Your car is the ad impression auto dealers most prefer

Between Internet research and my personal experience I've concluded that many, if not all humans have a negative view towards automotive dealers. Given that solid data point I'm perplexed by a very interesting question: If we have such a negative view of the retail buying process, why do our cars reflect just the opposite?

The next time you're stopped at a red light or walking through a parking lot count the number of cars affixed with some form of dealer name or logo. Whether it is a vinyl applique or a license plate frame many cars on the road are littered with free dealer advertising.

Yet you never see a car with a plate that says, "Joe's Chevrolet is the WORST!"(DING! Million dollar business idea – negative dealer-impression license plate frames.)

The "Study"

To try and understand the phenomenon I conducted a small, very unscientific, research project. Armed with a clipboard, a pair of comfortable walking shoes and a pack of chewing gum I set off to roam the parking lot at my local grocery store to confront people loading groceries into their car on the question of what is basically free dealer advertising.

At the end of my "study" I managed to get input from 30 people. The people were targeted randomly and were only approached if their vehicle had a dealer-affixed logo (license plate frame, vinyl or other logo).

The two questions asked were:

1. Do you like or would you recommend the dealer listed on your car? Yes, No, No opinion.

2. Do you like having a dealer logo on your car? If not, why haven't you removed it?

Observation 0: The only thing people dislike more than car dealers, is a guy approaching them in the parking lot with a clipboard and a greeting of "Excuse me sir, do you have a minute?"

Observation 1: In response to question one the results were as follows: 12 responded NO, 5 responded YES, 1 responded SOMETIMES (thanks jerk, that wasn't an option) and 12 responded NO OPINION.

Observation 2: In response to question two a large majority of owners, 24 of 30, did not like having a dealer logo affixed to their car. Yet when we got into the "why is it there" it came down to two general reasons: lack of knowledge or laziness. A few people weren't aware that they could remove the "stickers." They believed it would peel off the paint or cause some other irrevocable harm. But a large portion of the respondents just didn't care. They didn't want to take the time to unscrew the plate or peel off the vinyl.

People are prepared to drive around advertising for a retailer they just minutes earlier told me they did not like. That's like someone asking you for a good Mexican eatery and you saying, "Oh, I hate Joe's Tacos - you should check it out!"

The triviality of the situation, combined with the lethargy of owners, highlighted what I have long held to be true: buyers have dealer hate fatigue.

Buyers no longer just accept a low level of quality in the automotive space, but have come to expect it. They've embraced it to the point where they will freely advertise an experience they know to be terrible. And that my friends is sad.

Laws on the matter

Recently I purchased a new vehicle in Maryland. In Maryland it is illegal for a dealer to affix a logo to a vehicle without the consent of the buyer. This is laid out in Title 15, Vehicle Laws—Licensing of Businesses and Occupations, Subtitle 3, "False, deceptive, or misleading advertising practices prohibited." It reads as follows:

Placement on vehicle of insignia, or other plate advertising name of dealer

(d)(1) A dealer or an agent or employee of a dealer may not place on a vehicle an insignia, logo, or other plate that advertises the name of the dealer, unless:

(i) The contract of sale for the vehicle contains a notice of the rights of the buyer described in this subsection; and

(ii) The buyer of the vehicle consents to the placement of the insignia, Logo, or other plate on the vehicle.

(2) A dealer or an agent or employee of a dealer may enter into an agreement with a buyer of a vehicle to compensate the buyer in exchange for the buyer's consent to the placement on the vehicle of an insignia, Logo, or other plate that advertises the name of the dealer.

(3) If a dealer or an agent or employee of a dealer places an insignia, Logo, or other plate that advertises the name of the dealer without obtaining a buyer's consent, the dealer shall, at the request of the buyer, remove the advertising and make all repairs necessary to restore the vehicle to its original appearance at no charge to the buyer. as it relates to dealer-affixed logos on purchased vehicles.

During my buying process I was never asked about logos yet I had not only a logo but a dealer license plate attached to my vehicle. You'll notice under subsection (i) the phrase "and" which means that the dealer needs to meet both requirements to be permitted to affix their logo to a vehicle.

In my case, this did not happen and I'll bet that in many cases it's the same.

Could I bring a law suit against the dealer asking for compensation for the number of months I've been advertising for the dealer without my consent? I'm sure if I put enough money on the table a lawyer would be more than happy to file my case in the State of Maryland. (Note: I replaced my dealer plate with an Enthusiasts ™ plate that says "Be a better driver" on Day 1.)

Local ads are critical today

When you add up the number of cars on the road that are affixed with dealer logos and try to quantify the advertising cost per impression for each dealer I'll wager it would be a very, very big number.

Because more people are researching vehicles online, and deciding their brand there as well, it has driven more competition between dealers and not brands. This means the local market has grown even more competitive making dealer-affixed logos on cars even more important. As more websites spring up everyday and eyeballs get harder and harder to find online, the cars on your street, in your neighbor's driveway and at your local grocery store are not multiplying.

It comes down to the chance of you seeing an ad for a local dealer online or in a newspaper (that cost money) vs. you seeing a local ad in the form of a dealer-affixed logo on car on your way to work (which is basically free).

While laws such as the one in Maryland are designed to protect vehicle buyers from becoming free billboards for dealers, as my "research" indicates, people don't care; because of this dealerships will continue to neglect to inform people, at least in Maryland, of their rights as it relates to logos on their new cars.

I'm certain that other states have similar rules, but because human behavior is universal I can only assume the same 'whatever' attitude is spread across the U.S. when it comes to dealer-affixed logos and dealers will continue doing what they do, even if it is illegal.

Discussion: Do you leave dealer-affixed logos on your car? Have you ever offered to take them off other cars?

Note: Try and keep comments regarding my very limited, unscientific study to a minimum.