If you're on the hunt for a new or used car, the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs has a new Auto Dealer Guide that should help you hunt down some other important information first.
Consumer Affairs officials say the guide is the first ever of its kind and it comes in response to the discovery that some dealerships were not following certain state and federal laws.
"Our investigators go out and look at automobile dealerships to make sure that they're complying with the law that our agency enforces, and we were starting to see that there were more violations then we would like that we're going on, " said Carri Grube Lybarker with the Department of Consumer Affairs.
Lybarker says one of the violations included dealers not completing the "closing fee filing requirement". A closing fee is typically tacked on at the end of a sale at any dealership, but it is not something that a dealer has to charge. However, if a dealer does charge the fee, they are supposed to post it somewhere at the dealership and also file it with the SCDCA Office.
According to Lybarker, Closing fees are posted on the Consumer Affairs website to help potential buyers do some comparison shopping right in front of their computer screen. "It gives [a consumer] some room possibly to negotiate when they go to purchase the vehicle," said Lybarker. "If they see that the dealer that they are wanting to purchase the vehicle from is charging a $500 closing fee, but the dealer down the street is only charging $200, the consumer can use that information to try and negotiate that price down."
This new SCDCA guide is geared toward auto dealers, and the SCDCA says they worked alongside several dealerships in the creation of the guide.
In addition to filing closing fees, SCDCA officials say dealers have to file information on interest rates that are higher than 18 percent. The guide includes those details, as well as further information about Truth in Lending laws and advertising laws.
Lybarker says another important piece of the guide details laws about repossession of a vehicle. "If [the consumer] misses a payment and that's the only reason why the dealer or lender wants is trying to repossess a vehicle, a right to cure notice has to be sent to the consumer and they have to be given the opportunity to become current before the vehicle is taken away from them," said Lybarker.
The SCDCA guide reports that the auto dealer cannot send a right to cure notice unless a person has been delinquent for at least 10 days. The consumer has 20 days after the notice is issued to make the payment, and if payment is made, it's like the delinquency never happened. However, if the loan is close-ended and the consumer defaults on another payment, a right to cure notice does not have to be sent.
While the new guide was made for auto dealers, Lybarker says the information in the guide will also help consumers know their rights. She says a guide geared directly to consumers will be released by the SCDCA next month.
The SCDCA Auto Dealer Guide is published on the Consumer Affairs website at http://www.consumer.sc.gov/.