JAMES B. TREECE

Flawed study has lessons for F&I managers

News Editor James B. Treece oversees Automotive News' coverage of auto retailing.News Editor James B. Treece oversees Automotive News' coverage of auto retailing.
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There’s a lot not to like about a new study on discrimination in car loans. But there also are a few nuggets in it that indicate problems in the F&I office.

The study is titled “Non-Negotiable: Negotiation Doesn’t Help African Americans and Latinos on Dealer-Financed Car Loans” and was conducted by the nonprofit Center for Responsible Lending in Durham, N.C.

As reported in today’s “F&I Report,” the study concluded: “This new research supports the likelihood that dealer practices, such as interest rate markups, have a discriminatory impact on borrowers of color.”

But the research is flawed. It relies on interviewees’ memories of what rates they got, and what else happened in the F&I office, up to six years earlier. Telephone surveyors urged respondents to offer their “best guess” if they couldn’t remember. And the study ignored consumers’ credit scores in determining whether they got a discriminatory rate.

Acting as if credit scores don’t matter makes that study invalid from the get-go.

But the study found that 48 percent of African Americans and 48 percent of Latinos reported that they were told the rate they received was the “best rate available.”

The report also stated that 14 percent of African-Americans and 16 percent of Latinos were told that add-ons, such as insurance and extended service contracts, were mandatory purchases.

Really? An F&I manager or someone else at the dealership told a customer they were getting the “best rate available”? Or that an extended service contract was mandatory?

Please let that have happened six years ago, not in today’s compliance-aware market.

If anybody’s guilty of either of those practices today, they deserve to be dope-slapped upside the head. Or rather, fired.

When the industry is trying to avoid further overregulation, actions that invite more regulation hurt everybody.

You can reach James B. Treece at jtreece@crain.com.

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