FTC targets car dealers for misleading ads

WASHINGTON (AP) - Beware of car dealer ads that promise to pay off the loan on your trade-in.

In a first-of-its-kind case, the Federal Trade Commission targeted five car dealers in four states that regulators say deceived consumers by promising to pay off their loans, no matter what was owed on the cars. The balance, the FTC said, was usually rolled right into the new car loan. One dealer later required customers to pay the balance out of pocket.

Settlements with the dealers will require them to stop running the ads on their webpages and other sites such as YouTube.

Wednesday's announcement from the commission named the following companies: Billion Auto, Inc., in Sioux Falls, S. D.; Frank Myers AutoMaxx, LLC, in Winston-Salem, N.C.; Key Hyundai of Manchester, LLC, in Vernon, Conn., and Hyundai of Milford LLC, in Milford, Conn., - which advertised jointly; and Ramey Motors, Inc., in Princeton, W.Va.

The FTC has brought cases against auto dealers before, but not for this kind of advertising.

"Buying a new car or truck is a major financial commitment, and the last thing consumers need is to be tricked into thinking that a dealer will pay off what they owe on their current vehicle, when they really won't," said David Vladeck, head of the commission's consumer protection bureau.

The promises might sound attractive to anyone facing tough financial times, especially if they owed more on the car than its actual value. But it's a reminder that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

"I want your trade no matter how much you owe or what you're driving. In fact, I'll pay off your trade when you upgrade to a nicer, newer vehicle," said one dealer's advertisement. Said another: "Uncle Frank wants to pay (your trade) off in full, no matter how much you owe."

Despite the claims, the FTC said consumers still ended up being responsible for paying the difference between the trade-in loan balance and the vehicle's value.

The dealers would be barred from deceptive ads under the proposed settlements. They also would not be allowed to misrepresent any other facts in the leasing and financing of a car.

More information:

FTC Takes Action to Stop Deceptive Car Dealership Ads

FTC Consumer Alert: Negative Equity and Auto Trade-ins