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Department staff is available to assist with any questions at (800) 922-1594 (toll free in SC) or 803-734-4200 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding State holidays. You can also email general questions to scdca@scconsumer.gov.

Buying a Car? SCDCA Warns Consumers About Misleading and Deceptive Practices

Thu, 02/24/2022

COLUMBIA, S.C. - After receiving consumer tips, investigating complaints and conducting standard compliance reviews related to motor vehicle dealers, the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs (SCDCA) is sounding the alarm on several misleading and deceptive motor vehicle dealer practices. The concerns are covered in a memo sent to all auto dealers in South Carolina. SCDCA wants consumers to know what to beware of when shopping for a car:

  1. Inflating Official Fees in the Contract
    Official fees are charges paid to a government agency for items like tax, tag and title.  SCDCA is seeing dealers upping the price of official fees and adding on fees for “processing.”The dealer's add-on is not an official fee and cannot be listed that way. If dealers want to charge for things like this, it must be included in the closing fee. Consumers should ask for a breakdown of all official fees before signing.
     
  2. Extra Fees Added onto the Advertised Price
    An advertised price must include any fee the dealer chooses to charge. SCDCA is seeing dealers advertise the price of a car for one amount but when a consumer goes to buy it, suddenly it costs thousands of dollars more. Adjusted market value fees have become common during the pandemic. These fees can range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars for popular cars. A dealer may also fail to include a closing fee or add-on fees for things like inspections, security systems or refurbishment fees in the advertised price.
     
  3. Using MSRP for Used Cars
    While a consumer may find it helpful to know a used car's original value, a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (“MSRP”) does not apply to used cars. Some dealers are representing discounts on used vehicles as a savings off the MSRP. Using the MSRP to imply a consumer is getting a discount at the listed price or that the used car is still valued at MSRP is deceptive and misleading.

Consumers who run into any of the above issues may file a complaint with SCDCA, visit www.consumer.sc.gov and click “How Do I…”and choose “File a Complaint?”from the drop-down menu. SCDCA encourages consumers to do their homework when getting ready to buy a vehicle. SCDCA's Auto Guide for Consumers provides tips for navigating the car buying process. Consumers can also look up and compare dealer closing fees by going to https://consumer.sc.gov/licensee-lookup

SCDCA is releasing an updated Auto Dealer Guide that is available to download. The Auto Dealer Guide gives an overview of various consumer protection laws and is meant to assist auto dealers in complying with those laws.

About SCDCA
The South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs aims to protect consumers from inequities in the marketplace through advocacy, complaint mediation, enforcement and education. To file a complaint or get information on consumer issues, visit www.consumer.sc.gov or call toll-free, 1 (800) 922-1594.

 

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