Gender-Fueled Fraud in the Auto Industry

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According to recent news reports, car insurance companies are charging women higher rates than men for no reason other than gender. The report states that in several cases women were paying $500 more than men for identical policies.  However, this rampant gender discrimination doesn’t start with auto insurance; it starts the moment you walk onto that giant lot of shiny new vehicles. The auto dealership industry, even after the 2018 “The Year of the Woman,” is still riddled with widespread gender discrimination and gender-fueled consumer fraud.

Studies dating back to the mid-90’s found that women buyers were consistently quoted higher prices than men in over 300 audits at new car dealerships. In the 2000’s, studies found women were quoted higher prices for auto repair as well.  Although further studies need to be conducted on auto dealerships, the “pink tax” is still utilized and costing women a reported 7 percent more on consumer products than men in the United States.

In 2014, for example, American consumers bought more than 16 million new cars and light trucks at an average price of nearly $33,000 per vehicle.  With women holding 60 percent of the personal wealth in this country and making the majority of the buying decisions, car-buying fraud has become the newest bad business in gender discrimination. The Bureau of Labor statistics sited transportation as close to 20 percent of the total household expenditures for consumers in 2016. If that expenditure continues to rise, especially with corresponding fraudulent pricing and advertising, it may have effects on the financial stability of the entire American family.

Growing up in the rural southeastern United States, automobiles were a part of the everyday culture, and I spent many summer nights at the Beech Bend street car drag races.  From the age of 17, I knew how to change the oil and spark plugs in a small block Chevy engine. Recently, earning a science degree and being a financially successful woman with a hard-earned credit score, I had the opportunity to buy the car of my dreams, an ultimate driving machine. Negotiations with a local salesman were going well; the salesman had the car I wanted at the price I could manage, but when I showed up that morning the monthly price had mysteriously increased by over 55 percent of the original quote.  The salesman showed me all the very “generous” rebates, discounts, and comps I was receiving, but the newly inflated price remained.  My male partner had made a similar purchase, just months before with the same salesman, and had presented at the dealership paying exactly the quoted price.  Even after pointing this out I walked away still paying over 30% more than I was quoted.  I, an educated and independent woman, was left feeling bewildered, ultimately used, and another victim of a bait-and-switch dealership tactic.

As I soon discovered, auto dealer fraud is considered the number one most common type of consumer fraud.  Auto dealerships swindle buyers out of fair and honest pricing with misrepresentations, misleading advertising, and bait-and-switch tactics. Bait-and-switch is a technique where one car price is advertised or quoted but the dealership, upon your arrival, substitutes a more expensive vehicle. If you added all the additional unquoted charges and packages, I ended up walking away with a payment doubling my current monthly car payment.  Being a solitary provider for my two small children, this was less than an ideal situation regardless of my finances.  With women spending over $20 trillion globally on consumer purchases, this should not be occurring; it’s just bad business.  According to JPMorgan Chase, at least 65 percent of all automobile purchases are being made by women, so why is this still occurring? 

Organizations such as the Federal Trade Commission and National Automobile Dealers Association take great efforts to regulate theses activities, and there is more hope still on the horizon. Sites such as Women-Drivers.com are now offering auto dealerships the opportunity to become certified as a “women and family trusted dealer”, but even with this there is still much work to be done. 

Having access to a vehicle is not only an American essential, but for many American women it is a necessity to carry on with their daily lives. Since March 8 was recently celebrated as International Women’s Day, remember that on this day and on every day, as you’re commuting to work or taking your children to school, the words of Aristotle Onassis: “If women didn’t exist, all the money in the world would have no meaning.” From the first licensed female drive in 1899 to the over 105 million women drivers today in the United States, women deserve an honest and fair car-buying experience. 

Dr. Garling is Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy and a UT Austin Public Voices Fellow of The OpEd Project.

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