There's an opportunity hidden away for dealers in regions of the country eligible to benefit from the massive auto parts antitrust class action settlement now being adjudicated.
That's because not only are franchised new-vehicle dealers in 29 states and the district of Columbia eligible to file a claim, but so are their customers.
And those consumers?
I bet they would probably appreciate a heads up that they've got some money due them, and would be grateful for a little assistance in filing a claim, even though it might be a while before they would get any money.
As of now, there is $604 million waiting for consumers -- those who purchased or leased new vehicles over the last 20 or so years -- to file a claim. Not all vehicle makes and models are covered by the class action, but a large number are, from domestic and foreign brands.
The complete list and the online claim form, can be found at autopartsclass.com.
To file a claim, consumers have to have both the VIN and proof of ownership of the vehicle, including those vehicles they owned previously and may have traded in or sold. According to a person I spoke with in the law firm processing the consumer claims, proof of ownership can be a bill of sale or a state vehicle registration, or even proof of insurance. But unless a person is a meticulous record keeper, chances are they wouldn't have that evidence, especially for a vehicle that they may have last owned 5, 10 or even 15 years ago.
My wife and I have owned nine different vehicles -- that I can remember -- since 2000. Eight of those are on the list as eligible for claims, yet I only have proof on hand for four of the eight; the remainder I'll either have to get from the state or from the dealership where it was purchased.
Here's where, if I was a dealer, I might try to make those boxes packed with F&I records that I'm forced by law to keep on hand pay off. Each of those old files is a proof of claim for a consumer whose previously purchased vehicle is on the list, even if they no longer own it.
Admittedly, the tricky part here for dealers is how best to explain to your customer that a) they were ripped off, and are eligible to file a claim to be made whole, and b) that it was an automotive supplier, and not the dealership, who committed the wrongdoing and has agreed to pay.
Some consumers may not care; if they're eligible to receive a check that they weren't expecting at some point in the future by filling out a form online, they might be fine with it at that.
I'm sure others will need more evidence and might be more skeptical. But thankfully, the evidence of what occurred in the largest antitrust case in U.S. history is all available online, and from many reputable sources, including Automotive News.
From an optics standpoint, the good thing here for dealers is that, like their customers, dealers are helpless victims of the wrongdoing of others. Both groups stand to be able to recover at least some of their losses, and there's nothing ever wrong with trying to help your customers get what's rightfully theirs.