Dealership ads can avoid regulators' cross hairs if advertisers know the rules, adjust the message and get legal approval, legal experts and F&I trainers say.
The Federal Trade Commission is cracking down on what it considers deceptive dealership advertising, and often zeros in on the language of loan or lease terms, the experts and trainers say.
"As the FTC gets tougher, things that were not violations 10 years ago now are," said Randy Henrick, associate general counsel for Dealertrack Technologies. In general, he said, "dealers are getting better with disclosures and not making misleading statements or conflicting statements in the footnotes."
But, he said, "There are outliers."
For example, 12 dealerships agreed to settlements after being accused of deceptive advertising as part of the FTC's Operation Steer Clear crackdown unveiled in 2014.
Under the settlements, the dealerships will be under scrutiny for 20 years, and any violation could result in a fine of as much as $16,000 for each day a deceptive ad runs.
Dealers could be violating advertising regulations to stay competitive, said Nick Smyth, a financial services regulatory attorney at Reed Smith in Pittsburgh.
Since the financial crisis "the market has steadied," Smyth said. "Maybe dealers are trying to figure out what they can do to get ahead" of rivals.
"There are these 0 percent deals out there," he said. "If they can't offer those deals, they might want to offer something else that's just as good and cut corners in marketing it."
Tony Dupaquier, director of The Academy, an F&I training center in Austin, Texas, believes there are fewer deceptive ads than in the past. Still, some dealerships push the limits, he said.
The stores think "We do it this way because this is the way we've always done it. Right or wrong, good or bad," Dupaquier said. But "the industry is becoming more aware that ignorance isn't an excuse."
To stay on the right side of regulators, dealers need to understand advertising requirements, experts say.