Car and truck buyers need to be wary of salespeople who misrepresent optional products as mandatory fees, says the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council, (AMVIC), which regulates vehicle sales in the province.

“If you are told any fee or charge, other than GST and the tire levy, is mandatory by law then you should walk away from the deal and contact AMVIC right away,” said John Bachinski, AMVIC Executive Director, in a news release.

The warning was posted on the AMVIC website the same day as Go Public published a story about a woman who paid thousands of dollars for options she didn’t ask for or understand, on a car she wasn’t happy with.

Go Public has reported that many Alberta vehicle buyers say they were duped into paying hundreds, even thousands of dollars more than the agreed-to price, for inflated fees or optional products.

Optional products include things such as registration numbers etched in window glass or body panels and sold as a theft deterrent, extra warranties for tires and rims, and inflating tires with nitrogen gas instead of air.

The charge each of the products is typically $300-$600.

Other questionable charges include administration or document fees of up to $400, and air conditioning taxes that are already included in the sticker price of the vehicle.

Crackdown promised

In April the Alberta government promised a crackdown.

"I see it to be a very big problem," Manmeet Bhullar, Service Alberta Minister, said at the time "(It’s) a very serious issue that demands the attention of government."

Since April, Go Public continued to hear from buyers who say they complained to AMVIC about having paid for options they didn’t want, but were told there weren’t “sufficient grounds for an investigation.”

In a Go Public story on Nov. 13th, Winifred Kollie complained about signing a deal to pay over $32,000 for a base model Toyota Corolla. The final tally included almost $4,000 in optional charges, including  extra warranties, undercoating, and administration fees.

After Go Public began looking into the story, Kingsway Toyota tore up the deal.

In an interview Bachinski says the news release was timed to capitalize on the attention Kollie’s story garnered.

“It’s something … that we want to bring to the public’s attention, encouraging them to do more more homework and to be as diligent as possible, to be careful in the shopping,” Bachinski said.

AMVIC Investigators also visited Kollie within days of our story and she says negotiated further refunds from Kingsway Toyota.

Bachinski says the onus is on the salesperson to be honest and forthright, but that it’s difficult to prove someone was misled.

“It’s not an easy matter to decide or resolve,” Bachinski said. “We’re not present at the actual negotiation, so we’re relying on documentation and information that we can gather. It’s a challenge for investigators.”

'Good first step,' advocate says

George Iny of the Automobile Protection Association agrees.

“The kind of people who run sales rackets … will generally make sure their paperwork will pass muster,” Iny said.

However, Iny says the AMVIC warning sends a strong message to car dealers even though it falls short of a cease-and-desist order to unscrupulous salespeople.

“We’d love it if they did that, but I don’t think that would solve the problem,” Iny said, while calling it “a good first step.”

“This is just … a line in the sand. The reality is that the level of greed would indicate they will need a very robust and sustained intervention if they (AMVIC) really take this issue seriously.”