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The "Push, Pull or Drag" Trade-in Scam

Posted Thu May 17, 2001, by Paul L. written to Ford Motor Company

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I hope you can help me. I have a complaint I'd like to register with you about one of your franchised dealerships in Colorado.

Anyone who listens to radio along the Front Range of Colorado is familiar with "Big Mike's Push, Pull or Drag" trade-in event that happens periodically each year. The promotion states that the Ford dealership will give consumers a "minimum $3000 trade-in allowance" for any vehicle that is traded-in during the promotion.
By going to http://bigmike.com consumers can get details and pricing regarding the vehicles they are interested in. Used vehicles are listed with prices and stock numbers. If you search, you will discover that the web page has a small print catch-all disclaimer that states: "Internet pricing not valid with any other advertised pricing or discounts", as indicated by the attached screen shot (screenshot A).
I have a Jeep Cherokee that has been sitting around unused for over a year. I've wrestled with finding the time to get it ready to sell. Therefore, when my daughter expressed an interest in buying a truck we decided to wait until the next go-round of the infamous "Push, Pull or Drag" promotion as a way of killing two birds with one stone. If the trade-in would have worked the way Big Mike Naughton Ford advertises it, we would have been compensated for the Jeep without having to sink time into detailing it, placing ads etc., and our daughter would purchase a truck in the process.
So, on Monday, May 14, 2001 we went onto the Internet and found the exact truck we wanted on Big Mike's web page. It was stock # 59150 for a price of $9880.00 as clearly indicated by the attached screenshot (screenshot B). Over the next three days, my daughter and I had several conversations with at least two different sales people and a sales manager at the dealership, verifying the price of the truck and getting details about the truck, the duration of the trade-in event, etc.. We separately verified that the trade-in event would end on Thursday morning, May 17th: I personally was given that information by two separate sales staff (Doug and Julie), and my daughter confirmed the information with an un-named member of the sales staff. Salesman Doug subsequently offered me the truck for $9850 (a $30 savings), and I went about securing financing externally for the purchase so that my Daughter and I could make the trek from Fort Collins to Denver to purchase the vehicle the next day Wednesday, May 16th.
Having read several consumer protection publications over the years, I have always avoided the so called 'trade-in scams' by negotiating the cost of the car first and then negotiating the trade-in second. Since the value of the trade-in was pre-determined in this case by the dealership's advertising (minimum $3000), and the price for the vehicle was clearly negotiated, all I had to do was work out the details of dropping off the trade-in, completing the finances and picking up the truck, right? Wrong!
As soon as I mentioned the trade-in event, the sales staff started to backtrack. I was told by Doug that if I take advantage of the Push, Pull or Drag trade-in event the "real price" of the truck is $12,995.00 (almost exactly $3000 higher than advertised and basically equivalent to the amount guaranteed for my trade-in by their radio ads). I said "what do you mean the 'real price', the web page right in front of me says very clearly that the price is $9880 and you just agreed to sell it to me for $30 less than that". Doug replied by saying "the advertised price and the 'real' price are two different things". I indicated to Doug that I believe what a business advertises should match what is actually the case, and reminded him that we had agreed on a price already. Clearly this was not a case of misprint. He replied that the 'Internet price' was a 'special' they were running, at which time I pointed out that their Internet page said nothing about the car being on 'special'. I was then told that all prices listed on the Internet are considered 'specials' by the dealership even though the web page doesn't indicate that.
The following day (Wednesday) I called the salesperson Doug had referred me to (Julie) since he would not be working that day. Julie told me that the trade-in event and the price advertised on the web were each 'like coupons' and that clearly I could not use two 'coupons' for the same purchase. Finding that defense laughable, I gave her my own analogy which was more like: 'the price of the car is $9880 if you saw our ad in the Denver Post, but the car is $12,980 if you saw the ad in the Denver Rocky Mountain News'. I consider the Internet nothing more than another form of advertising, and there is nothing inherent in that media that identifies merchandise advertised there as automatically discounted or 'special'. In retrospect, perhaps the most accurate analogy would be a pizza shop that sells pizza for $15 unless you bring in their $5-off coupon, in which case the 'real' price of the pizza is $20.
Getting nowhere with the sales staff, I requested to talk with a manager in sales and was put in touch with Steve. I gave Steve the stock number of the truck and told him that there seemed to be 'confusion' among his staff regarding the price. I asked him the straight-forward question: "What is the price of this vehicle?" and referred him to the web page. He offered to "research it" and call me back within 10 minutes. I told him which sales staff I had been working with and we hung up. After 20 minutes I called him back and he was still talking with his General Manager about it. When we finally talked again about the truck he reiterated that the advertised price of $9880 was indeed a 'real' price for the truck. I then brought up the trade-in issue and he told me "we are not running that special anymore". When I confronted him that several of his staff told me that it was running through Thursday, and that we had all been working from that premise for three days, he told me that his staff were all wrong and that the trade-in sale had ended Sunday. I of course stated that it seemed odd for such an event to be over so unexpectedly under these circumstances. He reiterated to me three or four more times that the event had ended on Sunday, and even though he was, in my opinion, clearly lying, I stopped pushing that issue and turned to the nature of the trade-in event.
He began characterizing the trade-in event (for the first time) as a "sale" and restated what the sales people had said which is that "the Internet 'special' can't be combined with the trade-in 'sale'". In sum, the dealership's position is that anything on the Internet is automatically a 'special', and if I bring a car in to trade-in, somehow that is now considered a 'sale'. Furthermore, it should be assumed by the consumer that these two events can't coincide.
Steve suggested my daughter and I drive down to Denver anyway and he would "take care of me". Of course as soon as I got there, he turned me over to the sales staff (Julie), who now had a different approach which went something like this: "Although I haven't seen it, I understand the Internet has a disclaimer that covers this". I, of course pulled out my printout of the blanket-disclaimer I had printed from the dealership's web site which states that "Internet pricing is not valid with any other advertised pricing or discounts". I quickly pointed out that I was not interested in any "other advertised pricing" or "discounts". I was, and have been, satisfied with the current pricing of $9880 and was not seeking a different price or discount. I merely wanted them to honor my trade-in in the manner which their radio ads suggested they would. At this point, Julie suggested that she go get her General Manager. She returned a few minutes later and indicated that her General Manager wasn't willing to talk with me but suggested I drive all the way back to Fort Collins and Brian Naughton would call me the next day. Needless to say, I haven't heard from Brian Naughton.
Prior to leaving, and in an attempt to justify the long drive, I re-entered negotiations and was presented with the three bottom-line options as outlined below:

1. I could pay the $9880 advertised price (plus dealer handling charges) and agree to be specifically excluded from the advertised trade-in offer (which was now acknowledged once again to be running until Thursday morning).
2. I could 'take advantage' of the advertised minimum trade-in of $3000 in which
case the dealership would artificially inflate the advertised price of the truck to $12,998(approximately $3000) and then give me the $3000 for the trade-in (essentially that way I pay the same price they originally advertised for the truck, only in this scenario they would get my Jeep for free).
3. I could pay the advertised price of $9880 and trade-in the Jeep for which they would compensate me $100 (instead of the 'minimum of $3000' as advertised on the radio). Note that they had neither seen nor evaluated my Jeep which was suddenly worth only $100.
Needless to say, my daughter and I walked out and drove back to Fort Collins having wasted many hours and gallons of gas. The salesperson suggested we drive back down to Denver today (Thursday 05/17/01) and trade-in a different car (our Saturn). Obviously, I have no interest whatsoever in doing that, but it is interesting to note that the advertised 'Internet price' for the truck went up $2000 last night while we slept (see screenshot C)!
Thank you for your time in reading this narration. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this experience with 'Big Mike' Naughton Ford, feel free to contact me by phone, e-mail or snail-mail as follows:

Paul A. Langfield, M.S., MCP
2301 Research Blvd., STE 202
Fort Collins, Colorado 80526
(970) 310-9892

While I've only rarely patronized your company before, I would still like some sort of resolution to my complaint. Despite this problem, you still have a chance at winning my business again in the future, and I don't know whether I can recommend your dealers to people I know now.

Here's what I would like to see you do to provide resolution: Contact "Big Mike Naughton Ford" of Denver/Aurora Colorado and let them know that dishonesty in their advertising reflects poorly on Ford Motor Company as a whole. I don't know if Ford maintains any sort of ethics board to review cases related to it's franchise dealers, but if not, such a board would be a great idea. Big Mike Naughton Ford is located at 150 So. Havana St. Aurora Colorado, 80012. Their phone number is:(303) 343-1900

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

P.S. in this format, the screenshots mentioned are not visible. However, I have hard-copies of them if you are interested.


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