'Arm-twisting' more likely at Alberta used car dealerships, consumer advocates say

The Automobile Protection Association says Alberta needs to tighten the rules on how used car dealers advertise and sell their vehicles.

With fewer rules and safeguards, Albertans need to be extra aware of sneaky practices at used-car dealerships

Eric LaPlante, 40, says “everything is wrong” with his 2013 Dodge Ram 1500, which he purchased from the Gallery of Fine Cars in Calgary. (Falice Chin/CBC)

The Automobile Protection Association (APA) says Alberta needs to tighten the rules on how used car dealers advertise and sell their vehicles.

On Monday the Calgary Eyeopener shared the story of Eric LaPlante who was left in the dark about the vehicle's nearly $40,000 history of damage that was never disclosed to him. Although the Gallery of Fine Cars in Calgary, where he bought the car, disagrees.

George Iny, executive director for the APA, shared his buyer-beware tips and warns of arm-twisting tactics.

Q: How often do you hear stories like this one?  

It's a common complaint when people are buying a used vehicle.

Often there are complaints about deposits, where people say they feel duped into making another to place a hold on the vehicle then realize they've made an offer to buy it.

A big issue is misrepresentation about what it is you are actually buying.

Q: We looked at the histories of 16 random vehicles from the Gallery of Fine Cars, and we found that 10 of them have previous insurance claims or damage estimates, and of those 10, three were more than $10,000. What do you make of those numbers?

A: The buyers for those dealerships may choose to buy a higher percentage of vehicles that are hit because they perceive they can buy them for less.

At auction when they are buying from another professional this sort of damage is mandatory to declare, so it can't be hidden.There's an arbitration/mediation system for that. [It's] a very powerful tool because if you actually are someone that is [hiding damage information] the auction will simply refuse entry in the future.

The consumer doesn't have a remedy like that. They're somewhat depending on the goodwill of the dealer and also the oversight of a regulator.

Q: To be clear, the professional buyers protect other professional buyers but amateur buyers don't have the same protection?

A: For sure.

Even [a dealership's] silence in most provinces would be deemed to be deceptive. 

George Iny says have the damage history of your used-vehicle purchase written into the sales agreement. (Shutterstock)

Q: Your organization has investigated a lot of used car dealers across the country. What are some of the practices you've discovered that cause you concern?

A: Dealers who say they can't perform a check because of time, or they offer the check take place at a shop they choose. Others may say they don't have the history report or the file. Or they give vague answers when you ask about a collision.

As a consumer, ask for any descriptions about collision damage to be written into your sales agreement, and have it initialed. Then it is recorded.

There's no question that if you had the level of disclosure required in some other provinces, this situation would be easier for consumers to fight.


Q: We went to the dealer as an anonymous shopper to ask about a particular vehicle with previous damages.The salesperson told us he didn't have the car history on hand, but if we wanted to get the financing pre-approval started, he would look it up. 

A: Talk about arm-twisting. 

So you'd have already signed a credit application. You have to give them all your personal information before they tell you what you're buying or give you any vehicle related information.

It's completely nuts. Backwards. It's a bad business practice.

The rules are very porous in Alberta right now. You need much better disclosure. If a vehicle was severely damaged it should probably be in the ad.

 Before you even get to the dealership you should know that's why that vehicle may be selling for less. 
Alberta has very few consumer protection standards when it comes to buying a used car, compared with other provinces. (CBC)

Q: Because the rules in Alberta are less strict, do we see car dealers here skirting provincial rules by importing cars from a different province?

A: I would say yes. We've found lots of vehicles coming from B.C. or eastern Canada that probably were shipped over because they were in some ways tainted in their local markets.

It's tricky if you're relying on the dealer. The multi-page reports are kind of hard to read, sometimes only one of eight or nine pages has the information you need. We've seen dealers who will quickly show you the report and leave out the one page. Sometimes that's how people get tricked up.

When a dealer is selling a clean car, they don't tell you to make a credit application to find that out.

They'll have told you already.

 With files from the Calgary Eyeopener


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