MOBILE, Ala. - Many dealerships in Alabama are videotaping vehicle closings in a bid to protect themselves from lawsuits and hefty damage awards.
The dealerships are using cameras to record exactly what consumers are told before they sign on the dotted line, in hopes of keeping disputes out of court, according to the Automobile Dealers Association of Alabama.
'It's pretty much a statewide phenomenon,' said association spokesman Tom Dart.
Alabama appears to be the only state in which videotaped closings have become common, said Donna Reichle, a spokeswoman for the National Automobile Dealers Association.
'It is a direct result of your problems there with frivolous lawsuits and huge damage awards,' Reichle said.
Auto dealers have been using videos for the last two years to protect themselves in lawsuits, Dart said.
The tapes can clearly show what was said at the closing.
Previously, when customers said that what they were told during a closing differed from the documents they signed, it was their word against the dealership's.
'We're just protecting ourselves,' said Rick Hoar, new-car sales manager at Bay Chevrolet in Mobile. 'Now we just don't have any problems anymore.'
Hoar said the video equipment cost about $5,000. 'It's the cost of doing business, and it's not much. That's only a tenth of the cost of a lawsuit,' he said.
Only a tiny percentage of people caused troubles, Hoar said, 'but that's all it takes.'
Dart said the videotapes protect the customers as well by allowing dealership owners to monitor what their sales agents are saying during closings.
'Most of the dealers will review the tapes to make sure their employees are doing the right thing and handling it properly. It's a monitoring tool and a training tool,' he said.
Customers don't seem to mind the tapes, said Mitch Boudreaux, new-car sales manager at Treadwell Honda in Mobile.
'The only problem I ever heard,' he added, 'is the customer didn't think they were dressed quite well enough for a taping.'