In the wake of a CBC I-Team investigation into car dealerships charging extra fees on top of the advertised price of a vehicle, 66 customers have received settlements or refunds from 27 dealerships.
Last September, the I-Team's undercover shoppers found seven out of 10 dealerships were still trying to add extra fees on top of the advertised price, despite a new provincial law in 2015 meant to protect car buyers from surprise fees.
Since the I-Team's September story, the Consumer Protection Office said it received 90 complaints from car buyers about fees added to the advertised price of vehicles.
But the CPO won't say which dealerships were involved in the 66 refunds and settlements.
"I think that's wrong," said customer Rémi Dupont, who was recently refunded the extra fees he was charged. Dupont said the CPO should name the dealerships. "I think it would put pressure on management to kind of resolve these cases and maybe be a little bit more diligent about how they go about their sales."
Dupont and his wife bought a 2010 Dodge Caravan from Birchwood Chevrolet in November 2015, five months after the new consumer legislation came into effect. The "all-in" pricing law is supposed to ensure that dealerships can't tack on extra fees above the advertised price of a vehicle.
But after seeing the I-Team's September investigation, Dupont complained to the Consumer Protection Office to see if he could recoup the $899 he paid for the Birchwood Advantage when he bought the van.
"We never got the chance to opt out of it," Dupont said. "I have CAA myself so I didn't really need it. But they didn't really give us the option at that time," he said.
The Birchwood Advantage includes items such as three years of roadside assistance, tire and rim warranty and theft protection.
Extra fees returned
In December, Dupont received a letter from Birchwood offering him the chance to opt out of the Birchwood Advantage and have the $899 applied to his car payments.
In an email to CBC, Steve Chipman, president and CEO of Birchwood Automotive group, said: "We have been working with the Consumer Protection Office and the Manitoba Motor Dealers Association to fully understand the operation of the new advertising legislation. We want to ensure that we are completely compliant with the legislation and that we are fully transparent particularly when a customer decides to negotiate a price lower than the advertised price. We are working with our staff to make sure our customers are treated properly."
Dupont said he's glad his issue is resolved.
"It took maybe two or three months or something like that to get results but it's worth it at the end," he said. "And especially around this time of year there's always— kind of low on funds, and renovations and growing family. Always nice to have a little bit of extra money."
But Dupont said it would also be nice for the public to know which other dealerships have since refunded those extra fees. He thinks the Consumer Protection Office should make information like that public to help consumers.
"I would be much more willing to buy something from a place that is straightforward with you," he said.
Back in September, Tammy Solleveld told the CBC I-Team about her experience being charged extra fees when she bought her KIA Soul at Birchwood Kia East.
"I was forced to pay this extra $799," she said at the time. "I don't need all this extra stuff that they include and I was forced to pay it when I didn't want to."
Solleveld opened a complaint file with the Consumer Protection Office. She said the office told her she wouldn't get a refund and Birchwood initially told her that her claim wasn't valid.
Then in December, she got a surprise in the mail. The company offered her the chance to opt out of the Birchwood Advantage and apply that money to her car payments. She accepted.
"I was pleasantly surprised to hear I was getting this back," Solleveld wrote in an email to CBC News.
Dupont and Solleveld are two of the 90 people who complained to the Consumer Protection Office about being charged extra fees on top of the advertised price. Of those, 10 cases are still under investigation. The 80 cases that have been resolved include the 66 customers who got refunds or settlements ranging from a few hundred dollars to a little more than $1,000 each from dealerships.
While some people got their money back, the public isn't getting any information about which dealerships were involved. When CBC News asked, the Consumer Protection Office refused to make that information public even though Manitoba law allows the director to do so.
In an email, a CPO spokesperson confirmed that not one of the dealerships involved in issuing refunds or a settlement was fined. The CPO said naming the dealers is not necessary because "compliance has been achieved through education and mediation."
The Automobile Protection Association's George Iny said "sometimes regulators get confused and they forget who they are there to protect."
"Transparency must be the rule for complaints that are legitimate," Iny said. "Publicity helps level the knowledge inequality between buyer and seller."
Iny also believes that compliant dealerships have suffered because no one knows which ones were following the regulations.
"Those dealers for the last year and a half have been losing several hundred dollars on every deal compared to the non-compliant dealers," Iny said. "It's actually a mistake."
"You need a strategy where your enforcement rewards good behaviour and punishes bad behaviour," said Iny.
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The Manitoba Motor Dealers Association supports the all-in pricing regulations, said executive director Geoff Sine.
"We support the CPO in determining what action is required, including if a company's name who may have breached the regulation should be made public," said Sine.
At one Winnipeg dealership, Vickar Community Chevrolet general sales manager Don Lachance said he's glad the CPO appears to be taking the issue seriously, especially if dealerships have repeat complaints.
"I am very glad the [CPO is] following up on it. The second time offenders? I hope they will do something about it," Lachance said.
The Consumer Protection Office declined the I-Team's requests for an interview. The CBC I-Team asked for an interview with the minister responsible for CPO, Heather Stefanson, repeatedly over a month-long span. The request was repeatedly denied.
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