunate venture into shark-land.

      Kidding of course, I actually think you could do worse.

  • avatar

    The whole goal is to get the prospective buyer in the door and not let them out until they buy. And apparently this works, because a lot of tv ads in particular show numbers that only a trivial percentage of the buyers would qualify for. And the adverts have been like this for many decades.

  • avatar

    I’ve always taught my kids that “What the big print giveth, the small print taketh away.’

  • avatar

    I work for a dealer that doesn’t engage in any fine-printy tactics, but twice in the last three months, the manufacturer has slapped our hand for not including ENOUGH fine print in our ads. It’s not something that’s going away anytime soon.

    And things like “for well-qualified lessees” or other fine print is not a dealer tactic so much as a federal requirement now. It’s not like the dealer can decide whether your loan will get bought at tier 1 or tier 4. And because it’s not solely credit-score driven, there’s not really an easier way to say it– you can’t say “for people with 700ish credit scores or above, who have nothing wonky like a repo from Ford in their credit history, and don’t job hop, and don’t have a lot of negative equity, unless you have a lot of cash down, then your score could be lower and still get approved for the rate.”

    • 0 avatar

      The problem becomes when they ad absurd down payments, ($4000 down on a Cruze lease?) Employee pricing, and lease conquest cash from another automaker.

      • 0 avatar

        I literally laughed at this…

        $4000 down is nothing??

        Someone would buy a car without a bigger down payment than that?

        Its one thing to decide to buy a new car, its a whole other thing not to put enough down to cover the GAP in value between purchase and resale.

        I get that your example is a lease, but most people still have a trade in UNLESS they are coming off an existing lease, so $4000 down seems more than reasonable for 95% of the population, only excepting the 5% coming off lease..

        I do get your point and concur though.

        • 0 avatar
          87 Morgan

          arach…you are funny

          get that your example is a lease, but most people still have a trade in UNLESS they are coming off an existing lease, so $4000 down seems more than reasonable for 95% of the population, only excepting the 5% coming off lease..

          If possible, for fun, you should see about working in a dealership for a day, one Saturday is all.
          Yes, most people have a trade. The problem is…they bought it with a 72 month loan and they have had it for 35 months. They owe $19,821 and it needs tires and a windshield. Retail book is $19,100 and clean trade is $15.2. So, in this fictional yet happens every day scenario the customer has a negative down payment of $4,621. This happens. Every. Single. Day. FWIW, the most I have ever seen was 50k wrong on a Porsche with a lot of miles…

          • 0 avatar

            I know, right? I just got out of selling cars after 6 years in the business. I always get a kick out of how “smart” and “well off” people are in the comments section. While yes, a lot of people do put a good amount of money down, you described what actually happens at least 95% of the time.
            Also-the guy who is trying to trade 35 months in on a 72 month term and is upside down? Who only drives 12,000 miles a year? And tells you he likes to trade every 3 years? Don’t you DARE suggest he LEASE. Because he wants to “own his car”.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The people most susceptible to the vagaries of fine print won’t be the ones who benefit from this service.

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly right SCE. Same for all the food labeling laws that are supposed to help fat people choose the salad instead of Big Mac at McDonalds. But research shows the only people that look at the nutritional labeling are already healthy and probably aren’t going to McDonalds anyway. Even the most financially illiterate likely know that the 0% down, 0% interest, 0 payments for 1 year deals are too good to be true, but the big print that promotes this offer provides an excuse to visit the dealer and fall in love with a vehicle that they can’t afford, but end up driving off the lot anyway.

  • avatar

    Sounds like my brief foray with Angie’s List. Swell idea idea, not enough local uptake to help.

    • 0 avatar

      Ditto. I just went to the web site and searched two dozen dealerships. Every time, I received “No information available.”

      Even if they do blow up the fine print, what good does that really do for me? I search real pricing online, get my own financing (never get dealer financing), then I go visit the dealer to look at specific vehicles.

      I’ll likely never visit Disclaimers Online ever again. It’s far from game changing.

      • 0 avatar

        Why not get dealer financing?

        I’ve gotten dealer financing a few times.

        Often dealers actually CAN get better financing than you can because they have more purchasing power.

        I think its important to bring your own financing in advance and then let the dealer beat it if they can. When I bought my last car, I brought 1.9%, and my dealer was able to do .9%, no gimmicks.

        When I bought my Camaro, The best I could get was like 3.2% or something, and the dealer was able to get me 2.5%. There was a prepayment penalty but only for the first 6 months.

        The problem is when people “rely” on the dealer financing. The dealership is not incentivized to give you the “best price”. In some states they can keep an unlimited markup, so they could pay .9% and sell it to you for 10.9%. Other states cap the markup at 2%, but often that is negotiable…

        So they might offer you 3.5% if you just walk in the door (1.5% + 2% markup), but if you show them a 2.9% rate from your own bank, they’ll sell you at 2.7% (1.5% + 1.2% markup).

        I don’t mind the dealer making money as long as he’s saving me money too. Thats a Win-Win in my book.

        • 0 avatar

          A dealer doesn’t have more buying power than a bank.

          It comes down to, on new cars, dealers are lucky to make money on the sale itself. Financing is where the money is. One can look at interest rates, but there are too many games around that as well. I don’t want bog down in an argument over details. If you’re happy with dealer financing, that’s OK. Most of the time, you’re quite a bit better off with a credit union.

          I do like your last sentence. Dealers do need to make money. It takes a lot of money to stock and sell cars. They need to make a decent living.

          • 0 avatar

            Banks don’t get their loan programs subsidized by OEMs who only think one quarter at a time. Dealers very often do.

            For many cars it’s not hard to get financing through the dealer at 0-1.5% interest. I’ve not seen the credit union who can compete with that.

          • 0 avatar

            But if you don’t take the financing, you can typically get cash back.

  • avatar

    Seems like a lot of effort for not much gain.

    The customers who can’t be bothered to read the fine print before making a five-figure purchase probably aren’t going to use this website either.

    They’re charging for this service, so it’s getting passed on to the consumer, so ultimately they’re asking for me to pay more for a car in order to make it marginally easier for some other buyer to read the terms to which they are agreeing. I don’t know that I want that.

  • avatar

    Does someone on the photo selection committee have a boner for that girl or maybe that dude?

    Someone getting all misty eyed over that bromance?

    Photos of that trio tend to pop up rather frequently.

  • avatar

    A ring on her hand would imply that her husband is buying a car for his new family.
    Since she isn’t married, he’s possibly co-signing for his bipolar, irresponsible sister.

  • avatar

    Site is not user friendly. You can’t search a product/manufacturer and get a list of places in their database. How can they possibly cover the whole US, and Canada anyway.

  • avatar
    Big Al From 'Murica

    Steve Lang’s take?

  • avatar

    Blow up the fine print, and they’ll start acronyming everything.

  • avatar

    “Valid only in the contiguous 48 states for current owners of the brand of vehicle being advertised. Special discount if you can put up with our polyester suit wearing Sales Weasel for more than 30 min. Void where prohibited by law. Prices tremendously higher in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico.”

  • avatar

    Past results are not indicative of future performance. If you have an election lasting more than four hours seek medical attention. Actor Portrayal of Doctor and/or Patients

    • 0 avatar

      “If you have an election lasting more than four hours seek medical attention.”

      The USA is now seeing the effects of a prolonged painful “election”.

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