New York Dealership to Pay $298,000 After Scamming Customers With Phony VIN Etching

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
new york dealership to pay 298 000 after scamming customers with phony vin etching

Like all companies, auto dealerships are in the business of making money and dealer-installed options are frequently a good way to markup a vehicle’s final price. While that’s great for shops, new cars don’t really need rustproofing or fabric protection. Of course, that doesn’t keep salesmen from occasionally tacking those services on for a few hundred dollars extra though.

One optional extra you actually may want to take advantage of is VIN etching. While this is something you can do at home for cheap, most dealers will gladly do it for a significantly larger fee. But it doesn’t do you any good if the store doesn’t actually follow through with the service and charges you for it anyway — which is exactly what happened at a Nissan dealership in New York.

Nissan of New Rochelle was caught charging customers for an unwanted VIN etching service that they frequently didn’t even apply to cars. Now the dealer has agreed to pay nearly 300 customers more than a quarter of a million dollars in restitution and issue a public apology for its shady practices.

For the sake of clarity, VIN etching itself isn’t a scam. Engraving a vehicle’s identification number onto the windshield makes those portions of a car less appetizing to thieves hoping to resell them. It’s far from foolproof but VIN etching is recommended by plenty of police and auto insurance agencies as a way to protect against auto theft. Some insurance companies will even offer a discount to the comprehensive portion of your car insurance (or waive your insurance deductibles) if your car is protected by VIN etching.

However, the New York dealership wasn’t providing the service, which it called the “Total Loss Protection Guarantee.” According to Automotive News, investigators found that Nissan of New Rochelle did not bother to etch the VIN onto the vehicle’s windows at all. On some vehicles, the dealer put stickers with registration numbers on the inside the doorjamb where no one could see it, providing no effective theft deterrent. For other vehicles, the dealership provided no stickers or decals whatsoever.

Hundreds of consumers purchased the etching service. The charges ranged from $215 to more than $5,000 and were frequently tacked onto the final sales price without the knowledge or consent of the customers.

Buyers were also promised a guaranteed credit of $3,000 or $5,000 toward the purchase of a new vehicle if theirs was stolen. But numerous conditions in the fine print made the proposed credit essentially useless. One such limitation specified that the dealership could not offer the money if it eliminated the dealership’s profit on the sale.

“There will be an apology letter directly from me to the individuals,” Dealership owner Anthony Panarella told Automotive News.

Panarella said Nissan of New Rochelle had a “less-than-stellar reputation” when he purchased it in 2014. He said he should have vetted the veteran employees better and was forced to fire four as a result of the scam. “This [fraud] was something inherited,” Panarella explained. “I’m 38 years old. When I bought the store I was 35. I was green.”

“I didn’t know anything was going on until there was a problem,” he said. “Things don’t get to our level until the horse is already out of the barn.”

Panarella claimed he immediately cooperated with the investigation when the attorney general’s office notified him of the problem roughly 18 months ago.

With the investigation over, Nissan of New Rochelle has agreed to refund $276,127 to 298 consumers charged for the fraudulent Total Loss Protection. An additional $22,084 in penalties will go to the state of New York.

“Consumers should not have to worry that they are being scammed into adding on bogus products and services when they purchase a car,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. “Buying a car is already a major investment for many families, and tacking on thousands of dollars extra can become a significant financial burden.”

[Image: Kzenon/ Bigstock]

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  • Maintainer Maintainer on Aug 18, 2017

    “I’m 38 years old. When I bought the store I was 35. I was green.” This brings back some memories. When I was at a Chevy store (1998-99) the SM made us (salesmen) etch the VINs on all the cars, mini vans and most trucks. Sometimes with hilarious results. I was green then too. I knew I made a mistake leaving a Toyota store for Chevy.

  • Dwford Dwford on Aug 18, 2017

    VIN etching is one of those overly expensive, minimal value "services" dealers offer. It's basically a one time fee insurance policy. Most dealers that "offer" it put it on every car automatically, then automatically charge the customer whatever their fee is by having it preprinted on the purchase contract. Most customers just gloss over it and pay without asking, and only the smart ones demand that the fee be waived. Does the VIN etching insurance policy pay out if your vehicle is stolen and not recovered? Yes. But what are the chances of that happening? Not great. In all the years I sold cars, I helped exactly ONE customer get their money from the VIN etch insurance. It was a pain and took weeks, but eventually they did get their money.

    • See 1 previous
    • White Shadow White Shadow on Aug 19, 2017

      @Erikstrawn 30 minutes? Have you ever seen VIN etching? You can do the whole car in less than 10 minutes.

  • Wjtinfwb Over the years I've owned 3, one LH (a Concorde) a Gen 1 300 and a Gen 2 300C "John Varvatos". The Concorde was a very nice car for the time with immense room inside and decent power from the DOHC 3.5L. But quality was awful, it spent more time in the shop than the driveway. It gave way to a Gen 1 300, OK but the V6 was underwhelming in this car compared to the Concorde but did it's job. The Gen 1's letdown was the awful interior with acres of plastic, leather that did it's best imitation of vinyl and a featureless dashboard that looked lifted from a cheaper car. My last one was a '14 300C John Varvatos with the Pentastar. Great car, sufficient power and exceptional highway mileage. The interior was much better than the original as well. It was felled by a defective instrument cluster that took over 90 days to fix and was ultimately lemon law' d back to FCA. I'd love one of the 392 powered final edition 300s but understand they're already sold out and if I had an extra 60k available, would likely choose a CPO BMW 540i for comparable money.
  • Dukeisduke Thanks Cary. Folks need to make sure they buy the correct antifreeze, since there are some many OEM-specific ones out there (Dex-Cool, Ford gold, Toyota red and pink, etc.).And sorry to hear about your family situation - my wife and I have been dealing with her 88-yo mom, moving her into independent senior living, selling her house, etc. It's a lot to deal with.
  • FreedMike Always lusted after that first-gen 300 - particularly the "Heritage Edition," which had special 300 badging and a translucent plastic steering wheel (ala the '50s and '60s "letter cars").
  • Dave M. Although the effective takeover by Daimler is pooped upon, this is one they got right. I wasn't a fan of the LHs, mostly due to reported mechanical, NVH and build quality issues, but I though Chrysler hit it out of the park with the LXs. The other hyped release that year was the Ford Five Hundred, which, while a well-built car with superior interior space, couldn't hold a candle to the 300.
  • Art Vandelay I always liked those last FWD 300's. Been ages since I've seen one on the road though. Lots of time in the RWD ones as rentals. No complaints whatsoever.