Attorney General Hardy Myers today filed a $300,000 settlement agreement with Oregon's largest auto dealership in Marion County Circuit Court. Named in an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance (AVC) are Thomason Autogroup and its parent companies Asbury Automotive Oregon LLC, Asbury Automotive Oregon Dealership Holdings LLC and Asbury Automotive Oregon Management LLC. The assurance admits no violation of law.
"As the state's largest auto dealership, Thomason Autogroup had over the years accrued a multitude of complaints alleging violations of consumer protection laws," Myers said. "This agreement addresses those past serious issues and attempts to avoid future problems by requiring Thomason to implement a broad spectrum of positive changes in its business practices in Oregon."
The alleged complaints ranged from failure to disclose material defects to misrepresentations regarding sales price, extended service contracts and financing. Most recently, Thomason Autogroup admitted to Attorney General Myers' consumer protection staff that the company had for sometime been failing to disclose to customers that the vehicles they had just purchased were on sale at a lower price.
The problem was most prominent with two to four-line "spot" ads running in the newspaper classified advertising sections. Between 1996 and 2000, more than 880 customers purchased vehicles from Thomason Autogroup dealerships without being told the cars were on sale. Consequently, if customers failed to see the sale price in the "spot ads," they paid more for their vehicles, ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Working in conjunction with the Oregon Department of Justice, the auto dealership implemented a program and to date has paid approximately $l.5 million in restitution to Oregon victims.
The terms of the assurance that apply to all present and future Oregon dealerships owned by Thomason Autogroup and its parent companies include the following:
Within the next 60 days, the company must design and implement education programs for its sales, finance and advertising personnel. The programs will include instructions on compliance with the agreement and the consumer protection laws of the state. Those employees failing to comply with the AVC will be discharged.
All vehicles advertised for sale must be identified by number and price both in the advertisements and on the vehicle in the form of a sticker, hang tag or like disclosure during the sale period.
Customers must be promptly notified if financing for their vehicle is not available on the terms in their sales agreement and the transaction must be terminated and sale rescinded. Upon return of the vehicle, the company will refund the buyer's down payment and return the consumer's trade-in vehicle (if any). The dealership may charge some vehicle use charges.
The dealership may not sell a buyer's trade-in vehicle before obtaining final credit approval.
Upon sale of the vehicle, the customer must be given copies of all documents relating to the sale.
During a sales transaction, the seller must inform the consumer that buying extra items such as credit life and extended service contracts is optional and not required as part of the purchase.
When a consumer chooses to purchase additional products such as insurance or extended warranties, the company must during the sales transaction provide the buyer with two sets of price disclosures. One set with the sale price and monthly payments only and a second set with the additional charges so the buyer can compare the two sets of figures.
In addition, Thomason Autogroup agreed to participate in a dispute resolution program for the next four years. The program offers consumers a no cost, alternative method of solving their dispute with the company. Results are binding on both parties and can not be appealed. The Department of Justice has successfully utilized this type of dispute program in the past with other dealerships.
Thomason Autogroup and Asbury paid $300,000 to the Department of Justice consumer protection and education revolving account.
Consumers wanting information about buying or leasing automobiles or other consumer protection subjects may call the Attorney General's hotline at (503) 378-4320 (Salem area only), (503) 229-5576 or toll-free at 1-877-877-9392. The Department of Justice web site is www.doj.state.or.us.
Jan Margosian, (503) 947-4333 (media line only) firstname.lastname@example.org