A New York Nissan dealership paid almost $300,000 to settle charges that the store deceived customers by selling VIN etching.
Pana Nissan LLC, d/b/a Nissan of New Rochelle, will pay a $298,000 settlement to the New York attorney general for deceptively charging hundreds of consumers for VIN etching that cost up to thousands of dollars per consumer. The cost of the etching was often added onto the final cost of the vehicle without the consumer’s knowledge or consent, after the customer had agreed upon the purchase price of a vehicle but before the sale transaction was finalized.
Following a consumer complaint in August 2015 that Nissan of New Rochelle had fraudulently sold an after-sale product, the attorney general's office started an investigation into the dealership’s practices. The investigation found that Nissan of New Rochelle sold these packages to hundreds of consumers, charging from $215 to over $5,000.
Furthermore, Nissan of New Rochelle failed to clearly disclose the nature of the after-sale product to its customers. The “Total Loss Protection” or “Total Loss Protection Guarantee” product was advertised as a permanent etch or engraving of the vehicle’s VIN, or a registered serial number, on the windows of the vehicle – supposedly to deter theft.
However, Nissan of New Rochelle did not actually etch the VIN onto the windows of the vehicles. Instead, for some vehicles, the dealership placed sticker decals with assigned registration numbers on the inside of the door or door-jamb where no one could see them, thus having no deterrent effect.
For other vehicles, the dealership did not even provide stickers or decals.
Consumers were also led to believe that there would be a guaranteed credit up to either $3,000 or $5,000 toward the purchase of a new vehicle should their car be stolen. However, there were numerous conditions and limitations – such as that the credit would not be applied if it eliminated the dealership’s profit on the sale – which rendered the “credit” illusory. Only one consumer ever received a credit through the Total Loss Protection program.
Under the agreement, Nissan of New Rochelle will refund $276,127 to 298 consumers who were charged an add-on fee for the Total Loss Protection product. In addition to restitution, the dealership will also pay $22,084 in penalties, fees, and costs to the state.