The Motor Vehicle Administration has issued a warning to car dealers across the state to halt advertising it believes is misleading consumers.
Ronald E. Forbes, director of licensing and consumer services, said ads that give consumers a false impression of how much they might expect to pay for a new car "have become very commonplace."
A common practice, he said, is for a dealer to have the purchase price appear in small print alongside a hypothetical trade-in amount, with the words "your balance" and a dollar amount in much larger, bold type.
In a bulletin mailed to dealers, the MVA noted that: "The amount of the down payment, or the balance after the down payment, may not be stated in such a manner as to permit the impression that it is the selling price of the vehicle. The advertised price shall be the full delivered cash price which the customer shall pay, except for taxes and title fees."
Joseph P. Carroll, head of the Maryland New Car and Truck Dealers Association, a group representing auto dealers, said the association agrees with the MVA's interpretation of the advertising regulations.
The MVA can fine violators up to $1,000 per incident, which can be defined as each time the ad appears in publications or on television.