Survey: nearly 2/3 of American consumers think auto dealerships are unethical

Frame from 'Benefits of Price Competition' video, by National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA)

Frame from ‘Benefits of Price Competition’ video, by National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA)

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This may come as a shock, but many people think that car salespeople are dishonest. A recent Gallup poll ranked nurses, pharmacists, and doctors among the most-trusted professions, but car salespeople landed at the bottom of the list, tied with telemarketers and members of Congress. Only lobbyists fared worse.

Just to prove a point, Total Dealership Compliance conducted its own survey, and you probably won’t be surprised to hear its findings. After polling U.S. adults, TDC discovered that most Americans have a negative view of dealerships, believing that they employ shady business practices. Among the survey’s key stats:

  • Roughly 65 percent of those surveyed described auto dealerships’ business practices as unethical.
  • More than 50 percent of respondents said that they’d be more likely to shop at a dealership if it displayed its code of ethics prominently.
  • However, another 40 percent of consumers said that displaying a code of ethics wouldn’t have any effect on their decision to do business with a dealership.

True, some respondents probably didn’t care about codes of ethics at all, whether the survey had discussed auto dealerships, department stores, or doughnut shops. However, the results suggest that (a) many Americans assume that a dealership is going to be unethical, and (b) they believe they have no choice but to live with it.

Our take

With 200 respondents–all of which were questioned online–TDC’s survey is at the lower end of what we’d call statistically significant.

Also, TDC has a very clear interest in proving that consumers hold negative views of dealerships. After all, it’s in the business of providing services to dealers–services like internal audits and employee background checks that ensure dealers are operating within the bounds of the law.

That’s not to say that the survey’s results are bogus, though. In fact, given some of your comments in recent years–particularly as the National Automobile Dealers Association launched a charm offensive to improve consumers’ opinions about dealerships and commission-based business models–we’d say that the survey reveals a slightly rosier opinion of dealerships than we’d expected.

What we really want to know is: how do you feel about dealerships? Do you think they’re ethical, on the whole? Unethical? Or are their business practices just as shady as every business on the planet? Sound off in the comments below. 

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