Article

Who Are The Cops?

August 2006, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Thomas B. Hudson, Esq. - Also by this author

I grew up in Acworth, Ga., a small town about 30 miles north of Atlanta. My father’s Gulf service station was between Acworth and Atlanta in a town called Marietta. My commute to and from my job at the station took me through Kennesaw, which (believe it or not) was even smaller than Acworth. Acworth had a traffic light and two police cars; Kennesaw had no light and one lonely cop.

My 1949 Ford club coupe (some called it a businessman’s coupe) had a flathead V-8 in it, and when it was pushed hard, it was pretty quick. My buddies and I got in the habit of deviling the Kennesaw cop. We’d scout him out, figure out which alley he’d pulled into to nap late at night, then quietly and slowly drive to the other end of town (maybe 500 yards), wait a bit, then lay down as much rubber as we could as we ripped out of town, and out of the cop’s jurisdiction.

Why the war story? Well, the statute of limitations has run on my youthful indiscretions, but recalling our antics with that cop gave me an idea for this article, which deals with who the car dealership sales, credit and lease cops are and what laws they enforce.

Let’s look at the feds first.

The principal federal regulator for dealers in the consumer sales, lease and finance area is the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC enforces the federal Truth in Lending Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Privacy Act and the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act against dealers, to mention a few. It also enforces its own regulations, which include privacy regulations, the Used Car Rule, the Credit Practices Rule and others. The FTC is, not surprisingly, very pro-consumer, and I consider it the toughest of the federal cops. The FTC likes to stretch its thin resources by making examples of bad folks in a very noisy way, thus attracting the attention of other potential bad guys; sort of like a public hanging.

The Federal Reserve Board really doesn’t function as a cop, as such, but it is the federal body that Congress often turns to when it wants a regulation written to implement a law. The FRB wrote Reg. Z (the Truth in Lending Act), Reg. M (the Consumer Leasing Act) and Reg. B (the Equal Credit Opportunity Act), among others. Dealers need to keep an eye on the Board at all times, but the Board’s not going to show up at your door for an investigation.

The federal banking agencies don’t directly police dealers, but they do police federally-chartered and federally-insured depository institutions. Since these institutions often buy retail installment contracts and leases from dealers, dealers are occasionally affected by their activities. Again, these folks are people to keep an eye on because they can affect your business.

The states also have gendarmes. All of the states have an Attorney General. The AG usually sues to enforce state laws and regulations. The AGs have had their hair on fire recently over dealer advertising, as an example. They are very difficult adversaries, since they have the state’s treasury to fund their operations. Any fight you have with an AG likely will be one sided.

The state agencies can also have teeth. State motor vehicle administrations usually regulate the activities of dealers, and usually have audit authority to root out evildoings. States will also usually have a consumer protection unit, sometimes as part of the AG’s office, sometimes connected to a functional regulator like a department of licensing and regulation.

The state units that are involved with licensing of any sort will almost always have audit authority, but even those not connected with a licensing unit can sometimes have that authority. The state agencies enforce a host of varying state laws and regulations and, in many states that have made federal violations an unfair and deceptive trade practice or who have otherwise bootstrapped federal violations into state law violations, the state agencies in effect enforce state laws as well.

For the same reasons that fighting with an AG usually isn’t a good idea, fighting with a state agency is usually a bad move.

For car dealers, these are the main enforcers of sales, credit and lease laws. Before you decide to lay down a bit of rubber, it would probably be a good idea to know where they are and what they’re up to.

Vol 2, Issue 7

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