Do adverts have to show where a car can be bought cheaper?

  26 November 2018

Is a retailer legally bound to include in its advert for a vehicle where a customer can buy an equivalent one cheaper? It could be, if you logically extend the train of thought that led District Judge Helen Cousins at Teeside Magistrates Court to impose a fine of £134,000 and costs of £9,360 on Pendragon, the parent company of Evans Halshaw.

Its offence was to have included in the description of a car advertised for sale that it had one previous owner but was misleading in that said former owner was Enterprise Leasing Company and this particular detail was glossed over.

Judge Cousins said: “In my view an average consumer would be misled by such a description if applied to an ex-hire company vehicle without further clarification. I therefore find that the identity of the one registered keeper as a car rental business is information the average consumer needs.”

It should be noted that the potential buyer, having discovered the full facts, walked away from the deal and was refunded the £200 deposit already paid. So, no financial injury then.

The fine was made so hefty partly on the basis that Evans Halshaw had been prosecuted by Middlesbrough Council in 2016 for the same practice and in that instance Pendragon was found guilty of two offences, fined £4,000 with a victim surcharge of £120 and costs of £2,248.

I think that having had somewhat more than a rap across the knuckles for that, Evans Halshaw could have been more careful about how it worded its adverts. As consumers we have the right to know the full history and condition of something we are buying second hand.

But it was interesting to note that the size of the latest fine was also levied partly on the reasoning that if a motorist can be fined one or two weeks’ income for a minor speeding offence, a company can be fined on the same basis with their profits.

Given the state of the trade at the moment that might mean the court giving dealers some money back!

But I digress. How much detail does a retailer have to include when advertising a vehicle and does that, as has been suggested by Jonathan Butler, head of automotive at legal firm Geldards, extend to saying where a similar car can be bought cheaper?

You would think that’s madness but that is to disregard the power of lawyers.

How can a company have to pay the thick end of £1145,000 in a case where no consumer lost anything, no one had to have a major row or drag the case through the courts to get a refund? I think Evans Halshaw has been silly and should have learnt a lesson the first time but equally I think they can feel hard done to.

Still, there is a salutary lesson there for many in the auto retail trade and this case should give cause for reassessment of how adverts are worded.

And on that note, may I commend you to the free web briefing being held on Wednesday, December 12 by Radius Law and The Motor Ombudsman where, among other topics, car advertising will be discussed.


John Swift


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