Shocking news: Some car salesmen are unethical

Adrian MacNair - File photo
Adrian MacNair
— image credit: File photo

Whether it’s fair or not to the majority, some professions have garnered a reputation that is less than favourable.

It’s not difficult to imagine the caricature of the smooth-talking car salesman who slides you into a lemon while talking it up as the most reliable car on the planet.

When my car died inconveniently last July, I went to the local auto mall where I learned that not only are cars marked up 20 per cent higher than those found on Craigslist, there’s not a terribly good reason for it.

One dealer took me for a test drive where a check engine light came on about a minute down the road and then said–I kid you not–that it wasn’t a big deal and he’d check it over again before I bought it.

Another dealer told me the sticker price for a 2004 automobile was $8,000, but he didn’t mention the documentation fee of $500 until it seemed like I was interested.

Although I ended up buying a car from a private owner and never had to deal with documentation fees, a friend of mine recently told me a worrying story.

Her mother, who is a senior, bought a car over Christmas from a dealership. However, after negotiating the final price, the salesman tacked on $700 in documentation and detailing fees to the total.

Hearing about the shady story, my friend contacted the Motor Vehicle Sales Authority of B.C. (MVSABC) for advice, and returned to the dealership with her mother to complain. Once presented with the law, the dealership complied and returned the money.

Doug Longhurst, director of learning and communications with the MVSABC, says it’s a misrepresentation, and even an act of deception, to not include fees upfront during negotiations.

Although every transaction is unique–what one buyer wants can vary greatly from other buyers and how much a dealer is willing to offer varies just as much–Longhurst says the final negotiated price should be final.

“If they participated in a negotiation in good faith and they say, well I’ll pay you $15,000 for the vehicle, there’s not good faith or full disclosure if all of a sudden then in the business office or at the last minute another fee pops up.”

Unfortunately, Longhurst says laws in B.C. aren’t as explicit as other provinces, such as Ontario, where all-in pricing is mandated on all automotive sales. As a result, consumers would be wise to remember the Latin phrase, “caveat emptor.”

But when in doubt, call the MVSABC. They receive 2,000 phone calls from concerned consumers each year, 600 of which result in investigations. In many cases where dealers have acted unethically, they’ve been able to get money reimbursed.

• Catch new episodes of Adrian MacNair’s TV show On Topic, which air Sundays at 6:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Delta Cable.

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.