WASHINGTON — Auto dealers will be barred from luring vehicle buyers with promises they do not keep and will not be able to charge junk fees under a new rule, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said on Tuesday.
The rule could fundamentally change how millions of Americans buy vehicles annually by requiring up-front pricing in dealers’ advertising and sales discussions, and bars the sale of any add-on product or service that confers no benefit to consumers.
In a rule finalized on Tuesday that was first announced in 2022, the FTC said it had been concerned about dealers that allegedly targeted young men and women in the military.
“By the age of 24, around 20 percent of young servicemembers have at least $20,000 in auto debt,” the agency said in a statement which said that the rule “prohibits dealers from lying to servicemembers and other consumers about important cost and financing information.”
Consumer Reports said the FTC proposal would bar “shady tactics” by car dealers that can boost the cost of new vehicles.
Sam Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said that consumers often begin car-shopping by comparing prices before going to a dealer. “The reality is once you actually get to the dealership, you find the car, you find the model you like, it’s in stock, and you get closer to the end of the transaction, you realize that the price that’s been advertised is not actually the price that you can drive away with the car with,” he said.
The rule, which attracted sharp criticism from the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), takes aim at practices the FTC says cost consumers $3.4 billion annually and prolong the vehicle-shopping process.
It would specifically bar misrepresentations about price, cost and the total cost of the vehicle.
Dealers will also be required to obtain consent for any charges they add to a vehicle’s price. They would be barred from charging for add-ons that are useless to the buyer, such as selling nitrogen-filled tires that contain no more nitrogen than normal air.
NADA previously said the FTC proposal would “upend the sales process for tens of millions of consumers annually and thousands of small businesses.” The trade group has called the rule “premature, legally deficient, factually inaccurate, and exceedingly confusing for consumers and dealers.”
The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, representing General Motors, Toyota Motor, Volkswagen and other major automakers, raised concerns about the FTC plan and warned that “excessive regulation and micromanagement of the sales experience.”