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How to keep Spanish-language deals transparent

Regulations for dealerships working with Spanish-speaking customers vary by state. But in general, dealers who advertise or negotiate in Spanish should have at the ready translated deal documents, financing guides and, in some cases, informational videos plus a well-trained staff to ensure that transactions in Spanish are as transparent as transactions in English, dealership advisers say.

On the federal level, dealerships are required to provide Spanish speakers the Spanish-language version of the Federal Trade Commission’s buyers’ guide, they say.

But Hudson Cook law firm in Hanover, Md., a specialist in dealership law, recommends that dealerships also provide a Spanish translation of “Understanding Vehicle Financing” -- a joint guide from the American Financial Services Association Education Foundation, National Automobile Dealers Association and FTC -- with every Spanish-language deal. The law firm also suggests including the Spanish version of the guide as a part of the training program for employees hired in Hispanic markets.

If translating all financing and add-on product forms isn’t possible, the law firm recommends preparing a closing video in Spanish.

“The closing video could have a Spanish-speaking ‘talking head,’ who would walk the customer through the delivery process, explaining the various forms the customer must sign, and describing the various products that are optional for purchase,” attorney Emily Marlow Beck wrote in the 2006 edition of Hudson Cook’s “F&I Legal Desk Book.”

“Because the script for this video would be vetted by the dealer and his lawyer before it’s translated into Spanish, the dealer can regain some control over the representations that are being made to Spanish-speaking customers,” added Beck, who has since left the law firm and is now president of Marlow Automotive Group, which has three dealerships in Virginia, near Washington, D.C.

Along with fluency, training

Dealerships that conduct vehicle transactions in Spanish need to take added steps, the advisers say.

If an F&I manager or other dealership employee discusses the transaction in Spanish, a contract in Spanish should be provided “so it’s clear that nothing was promised verbally,” says Jonathan Wilke, partner at accounting and advisory firm DHG Dealerships. “It’s hard to have a legal contract when you can’t communicate it.”

Wilke adds that dealerships that advertise in Spanish should have Spanish-speaking employees.

But training has to go along with that, cautions attorney Tom Hudson of Hudson Cook. Along with being fluent in Spanish, he says, “you want the person doing the translation to have auto finance training” to be sure that he or she can discuss all aspects of the F&I process.

Lost in translation?

Hudson recommends putting multilingual employees through the Association of Finance & Insurance Professionals training course and taking some measure “to confirm that the person’s translation skills are good enough.”

Longtime F&I trainer Tony Dupaquier also is concerned about the adequacy of employees’ translation skills, especially at dealerships with hybrid sales and F&I processes.

“Some stores pick up market share because they have multilingual employees,” says Dupaquier, director of The Academy, the national auto retail training center of F&I provider Service Group. Still, he recommends that dealerships ask customers bring their own translators. That way, Dupaquier says, stores won’t be liable if their in-house translator provides misinformation.

You can reach Hannah Lutz at hlutz@crain.com -- Follow Hannah on Twitter: @hm_lutz

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