State announces settlements with Tri-City auto dealers

The state Attorney General's Office on Thursday announced settlements with three area car dealerships the office believed had violated consumer protection laws with their advertising.

Bulldog Motors/All-Star Automotive Group of Pasco, D & S Auto World Inc./Shafer Motor Company/Auto Plaza USA II of Kennewick, and Grover Dykes Auto Group Inc. of Pasco -- which operates Legacy Ford of Tri-Cities, Legacy Ford of Walla Walla and Legacy Ford of Pasco -- all agreed to change their advertisements to comply with state laws.

The settlements explicitly state that none of the dealerships admit any violations.

Assistant Attorney General Mary Lobdell, who negotiated the settlements, told the Herald that all three dealerships cooperated with the state investigation.

"In their defense, they stepped up to the mark and said, 'We'll fix our advertising,' " Lobdell said.

Representatives for Shafer and Legacy Ford did not respond to messages left by the Herald on Thursday.

A representative for Bulldog/All-Star identifying himself as "Butch" declined to comment on the settlement.

Lobdell said the allegations stemmed from different advertising practices by the three dealers.

Lobdell said allegations were made against all three dealers related to advertising that was unclear that consumers could negotiate a $150 optional document fee when buying a car.

All three also were believed to have made technical violations related to advertising prizes and promotions.

Bulldog was alleged to have been unclear in the way it advertised offers such as $59 down payments or monthly payment amounts, and what kinds of cars consumers could purchase under those terms, Lobdell said.

The Attorney General's office believed Legacy's claim it could "beat any offer" was difficult to prove and that the company may have advertised vehicles that weren't in its inventory at the time they offered them for sale.

Under the settlements, Bulldog and Shafer agreed to pay $5,000 to theAttorney General's Office toward its investigation costs. Legacy agreed to pay $10,000.

"We're very happy they stepped up to the mark and agreed to revise their ad practices," Lobdell said. "We are hoping there will be better communication with consumers in the marketplace, and that will benefit everybody."