Automotive

Do car dealers have to honor online prices? One Cedar Park family’s warning

CEDAR PARK, Texas (KXAN) — Tiffany Wilson is a proud mom.

Yard signs for each of the family’s football stars line the bushes near the front porch.

“We’ve got four boys between the two of us. We’re a blended family. So, lots of sports,” Wilson said.

The busy mom is always on the go and said they have something every day of the week after school.

“We are running from one practice to the next,” Wilson explained. “And games here — there — everywhere.”

In January, Wilson said her family decided to shop around for a bigger vehicle to haul all the kids and the football gear.

After months of research and price shopping, the family decided to go with a silver Kia Carnival. 

“It looks like an SUV but it’s got the sliding doors of the minivan,” she said. “You can pack so many things in the trunk. It’s so spacious.”

Online price not honored

Wilson said she found a price online that worked for her family. She captured a screenshot on July 21 from Kia of Round Rock listing the minivan for $35,525. 

The same day, she said she went to the dealership, test drove the minivan and was ready to buy it, but she said the dealership was asking nearly $4,500 more than its price listed online for that specific minivan.

KXAN investigators checked the VIN number on the online minivan and paperwork Wilson provided after she tried to purchase the vehicle and it matched. 

“I asked them to look at the price point. You know, ‘Here’s what I saw online and here’s what is on the sticker outside that matched,” Wilson explained. “And the sales rep told me that — that’s just the market that we’re in due to COVID. There’s a shortage and they’re unable to get vehicles from the overseas manufacturers.”

KXAN investigator Arezow Doost called and emailed Kia of Round Rock over several days in September to ask why the online price wasn’t honored. After no response, Doost reached out to the owner of the dealership, Lithia Motors

A Senior Customer Satisfaction Representative responded to an email and said, “I will not be providing a comment.” Doost asked if there was anyone else with the company she could connect with but she didn’t hear back. 

Wilson did get a response back, though, after KXAN’s calls and emails. 

“I would like to start by apologizing for your previous experience,” said the General Sales Manager in an email to Wilson. “I would love the opportunity for a chance to make things right with you, please give me a call at your earliest convenience to discuss this further.”

Are car dealers obligated to honor a price? 

Car dealers licensed with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles have to follow advertising rules.

Kia of Round Rock has an active license with the state. 

“There’s a rule called 215-250 that relates to dealer price advertising. And, when you do feature the price in one of your motor vehicle advertisements, then you have to be willing to sell that vehicle at that featured price to any retail buyer,” explained Corrie Thompson, director of the enforcement division with the TxDMV.

Thompson’s team handles complaints. She said the agency has 30 motor vehicle investigators and one specifically focuses on advertising complaints. 

Thompson said when the agency gets a complaint, her department can investigate and see if there was a violation. Whenever someone files a complaint, they can expect an investigator to contact them within a few days to let them know the case has been assigned. From there, the time to a resolution can vary, Thompson said.

She said first-time violations can mean a warning issued to the dealer. After that, if violations continue, it could include education, penalties and even revoking the dealer’s license.

The dealer can work with the agency to get the case settled or request a hearing before a judge. 

“The genesis of the advertising rules is that there shall be no false, misleading, deceptive or unfair advertisements placed in the State of Texas when we’re talking about motor vehicle ads,” Thompson said. 

TxDMV has received 287 advertising complaints so far this year. The agency said advertising complaints make up about 1% of the active cases. 

Thompson said this was the first time she’d heard of a dealer saying the pandemic had impacted its ability to honor an online price.

Filing a complaint

“If anybody as a Texas citizen has an issue with an automobile or an automobile dealer in the state of Texas, I’d like to see them file a complaint with the department,” Thompson said. 

Complaints about problems with a licensed auto dealer in Texas can be filed at https://www.txdmv.gov/complaints.

Wilson has submitted a complaint.

“It’s unfortunate, especially for families that have larger sized needs to be able to walk in and say, ‘Hey, this is the price that we budgeted. This is what we want to spend on our vehicle.’ And then to have it changed,” Wilson explained. 

Written by Arezow Doost

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